Those marauding pirates who infest certain cities and rob hardworking photographers

“Such miserable pirates are too sordid to engage a photographer to make a special series for them; they prefer to rob an already poorly paid class of men-men who have to depend for their living upon the sale of views taken during the short summer months.”


Most photographers today believe that the problems of image piracy began with the Internet in the 1990s and the switch over to digital in the 2000s.
That’s what I thought too — until this weekend when I was doing research for a book project on the archive site   I serendipitously  came across some old copies of the Canadian Photographic Journal from 1894 and 1895.  If you read about the problems photographers were facing with image pirates and with news organizations that took images without credit 122 years ago, it appears that things haven’t changed all that much.



WE have on former occasions tried to impress our readers with the vital importance of registering their copyright in photographs that are likely to prove of more than passing importance, and we published in a former number a concise article upon the method of securing such registration in Canada.

We have since received numerous complaints from subscribers who have been victimized by pirate publishers. One of these firms of pirates began by buying a few photograms of a prominent Canadian city at a cost of about twenty-five cents each and then published them as photo engravings in “Souvenir” form at about ten cents the book.

We do not mean to say the photograms thus collected at so little expense were by any means excellent views, and the reproductions were even worse, but still put upon the market at so low a price-they were sold and must have injured the sale of the original photograms.

We have no battle with publishers of these books so long as they pursue their business in a straightforward manner and give the photographers, whose works they appropriate, adequate remuneration and proper acknowledgment of authorship.

But we have no sympathy with the meanness of those marauding pirates who infest certain cities and rob hardworking photographers of the results of their labors. It is all very well for these people to say they bought and paid for the views they republish, we admit that they did so-but they did not thereby acquire the right to republish those views and sell them in opposition to their original authors.

Such miserable pirates are too sordid to engage a photographer to make a special series for them; they prefer to rob an already poorly paid class of men-men who have to depend for their living upon the sale of views taken during the short summer months.

These same parasitical publishers seem- to be imbued with a natural inborn baseness that prevents them from giving the men they rob credit for being the authors of the original photographs, whereas if they had the decency to publish the names and addresses of the photographers we might consider it in the light of a redeeming act of grace.

How often do we see even in the public press such titles as “Minne-haha Cathedral From a Photograph.”

Why are publishers so averse to give credit where credit is due? Is it because they are ashamed to publish the name of their victim, or is it because they fear he might be a gainer of some notoriety if his name was mentioned?

If newspapers are mean enough to take the liberty of appropriating men’s work and publishing it, they should not be too mean to advertise him by mentioning bis name and address.

Since there is such a lamentable lack of honorable feeling among a certain class, the only remedy for photographers is registration of copyright and, again, we urge our readers, if they do not wish to, be at the mercy of copyists, to register each of their choice views.

We know that the Canadian Copyright Act is hardly in accordance with the requirements of photographers-the rates being (in their peculiar circumstances) especially high-but still registration is the only way of protecting individual interests.

In Great Britain there has been recently formed an active “Copyright Union” which is virtually under the wing of the Chamber of Commerce.

The active promoters of this union have our most hearty sympathies; they are doing a good work for our British brethren and deserve the undivided support of every photographer in the land. Canada has long been in want of such an active body to protect the interests of photographers.

We believe the time is now ripe for the formation of such a union here, and we believe the best expression of our sympathies with the organizers of the British union will be the formation of a similar body in Canada. We want an amendment to the Copyright Act an amendment that will be an equal gain to photographers and the treasury of Canada.

Individuals cannot secure this, a powerful combined effort can do so.

The active co-operation of all photographers is required to fight for that which is, according to the unwritten code of honor, their individual right.

A year later in May 1895, the Canadian Photographic Journal published this letter from New York City.



SIR, -At an informal meeting held by a number of representative photographers of this city, March 14, 1895, it was unanimously decided to issue the following prospectus to the prominent members of our profession, submitting the plan proposed therein to their earliest consideration, and requesting their immediate reply to same address, Committee of the proposed Photographers’ Copyright League, 13-15 West Twenty-fourth Street.

