Sunday, November 02, 2008

Support Your Local Photographer

Just wanted to say "thanks" to everyone for their support on this issue. This was going to be a comment in the first diary, but I decided the issues raised by this event deserved a bit more consideration.

To address the legalities first - I have no doubt that the MRP would try to claim "fair use" in court - but I've also thought of many other legal ways to skin this cat. Besides the examples I've cited in the comments in the first diary, Chet gave me some ideas about political speech and how my rights of political expression could have been violated in that regard. The distortion of the work comes into play here as well. Longshot, but it would be an interesting legal argument to make.

There are also campaign finance laws to consider. Is it legal for a politician or political party to take someone's property for use in a political campaign? My guess is no. So, there is that angle as well. Whole different argument to make, but certainly plausible. Goes back to property rights and the definition involved there.

These pictures were also presented as a story here on BFM, but they were not presented by the MRP as "news" in that context of fair use. Again, distortion. Does the MRP routinely go to the Detroit News or the AP and use their photos for campaign purposes, misrepresenting the context in which they were taken? My guess is no there as well, but I don't know for sure. So we have the legal aspect of photojournalism to consider, which is another batch of laws worth looking into.

The idea of billing the MRP is a good one. After Tuesday I will look into a reasonable charge for the all photos used and send an invoice. I will try to find information on the general size of the mailings for that district, and I have been informed that the TV commercial ad time purchased is a matter of public record, although it will be difficult to put the data together. There are three pictures involved that I know of, and there are royalties on the amount of use to consider. We will see what happens. It would be nice if the Michigan Republican Party would step up and do the right thing and offer to pay for the use.

I've also found two more examples of Republican campaigns taking photos without authorization - one in Ohio in 2006, where the Ohio Republican Party laughed it off and said "sue us", and one in Alabama just last month. Perhaps this has become standard operating procedure - and if so, maybe the laws should be amended so this kind of theft doesn't happen. Ever wonder why there are so many laws on the books and copyright issues are a specialty legal profession? You're looking at it.

Most important of all, I believe the social and moral issues are the ones worth noting here. The MRP could have easily hired someone to take photos for them. Chet, for example. I have no special access to any politician, this was an announced public event from June, not to mention the many public events Schauer has held, that would have offered them plenty of opportunity to provide a photographer with a job and pumped some money into the local economy. Gas to get down there, patronage at local, small business (which I did while I was there), publicity to the city of Battle Creek. All ripples out in various ways, all goes to supporting our state and providing others with jobs as well.

Guess the Michigan Republican Party, and by extension Tim Walberg, isn't interested in that. They would rather steal someone else's work than contribute to the well being of the Michigan economy. Makes all their claims about "creating jobs" and "helping small business" ring rather hollow, don't you think? My mind keeps returning to the fact that the MDP is also using a picture from this event. They reached out and asked first, and the paid me for my work. As everyone probably knows by now, I am a consultant for them - but photography is not part of that consulting, it is my side business to supplement my income, and they honored that. I'm really proud of the MDP for their professional consideration. That was a class act.

Support your local photographer. Honor the profession. It is a field that is taken for granted, but so important to the aspect of recording history, in this case our Michigan history, on record forever for the world to see and enjoy, and personally, my own little shot at immortality. These pictures will outlive me; at least that is my hope. I've gone back and forth on whether or not I should pull all of my work down so this can't happen again, but in the end I think leaving them up in defiance of the bad things that can happen to them is the courageous and right thing to do. I'd rather they be there for people to enjoy than give the MRP the satisfaction of destroying my creation.

If you want to weigh in on this, and all the other issues of fairness and honor that I have routinely cited this campaign season (just read down the front page), the best thing you can do is get out and vote accordingly this Tuesday. Bring your friends and family, too.

Make your own bit of history. It feels good. Trust me on that one.