Ringside thoughts........ Was going to be the original title of this blog post.. But so much has happened in the last couple of days that I am renaming this the state of the shutter address. Please note that is not me being pompous or arrogant as this state of the shutter address is merely my perception of what I face...but so many of you are looking to the blog for answers and hope... That has to come from within but if this blog can act as vehicle on that journey of awareness that it's a win for us all...
So the last couple of days have been crazy. I have been inundated with private posts, blog posts, Facebook, emails, and messages of support and encouragement from all over the world.. I mean that literally as a few of you posted the link to the blog and forum on facebook and well.. It's been picked up by a lot of people. People on the other side of the pond are reaching out...crazy... I have been typing this out on my iPad and iPhone in-between shooting a ring and trying to manage a staff at a horse show. So this is all over the map over several days typed on an iPad and iPhone and pieced together so bear with the grammatical and structural issues.
I do not currently have the time to address all the people personally that have reached out..so I am gonna just try and address some categories and blanket answers/viewpoints to some general categories. Again 2 things to take in before you read 1. I am not an expert and 2. These are just my perceptions on what we face.
First and foremost we have to thank you. I want to thank you. Amongst all the gloom and doom of our industry you are the shining light in a sea of dark. Our beacon of hope..if you will. We are still here and will work to provide you will the best images that we can create. I am a terrible gambler, when I do gamble I'm what's referred to as an "all in" I won't or don't walk away until there is nothing left. Bad for the gambler but great for the casino. Well this is to much a part of my life, and I love what we do enough that going "all in" is my only option. As miserable as the copyright theft is and the faux pros (more on that in a bit) are..the fact remains I am around amazing animals all day and I'm not stuck in a cubicle or a hamster wheel..so yeah some days it sucks ...but because I love what we do my worst days are still better than most. So as long as our customers continue to support us we will try and take the level of our work above and beyond your level of expectation. Thank you sincerely with all that I am for letting me do something I really love. So few can say that. I can and it's because of you.
Copyright theft - the blog postings were but one example of what thousands of photographers around the world deal with on a daily basis. So many of you were clamoring for the public outing of the individual in question. If I intended to out the person I would not have gone to the extreme of blocking the identity. In fact the original blog post that started this all has currently been removed. That post was a symbolic example albeit somewhat extreme but an example of an ISSUE that we are facing..the ISSUE is so much larger than myself, my company or the infringer that any public outing would only minimize the ISSUE. This is something that people need to be aware of..believe it or not I have seen worse cases and been openly mocked worse than what you have seen on the blog. The individual and the mother both and separately reached out to me ..and well the details of that I will keep private. They say Facebook helped bring about regime change in Egypt because people had decided they had enough. Facebook has been destroying the photographer for years, the photographer has been dealing with this issue internally for years.. We now see Facebook as the vehicle that could put us on the road to change. Now the consumer is starting to recognize the issue. When you put the issue of copyright theft into perspective and look at it objectively it's easy to see why it happens, at least to us and in our industry..let me break it down..from the infringers point of view to all those that are asking why? When we snap a photo it's usually of a horse or rider or some combination thereof because equestrian event coverage is all we do. Many of our infringers are children between the ages of 13 and up. When we snap a photo it's "our photo" but it's also "their photo" it's "their photo" because it's them in the image, or their horse..many times it's simply them as they are riding a horse they are leasing or catch riding for. Many of you have said you think that these people would drive off without paying for gas or dash and dine. I have to respectfully disagree I don't think they would.. The problem is education. All our websites have warnings.. But I don't think the majority of photo thieves really understand what they are doing. I don't think that when they snag the photo they are taking into account..that we stand there for hours on sore feet and knees. Often in extreme conditions ..cold,wet, and sunburnt for upwards of 10 hours plus a day. I don't think they take into account how many employees that we have, how much our gear costs, how much we drive, how late I stay up manually alphabetizing thousands of photos, how much of a normal life I don't have, how many family outings, anniversaries, weddings, holidays,reunions,and homecomings I have missed to be ringside to make sure they have photos. Every aspect of our business with the exception of our lab is done internally. We take, crop, correct, send off for printing, reexamine, address, ship out, put on the Internet, all the while going to and from and photographing another event, I don't think they realize how much of our life is consumed by the photos that they take. I don't think when they post their rude comments they realize they are putting people out of work. I don't think they realize I stay up late at night trying to figure out how to employ our staff with diminished sales due to theft. I know these people don't steal from tack shops, they pay the braiders, and the blacksmith, they don't not pay their horse show bill, or their trainer so I don't think they really know what they do. When they come into the trailer and ignore the no camera phone signs, and wait until they think we are distracted or not paying attention and click take a photo of our photo and laugh I don't think they know what they are doing. I HAVE to think they know not what they do. I MUST think they know not what they do. Because if for a minute I THOUGHT they knew what they were doing. Well that would mean they were just soulless, evil people, and I can't deal with that mentally..so I have to think they really don't know what they are doing when they take a photo. I HAVE to have more faith in humanity than to think otherwise. I MUST have more faith in humanity than to think otherwise.
A plethora of people--customers, community, & professionals are asking why is the original post taken down. The answer again is the ISSUE is greater than the individual.