Art in photography is at last a generally acknowledged factor, and the productions of photographers have become the chief source of supply for the illustrations which fi1l newspapers and periodicals. Even the courts now recognize that fact and extend the protection of the copyright law to all such photographers as are artistic.

During the past ten years a vigorous battle has been waging between a few determined photographers on the one hand, and an indiscriminate host of lithographers and other pirates, on the other. The latter had become so used to appropriating without leave whatever they saw was good and original in photographic publications, giving in return neither remuneration nor even credit, and the results to them were so profitable, that the effort to break them of the pernicious habit was no easy matter.

On the contrary it developed rapidly into a serious and bitterly contested struggle.

Thus far each photographer has done his fighting, sing]e-handed, and generally against large and powerful corporations. In spite of this, however, the result has been almost uniformly a complete victory for the photographer, decision after decision being rendered in his favor by the courts, though often only after years of burdensome and expensive litigation.

In view of these facts and other reasons which follow, we deem it wise and expedient, at this time, to band our best men together, so, that in future a united front will be opposed to infringers of all kinds.

There have been many demands within the past few years for such a union, and we know of no question now rife in the fraternity in which a community of interests would be more desirable, mutual and in every way advantageous to us all.

Our proposition is that an organization (to be known as the Photographers’ Copyright League of America) be formed at once, and take upon itself, by means of an advisory committee to be elected annually, the prosecution of  all infringers of the copyright works of any of its members, whenever a proper case for such prosecution is presented by him ; that it defray all expenses of same ; and that in return, so as to make it self-supporting, a fair percentage of all recoveries so obtained, be turned into the treasury.



This entry cross posted from my photography blog.

The nineteenth century definition of photogram is obviously different from today’s “image made without camera”.  From the context it appears to refer to souvenir postcards.

In the nineteenth century, Canadians were encouraged to register copyright materials with the Department of Agriculture. Today, under the Berne Convention, Canadians don’t have to register, but can if they wish with the copyright office. However, unlike the United States, there is no requirement to file a copy of the work.

An online search has found no references to the Photographers’ Copyright League of America. It would be interesting to find out what happened to the organization.

The original copies of the Canadian Photographic Journal for May 1894 and May 1895 are available online. Full access to the archive costs $10 Cdn a month.

One has to note that despite the fact that magazine masthead shows a woman photographer with a camera on a tripod, the copy is somewhat sexist, referring to photographers as “men” and a “fraternity..”


And now a word from our sponsor……the latest gear for May 1895 (ad in the Canadian Photographic Journal)



A radical (interim) solution to save newspapers: fire all the columnists

I am going to make a radical suggestion that just might save the dying newspaper industry (for a while).

Fire all your columnists.

Newspapers should do the one thing they used to be good at–original reporting. Anybody can sit down and whip out an opinion piece and post it on the web (as I am doing now).

Fire all the columnists.

Use the money to hire a bunch of eager and smart young reporters from the tech generation. Given the bloated salaries of most ageing, out-of-touch columnists, the newspaper business could probably get three entry-level reporters for every fired columnist.  Instead of a stupid “last hired, first fired” policy, the young reporters could keep the industry on life support for a while longer until one of those young people come up with a solution that saves the industry from itself before it collapses entirely.

(One proviso here. There are a few, too few, writers labelled as columnists who actually go out and do frequent original reporting. I’d keep them and make them get out in the field even more than they do now, because they’re actually reporters. There are also innovative reporters/live tweeters/live bloggers like Andrew Carvin @acarvin  (personal website)   in the US and Kady O’Malley  (CBC Inside Politics blog) @kady in Canada. I’d keep them as well. I would not keep tweeters/columnists who just send out their opinions without any actual reporting).

Why fire the columnists?

One. The world wide web is full of opinionated bloggers and tweeters.

In terms of the opinion marketplace, opinion, especially ill-informed opinion, is at the market level of a t-shirt made in China and brought over to North America by the container load, dirt cheap and available in any colour you want. If opinionated columnists helped attract a newspaper audience in the 1980s, today a columnist is a penny a dozen (and we all know what’s happening to the penny).

