Photo Theft and Toy Photograhy

I find that many toy photographers (and probably non-toy photographers too) are often prone to complain, if not even make a scene, when their photos are “stolen”. Yet I also see toy photographers do the same… It pisses me off and motivated this rant.

Background in Toy Photography

The two ways of making a toy photo with an interesting background that come to my mind are the followings:

  • Go outside and use an urban or natural environment
  • Stay inside and build your own backdrop

An alternative is to use an existing photo, and either print it or use a computer screen to display it in the background in front of the camera. Not something I would do, but I admit it can be effective. Unfortunately, this is a sort of uncredited/unauthorized photo usage. Or a “photo theft”, or copyright infringement…

It’s common for the photo used as a backdrop to come from some big Hollywood movie. Think Star Wars. Just reuse a photo from the interior of the Death Star, put a Star Wars figure and there you get a realistic looking Star Wars photo.

I don’t really have any problem with that. I think copyright laws are highly outdated and I like seeing people remix existing content to create something new. Also, who cares about crediting Star Wars when it’s everywhere?

But what about when it doesn’t come from something as obvious as Star Wars?

The hypocrisy of (some) toy photographers

I don’t think that what people refer to as “stealing photos” is theft. For me, stealing a photo would mean breaking into someone’s house, or in a museum, and take a photo print. Copying a digital file isn’t theft. Nobody loses anything. It’s copying. Similarly, resharing a digital photo without the consent of the original author isn’t theft.

That doesn’t mean I believe it doesn’t matter. Sharing someone’s work without at least crediting the author is stupid. It’s also disrespectful. But at the same time, I’d argue that there are more important problems and most of the time the damage is negligible. So I’m not paying too much attention at people not crediting others’ work when it’s just about posting photos on social media. There’s no real damage. It’s better to always credit, but it’s so easy to forget to do it when it’s so easy to copy a file that I can just ignore people forgetting…

But what bothers me is that it seems there is some hypocrisy surrounding the so-called “photo thefts”. If sharing a toy photo on IG without crediting the author is theft, why reusing someone else’s photo, found on Google Image for example, as a background without asking permission and giving credit would be any different?

I’m not saying people who complain about photo “theft” are the ones doing it. I’m not saying the ones doing it are complaining. But many people are prone to complain (and make a fuss) about someone resharing a photo without giving credit on social media. Yet, nobody seems to have any problem with toy photographers reusing others’ photos as a backdrop in their own photo without any credit (or permission).

It also matters with remixes

Some would argue it’s not the same because reusing a photo as a backdrop is transformative while simply resharing a photo on social media isn’t. I’d argue that in some cases, it’s actually worse. Resharing a photo on social media without any credit is usually harmless. (In some cases I admit it might not be, but in practice, in most cases, it isn’t.)

However, I can imagine cases where doing something transformative without the original author’s consent is worse. What if I take a photo, post it online (under a license preventing remixes), and then someone reuses it without asking my permission… Maybe there are some kinds of usage that I disagree with.

Maybe there is a political message that makes me uncomfortable. Or maybe I simply licensed my photo with a copyleft clause and wish that any derived work is licensed under similar terms.

Don’t be an hypocrite

That’s why my photos are shared under a Creative Commons license. Anyone can reuse my photos freely for non-commercial use, as long as they credit me and share any derived work under the same license.

To me, the terms of the license are quite simple. Yet, to be honest, most people fail to understand them. If people don’t respect them (for example they don’t credit the photo properly), I might ask to fix it. But that’s all and I won’t make a fuss about it. The reality is, most of the time, there’s very little damage done… Even if there’s no credit given at all.

I’m quite the opposite of defending current copyright laws and calling out thieves people reusing others’ work without permission and/or credits on social media. But if you can’t stand photo “theft”, consider all kinds of photo “thefts”. Copyright infringement isn’t only about reusing your toy photos (or the ones from your online friends). It’s also about toy photographers reusing non-toy photos… Please don’t be a hypocrite!

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2 Replies to “Photo Theft and Toy Photograhy”

  1. Ahhhh.. Use of third party photography.
    Easy and complicated at the same time.
    Easy, as when sharing or including one in your work just need to indicate the author.
    Complicated, as you don’t always find the author.
    I have the use of two pictures found on the Internet, to make backgrounds of some of my pictures (one background reused on several).
    It’s only displaying a part of the pictures, and I haven’t the names of photographers (looks like pictures were not recent, and one was a soft copy as far as I could see).
    So, it’s quite a problem it comes to credit authors.
    once or twice I have been exposed to use of my pictures: gentle words to the “thief”, and the problem was solved. People shared/used without the will of doing benefits, so everything went good with “please/thanks” and other kind words.
    On the other hand, some friends, whose photographies are part of their incomes, face more regular illegal use of their work.
    Last exemple is a lawyer ( yes, a f*ck*ng lawyer) using a picture as the header of his website, without permission. How is it possible? ^^

    1. Yes it’s a problem when you can’t find who’s the original authors, but I guess it’s also an option to not reuse it and find something else. One thing that annoys me is when I hear people say “But the photo is under Creative Commons” and believe that it doesn’t entitle to giving any credit. Recently I’ve tried Pixsy for which my Flickr Pro account gives me free monitoring for 1000 photos, and there are hundreds of websites that reuse my photos. A few credit correctly, a few incorrectly (e.g. forget to mention that the photo is licensed under CC or link to the original photo.), and a lot don’t. But to be honest I care very little and it mostly makes me laugh. The best one is probably this one: https://www.xcite.com/apple-iphone-xs-max-64gb-esim-phone-gold.html where not only the violate the non-commercial clause of my CC license, but they use the photo to sell the Bokeh capabilities of the iPhone… with a photo taken with a DSLR

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