The offender was a child and I have chosen to concentrate on the ISSUE. I would ask that those of you that expressed outrage, awe and shock, take that newfound knowledge and apply it to your friends, your stablemates, and your Facebook friends. Every horse person on Facebook has someone on their friends list that is just as guilty as the infringer in my original post. She just happened to say how she felt about what she was doing. Trust me although silent the Facebook friend that you have that has our or another photographers proofs up for display is every bit as guilty as the example in the post. And while I did cancel her order and refund her money, she did make an attempt to buy the photo..more than I can say for the thousands of other examples I come across. So I ask you to take the energy you were putting into letting me know how despicable she was and transfer that energy to positive re education to the people in the industry that you have contact with or influence upon.
Horse Community- Thank you for recognizing an issue and being open to listen to our side. Good faith effort on your part goes a long way...at least for me.. Many of you have sent me messages about photo pricing, business models, digital distribution etc. I can not speak for other photo companies only my own. We actually have very few variables in our expenses. Our employees are a variable expense because they change depending on the number of rings. REMEMBER WE COVER ALL RINGS. So the longer and bigger the show the more funds it cost. We have hotel, food, and fuel that are all variable. We try and lodge as economically as possible but three to five rooms for weeks is expensive no matter how much you try and trim. Diesel is on the rise and who knows when it will start to trickle down. Food is on the rise but I have lost 30 pounds so far this year ..so we are trying to cut back there (insert chuckle here). In all seriousness with all the built in expenses and the daily fights with the faux pros and copyright infringers that we face I really need to raise my prices..Many of you have sent me private messages about iTunes type pricing. Quite simple not applicable. Lady GaGa can put a song on iTunes and it will get 20 million downloads due to mass appeal. I take a photo and best case scenario we might have two or three people interested in that photo. No mass appeal. So that's not an option. I do appreciate all of your suggestions but less compensation for what we do is not viable. As far as the posting on the net goes..the only solution is to not post them. If it's an image on the Internet it can be stolen period.
Professional Photographers- our community realizes we are at a cross roads and what path your business takes largely rests in your hands. In my opinion this is not a time for finger pointing, he said she said's and I told you so's. This is a time to cultivate open dialogue with your customer. Talk to them, explain to them why you have a warning on your website and what is happening to you. Every professional that I know doesn't want to sue anyone, they don't want to send out nasty letters, or bills, they just don't want to see their hard work exploited and minimized on Facebook or other social sites. Your customers will respond to you.
Faux Pros- I'm going to take some community heat for this one. But remember these are only my opinions and I'm only talking about my industry. As bad as the photo thief is..you are 100 times worse. I'm not talking about the barn dad that shoots his child or the barn kids for that matter. Do you hurt our business..absolutely you do but you are a legitimate alternative to us. I have no issue with you. The professional thats hired to private shoot a customer, I have no issue with you. I have issue with the faux pro that either has a day job and just comes to the show with no expense but their time and sells photos on their websites, at a greatly reduced rate; or the one that is a "pro" shooting for media, stock, or "just for fun" and also posts photos for sale at a reduced rate. I often hear " your just afraid of competition". Absolutely false. I despise unfair or dirty competition. When you faux pro.... can look me in the eye and tell me you have liability insurance, employees, vendor fees, motel, fuel costs, when you can show me that you shoulder the EQUAL burden of all those expenses, when you can do that..at the level of shows we service and sell your images for 1/2 to 1/3 of our cost..well I will welcome you with open arms. Faux pro I deal with you every weekend all over the country and you are always the same. This past weekend I dealt with at least 10 of you. Some of you have emailed me about employment. Please note stealing from your applicant employer is not an endearing quality for future employment. Some of you told me what publication you were shooting for, I guess when you send out that Facebook message to all the riders you know offering photos for 15.00 that you assumed I would not be told or that I would forget you lied to my face. Some of you were like ninjas and as I approached you would vanish only to re appear at a different ring. I think maybe I should start finding out what events you shoot.show up with staff and trailer and just give away product. I could bring a whole new meaning of unfair competition for you. You Faux Pro are more detrimental than the photo thief. Maybe I should come to your day job and ask your boss to hire me instead of you since I will work for 1/3 of your salary. You Faux Pro are despicable in action and execution, because unlike the photo thief you do know better. You know exactly what you are doing and why it's wrong. Please stay away from our events, I can honestly say you are not welcome. Faux pros I should take more time to address you but since the issue of this post really has been more about making a change via Facebook I quote Mark Zuckerberg's character from the great movie The Social Network.. with a few modifications to the speech ( that I have not but would love to do ) this is exactly how I feel about the faux pro.
Mark Zuckerberg: I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try - but there's no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention - you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.
In closing the response to the forum post and blog have been amazing. I will continue to use this format as my own personal soapbox as long as you will listen. I did modify the posting requirements on the blog. Anonymity is no longer an option. Being anonymous on the Internet removes to much accountability. So there is an extra step but it's a step towards building a community.
We can make a difference and change this and just like we take photos one shutter click at a time change can start happening today.... one mouse click at a time, one Facebook friend at a time, one conversation at a time.