On the other hand, a large segment of the population seems to be eager for real, on-the-scene, informed reporting. But since having columnists sit on their fat asses in offices, never going out, never even making a phone call or moving a mouse to check a fact, are, in budget terms, cheaper than actually sending reporters out in the field, newspapers are firing reporters and promoting columnists. It’s the same with political panels on television. The panels cost little, fill up air time and add almost nothing substantive to a news broadcast.


How many of today’s audience actually care about columnists? Last fall, I was teaching a continuing education class at a university on social media. There were about 30 students, ranging in age from 20 to 65. I mentioned the CBC and National Post’s Rex Murphy, (I know from my days producing The National’s website that Rex was quite popular then among the CBC audience). To my shock and surprise, blank stares. No one. No one in that class had ever heard of Rex Murphy, even though he hosts Cross Country Check Up, he once wrote a column for The Globe and Mail and now gives his opinion on CBC’s The National and in The National Post. An anomaly perhaps, an indication of the decline of the CBC, perhaps. But those students did talk about how they got news, yes news, from Twitter and Facebook and how links led them to the media that originated the story.

Two. The majority of columnists, left, right or middle, are completely out of touch with reality.

Most columnists today are ageing boomers, or members of Generation Gekko (the spoiled generation between the WWII Greatest Generation and the Boomers) and most haven’t had an original thought in at least a decade. Nothing proves that more, here in Canada, than the near unanimous condemnation of the student protests in Quebec by columnists in almost all the major media across this country. One has to wonder if these columnists talk to their kids (if they have kids). They rant about today’s generation of students as “spoiled brats.”

Compare that blanket condemnation with the intelligent discussions I have seen among several Facebook friends and their followers over the issues in Quebec. Even those who oppose the students stand on tuition fees and are disturbed by the marches disrupting their neighborhoods and businesses are more measured in the Facebook discussions I have seen than what you read in the columns or heard in the television news political panels.

Why read the pontification of a columnists, when you get a wider view of opinions and experiences from a thread on Facebook (where I should note, people use their real names and are known personally to at least some of the people taking part in the discussion)?

None of those columnists, when they were starting out, had to go through four or five unpaid internships to get their first paying job (and unpaid internships are not only standard practice in the media but in almost all industries that also pay their CEOs millions in salaries and bonuses). None of those columnists are burdened with life-long debt for getting a university or college education. The columnists seem to have forgotten the fear we all felt as kids at the prospect of nuclear annihilation over our heads when they dismiss as nonsense, the completely justified fears the current generation of young adults have about the future of a planet facing drastic climate change.

None of those columnists ever seem to bother to read the news wires available on their computers  (or even their reporting colleagues on their own newspaper). If they did, they would know that the discontent among the current student and young adult generation is worldwide. There have been student protests in Chile over high tuition and debt for the past two years. There have been student protests across Europe, even before the debt crisis. Then there’s the Arab Spring (conditions may be different but it’s the same generation) and yes, the London riots, even the Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver, the G20 disturbances in Toronto. I’ve seen tweets and Facebook postings that students in the UK are going to adopt the Quebec students’ red square symbol in their struggle with the government of David Cameron. If it happens that would show the power of social media and the networking power of the new generation.

To quote the old song from the 60s, which I am sure most of those columnists sang in their day, “something’s happening here” but unlike a few reporters, the columnists never bother find out, they just sit at their keyboards and create “sound and fury signifying nothing.”

Even in terms of a business model, if you’re running a newspapers and you want to attract a younger audience ( the younger audience is a mantra in television, even though the executives don’t really mean it) why have your newspaper columns shit (and I meant that) almost every day on your potential next generation of customers? Yes, most newspaper readers are older (but even those are giving up on newspapers) but why ignore a potential market of millions that could save your business? Perhaps because the newspapers executive are cut from the same obsolete cloth as their columnists

To expand on this, since I returned to my old home town of Kitimat, centre of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline controversy, my once high respect for the Ottawa press gallery is in free fall and now near zero. Most of the reporting on this British Columbia pipeline and tanker issue from Ottawa and Toronto, is only 20 per cent accurate, if that. (That is why I founded my own news site, Northwest Coast Energy News). Almost all of the columns on the Northern Gateway issue written east of the Rockies are so inaccurate that they are worthless.

