Happy world photo day

Stuart Fuller

“In a world where millions of pictures are uploaded every minute, World Photo Day is inspiring thousands of photographers across the planet to share a single photo with a simple purpose: to share their world with the world.” Worldphotoday.com

Today is World Photo Day; one of the new wave of special days that I fully buy into. I’ve always been a keen amateur photographer – especially now most smartphones have an integrated camera that’s far more powerful than those we could sensibly buy a decade or less ago. Armed with my iPhone and my matchbox-sized GoPro, I venture out on a daily basis looking to capture images that sum up the mood of the day or the random events and incidents that often pass us by. For the past couple of years, I’ve recorded these every day and uploaded them to my digital archive. I’m not alone in using the website Flickr – I’m one of 112 million global users of the photo-storage website who have collectively uploaded over 10 billion images, as well as one of a million users who regularly share their content on the network.

However, the nature of the network has meant that the line between photo sharing and intellectual property infringement has been blurred. My ‘specialist’ subject is football architecture, and I’ve come across numerous examples where my images have been used by third parties. I don’t have an issue with that as long as they give credit to the source (i.e. me) and they’re not using the images for commercial purposes (i.e. to gain revenue from my work). And I’m certainly not alone in experiencing these issues.

Unfortunately, the way that search engines work means that most photos appear in the public domain as the result of the way search bots crawl and index websites. Although notices do appear within search results warning the viewer that the use of the picture may infringe the owner’s intellectual property, they are relatively discreet and don’t act as a deterrent. Some organizations use watermarks to make it clear who the owner is, but that doesn’t deter some people from using the images anyway.

One such company is Getty Images, the US photography agency. Earlier this year, it filed a formal complaint against Google with the European Union’s Antitrust Commission, claiming that the way Google includes images in its search results promotes digital piracy. In a statement provided to Time, Getty said that copyrighted photos are displayed in large, high resolution formats, detering users from visiting Getty's site, where the images are for sale.

Whilst we traditionally think of digital piracy as involving the illegal streaming and downloading of music or video, photo piracy is also a growing concern for many organizations – especially those whose business model is based on the capture and distribution of photos and images.

So, whilst today is World Photo Day – and we should enjoy the opportunity to share in the spirit of the occasion – it should also be a reminder about being part of the solution rather than the problem of IP infringement around images.