In the old days, when Canadian newspapers actually did reporting from across the country, there would be someone out west to tell the Ottawa or Toronto columnists and their senior editors, hey this column is completely wrong. (There are only three national level reporters in Canada whose reporting can be trusted on the Northern Gateway, Mike De Souza at Postmedia, Jeffrey Jones at Reuters and Nathan Vanderklippe at The Globe and Mail and even they tend to write too much from an energy sector point-of-view. As for the energy columnists, their opinions are worth about as much as molecule of shale fracked natural gas)

The press gallery, especially the columnists, exist in an inside-the-Queensway bubble, listening to politicians, war room strategists, spin doctors and pollsters and have come to believe that is reality. It seems that to the Ottawa press gallery, the only thing that counts is electoral politics. Everything else is, to use the term from economics, a political “externality” and not worth reporting. Discontent across Canada and political turmoil around the world mean nothing, unless it can be factored in to whomever wins the next parliamentary, congressional or presidential election.

Three. Let them blog.

It is interesting that most of the columnists, many of them conservative, many hired in the 1980s, when newspapers decided that they only wanted to chase the well-heeled, upper middle class and upper class market that advertisers craved, worship the free market but are completely insulated from it, especially on newspapers that are loosing money (unlike the young people they scorn who are subject to the marketplace every day.)

So if these columnists are so in favour of the marketplace and if they are fired, as I suggest, then let them put their ideas out in the marketplace as a blog, and see if they can actually earn a decent living at it. Most won’t of course, but there are a few who do, like Andrew Sullivan. More power to those who do succeed, and perhaps a lesson for those who fail and who are currently condemning today’s students and young journalists for their struggles.

Four. The paywall issue.

Newspapers are rushing to create paywalls. Some reporters say paywalls are needed to produce good journalism.

Wrong. We’re getting into a chicken and egg argument here. Paywalls aren’t going to work and not because the internet has worked on free information since 1993. Paywalls won’t work for the simple reason that 80 per cent of newspapers today are not producing anything worth paying for whether it’s online or mobile; they’re not producing anything even worth paying for and picking up the dead tree printed edition. Many newspapers have already fired most of their reporters and photographers or those reporters and photographers have got fed up and quit or taken early or full retirement. Now the newspapers are going to put up a paywall, with even fewer staff doing the reporting and expect that public to pay for that diminished product?


With wire service reports available for free on sites that don’t have paywalls, why then fill up your news site or newspaper with wire reports that people can get elsewhere for nothing and then expect them to pay for it? As well as the wire services there are now the citizen newspapers, from I subscribe to a half dozen daily feeds as a sort of wire service for Northwest Coast Energy News and often those compilations give me three or four sources on a new story, so if a story is behind a paywall, there are always alternatives. As well as my own original content, I use Storify to keep my readers up-to-date with issues I can’t cover myself. (Example here)


One has to ask “what are they thinking” in the media’s ego-driven, consultant-plagued corporate board rooms? (Consultant-plagued because all the media companies are repeating the same failed strategies over and over instead of trying something innovative). Why would anyone under the age of 35, in these days of austerity, whip out their credit card and pay to be told by a columnist who hasn’t picked up a phone to check a fact since they were first appointed around 1990 that these readers/viewers are spoiled brats and that their worries about the future are of no consequence.


As I said above, with so much opinion available for free on the web, why pay for the rants of the 95 per cent of columnists whose writing isn’t worth it and only serves to raise your blood pressure (no matter where you are on the political spectrum).

Hire the kids, lots of them

On the other hand for the same current limited budgets, if newspapers got rid of the columnists and hired a whole generation of new, young reporters, with guidance from some open minded senior editors (and checked by good copy editors—you really need to bring copy editors back, firing copy editors is another media corporate stupidity), that would bring “new blood” to use the cliche to the news web sites and news pages. We would see original reporting on issues that everyone, not just the younger generation, care about. A century ago, reporters started in the business right out of high school around 16 to 18 and the newspapers, of the day used their energy to create audience and profits. Even with today’s demand for higher education, a 25-year-old reporter has the energy and eagerness to shake things up. It is possible, perhaps, that they then could produce stories that would be worth paying for, whether by attracting advertisers or even making a news site so good that people might actually penetrate the paywall with their credit cards.


To use a term from one of my generation’s favourite TV shows, Star Trek, The Original Series, in 2012, a columnist on a newspaper is a Dunsel. (Dunsel is a term used by midshipmen in the 23rd century to describe a part which serves no useful purpose. From Memory Alpha, the Star Trek wiki. )

Getting rid of columnists is just an idea, one of many as the news media, an essential part of any free and democratic society, struggles to to survive and find a way to pay to produce its product.  There are many blogs and reports out there on the issue of media survival, too many to  link to. My idea of getting rid of columnists would just be one stopgap measure.

Unfortunately most media executives these days are also Dunsels, earning huge salaries, running around believing it’s still 1985 and rejecting any new ideas from no matter what source (except expensive reports from their consultants) and thus serving no useful purpose, so it is likely that the newspapers’ downward spiral will continue until nothing is left.


Related See Jeff Fraser’s piece If they build it, will they pay? on the Canadian Journalism Project site where he says the New York Times paywall is working, because the Times is emphasizing quality original reporting and most paywalled papers are not emphasizing quality reporting.

Color’s coverage of the Royal Wedding shows the need for a photo editor


In my blog yesterday about the new proximity sharing photo app Color,  I mentioned that the first big test would be in the partnership between the Daily Telegraph and the company in social media coverage of the Royal Wedding. 

With the now Duke and Duchess of Cambridge driving off toward their (at the moment secret) honeymoon and with Prince Harry hosting the wee small hours party, the site for the Color sharing photos is up.

Problem one.  It is on the website Royal Wedding page .   That appears to show that The Telegraph, even though its logo is on the site, has ceded editorial control to the app company. That is never a good idea, news media companies have tried letting software companies run their sites for 30 years, since the first days of  videotex and it has never worked due to the clash of cultures. The news media almost always yank back control as quickly as possible.

  Also the site appears to be a raw feed and so who knows what photos could be posted and sent to the server and to nearby users’ phones?

The Telegraph does say that the “best” of the Color  social media photos will  appear in the paper and on The Telegraph site.    So what’s the difference  (apart from lens quality and resolution) from the photos are being sent to the social  media sections of  news sites all over the world by the public, using everything from smart phones to high end DSLRs?

As far as I can tell, there is no difference.

As a news app, Color needs a photo editor.  And given current budget restraints, and potential  legal problems with news sites using raw, unmoderated feeds,  unlikely to be used except in exceptional circumstances.

A great app for sharing photos with friends at a wild party.  (Now if Color was at Harry’s party, that would be a different story!!)

As I mentioned in the earlier blog, an app like Color might be useful in reconstructing the events of a disaster or an attack, but  for the royal wedding there is a lot of chaff and straw and few viable seeds, a high noise to signal ratio.

My verdict:  Not a miracle.  Not ready for prime time.   Certainly at the moment, not the next Twitter, at least as as a news app and everyone concerned with the future of news knows who critical Twitter has become to news coverage.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Is “Color” the next big social app? And what about photojournalism?

For those who follow  #futureofnews on Twitter, and similar groups, there has been a lot of buzz in the past couple of weeks since the launch  on March 24, of a new (so far Apple only??) app called Color.  It’s called a proximity photo sharing social media app, and allows people close to each  other to share photos.

358-color_1881983a.jpgA combination of photo crowd sourcing and social  networking.

Most of the chatter is among the younger folks who tweet, follow and discuss the future of news, those who are digital natives, the true early adopters,  the indicator of new trends.

So much chatter that I decided to check it out.

While it is available as an Iphone app, the news release says it is available for the Android, but I couldn’t find it in the Android store and the front page of their website says new Android version coming soon.

So without an Android app I could find, I am going to have to go by the buzz.

My first impression at the  Apple App Store was that  was  that creators are  a kind of arrogant bunch.  On the App store and their press releases  it is “Color™  ”  


 Imagine trademarking the word “color?”  The company is based in Palo Alto, California, so one has to wonder how and why the US Patent and Trademark Office allowed it? I wonder how long that  trademark will last?  The trolls are probably already calling  their lawyers with everyone else not too far  behind.

The news release calls the program

Color™ is a miraculous, free application for iPhones and Android devices that allows people in close proximity to capture and have real-time access to photos, videos, and text simultaneously from multiple smartphones. Color is the best way of sharing an experience without the hassle of passing cameras around, emailing or uploading images and videos online.

And goes on to say

Every photo, video, and text captured by each smartphone through Color is instantly shared with surrounding phones also using Color. There are no attachments, uploading or post-production work required.  For the first time with Multi-lens, you will finally get to see and keep all photos from everyone at a shared moment, including ones that you are actually in.

One tech site has been calling Color™  the “next Twitter.

So back to the future of news. One has to immediately wonder if this yet another nail in the coffin of professional photography?  And what does this do for copyright? Are copyrighted photographs finally  dead and buried?

Well this his how the process  is explained by

What Happens to the Content?
There has been confusion about where the content generated by Color goes and how is it shared. Are the photos taken using Color archived? [ Color chief scientist D. J] Patil  [formerly of Linked In] explained that if you participate in a Color group, that content is not only shared in real-time with others in proximity to you, it also appears in the ‘History’ section of the app as an album. You can share albums, photos and videos using Twitter, Facebook, email or SMS.

So far, Color has no search or archiving mechanism on its website. So the only way that people who weren’t at an event are likely to see albums is if they’re been shared via the likes of Twitter and Facebook.

It’s just been a couple of weeks, so who knows?  And with a program being described as “miraculous” that is a lot to live up to.  The company also has $41 million in venture capital and the app (for now) is free, so where’s the return on the VC investment?

As for photojournalism, let’s wait and see.  

The company had its first real time use at a movie premiere.

The big test comes in a couple of days, when the Daily Telegraph uses it to cover the Royal Wedding. The Daily Telegraph and all the other British papers and wire services will have their best shooters covering the wedding, so the color crowd sourcing photo sharing will be a fascinating addition.

A couple of thoughts:

Color™  has been promoting at events like concerts, premieres, tech conferences (of course) and family events.

It’s not the best PR, but it looks like Color™  will enhance the social coverage of breaking news.

What if  Color™  had been available during the G20 disturbances in Toronto? During the G20  everyone had a camera or smart phone camera.  All those pictures of both the black hooded rioters and the subsequent police misconduct could have been shared with the participants, the onlookers, the journalists and probably the police photo units from multiple angles in real time,

Or the more recent student demonstrations in London?

What happens if there are people with Color™  equipped cameras during the next major disaster or a terrorist attack?  Or folks in Syria and Libya are right now downloading Color? 

There will be a lot of amazing photos produced on the breaking event. The pros, however, will still be needed to take the iconic images (that is, of course, it anyone wants to use and pay for them).

The one group that is going to be hit hard by Color™  are the paparazzi, already suffering and seeing their income drop now that everyone has a camera. Imagine the big star walks down the street and instead of being stalked by one pap, fifty cameras shoot and share the images.

Who knows. Stay tuned.


Enhanced by Zemanta

How to survive as a visual journalist in the 21st century

On Nov. 6, 2009, I was invited to speak to student newspaper journalists at the PULSE conference at Wilfred Laurier University  in Waterloo, Ontario about how to survive the coming years as a visual journalist.

Here, as promised, is a PDF copy of my talk, with the appropriate web links.


(Large file, right click and save as appropriate to your software)