The Big Guys vs The Little Guys

If I had a pound for every time my images were used without my consent, I’d be a very rich person indeed. 

I am a photographer, a creator, an artist - I haven’t studied law, I scrape by each tax year with the help of an accountant, I’m only good at what I’m good at - creating. But as each year goes by, I find an increasing amount of photographers (just like myself) wording up on Copyright Law, after countless misuses of our work. 

Last night, a DM landed in my inbox. “Hey! I just spent some time looking through your work. I saw that I used one of your images as a sticker on PicsArt some time ago - I just wanted to apologise, I didn’t realise it was yours. I wanted to let you know. Really sorry again.” 

A sticker?! I have never heard of stickers. I thought stickers came on apples. I thanked the user for their heads up, and asked them if they happened to have the link to my mysterious “sticker”. I had a quick browse through the PicsArt website, and immediately saw art which featured someone with very, very, similar hair to my own. “Here we go!” I thought. It was late, so I put my phone away, and went to bed.

This morning, the helpful user replied with a link to my sticker. 

There I am. I remember this photo - the first in my Alphabet Challenge in 2017, A is for Adventure. It brings me fond memories of my dearly departed feline companion. I shared it on Instagram - a platform which doesn’t allow users to download others’ images. It must have been screen-grabbed, and re-uploaded. I scrolled down further.

My image has 20 “Remixes” - which (translated into Non-PicsArt-User talk), means this “sticker” has been used by 20 users, into 20 new pieces of work. Weird. I thought I’d have a look and see if I could find any more of my images, so I searched the most basic term I could think of: Girl.

*I should add - I haven’t even searched the “image” section yet. Even at this point, writing, I’ve been looking at the sticker section.*

There are a LOT of results! Illustration, anime, celebrities, photography… this is going to be a lot of work. I scroll for a few seconds, and immediately start to recognise some of the images - I can’t place the photographers, though. I’ve seen them on the days I’ve scrolled pinterest, but not lodged who created them. I’m not as familiar with my illustrators, but I’d imagine these sweet drawings have not been drawn by the PicsArt users who are uploading them.

Maybe they are royalty free. Maybe mine is a one-off. 

Bingo. I added the term “sitting” to “girl” - and there I was. Another Alphabet challenge photo - C is for Calm. 

I’m starting to feel a lot less calm than I did when I first learned about PicsArt, that’s for sure. I scroll. 

HOLD ON A MINUTE. 846 REMIXES?! My image, my likeness, my art has been churned into 846 new pieces of “art” - without my consent?! 

Don’t get me wrong - I LOVE young people who want to learn to edit. I LOVE editing. I remember the thrill of creating something new, sharing it, and being proud of it. When I was 16, I copied ideas from the internet left, right and center, and paid the price when it got frowned upon by the people I respected and looked up to. But these aren’t just ideas - these are my actual pictures! How is this website not filtering these out?

Not gonna lie, this one hurt. My previously rolling eyes felt a bit more stingy. I took this image to mark a year since my boyfriend had passed away. It wasn’t the best work I’d ever created, but it sure was meaningful, and I didn’t like seeing all the ways it had been stuck onto different backgrounds with no thought or intent. I remember feeling totally broken, sat on that swing, and it felt quite hurtful to see my past, fragile self being passed around for in-app entertainment. Hanging from a broccoli.

I found a further two pictures of mine in 10 minutes, and along the way, saw some recognisable figures from my own Instagram Feed. We’re a nice little community, us fairytale-ish-surrealists, and I’d know their work a mile off. I expected to see plenty of ballgown rip-offs from brilliant artists like Hobopeeba (I have found 4 images of hers uploaded from one single PicsArt account)

But I did NOT expect to see pictures of children taken from my friends @Alexandriaslens, @The_Life_Of_Aivax, and @ShilahSirois. 

PicsArt charge a membership fee of 3.99 a month, or 47.99 a year. I have no idea, as a non-user, how many more of mine (our) images that gives you access to. They had a user-ship of over “90M users” in Oct 2017 - who knows how many now. 

I know this because when I went to contact them about this issue, it turns out, they already knew about my work. I hadn’t seen or responded to their message, but hey, I was glad the messages I intended to send would at least get noticed by a member of their customer support.

I started with an email, first, as I believe it’s always more professional than the olde DM.

(Their auto response is included above my email.)

Nothing. I left a couple of comments on their instagram, which seemed to be updated a few times a day. Nothing. I sent a DM. Nothing. 

Well, you know what? I’m self isolating right now, I thought, I may as well spend a day fighting this instead of hopelessly reading the news. 

Here’s my problem. PicsArt is a HUGE community. 2.2million followers on Instagram, and in their own words “millions of images” uploaded to their distribution platform. For an app so high up in the ranks, why are there no measures in place to filter copyright content? Why is there no simple checkbox upon uploading, to remind users of their duty to ONLY share images to which they hold the copyright? Why are their terms and conditions hidden away at the bottom of their website? I went to have a look.

It seems that if you see intellectual copyright violations of your work on PicsArt, you get the satisfaction of reporting it, and having it removed. If you’ve even heard of them. If, like me, someone gets in touch and says “this doesn’t feel right that I’ve used your image thinking it was royalty free.” Otherwise, sorry, you’re just gonna have to deal with the fact that your images will be illegally distributed. Even if it’s pictures of your kids. 

It doesn’t help that PicsArt also displays a banner for “Free To Edit Images” above the shared work. Slightly misleading, wouldn’t you say?

It is even more disturbing, that when asked and confronted with these examples, I am told:

We do not have sufficient time for our team to scroll through all these millions of images to check they are being used properly. You can do that.

Because it is exactly what every photographer needs - to add to their list of chasing clients for money, editing shoots, shooting, travelling for weddings, buying props and dresses at their own expense, spending countless hours editing and replying to emails, it it exactly what every creative needs to do. Spend another hour a day making sure YOUR business is not violating MY copyright. A business that is built around content sharing should have copyright protection at the top of it’s list. 

I should also add - I use stock images in my work now and again. I avoid it wherever possible, for the simple reason that it. is. expensive.

I have a Shutterstock account, and have paid them approximately £1700 in stock images over the years. For images I have not profited from.

I’ve been paying for stock images since 2010. I won’t post my entire history for the sake of scrolling, but you get the point.

And, after I’ve spent my last hour of free time searching and reporting PicsArt for multiple copyright violations - what do I get to show for it? Nothing. I get to wait for them to remove it. 

I get no compensation, despite my hours of detective work. I get no compensation, despite the fact that they have profited immensely in membership fees, during the years and months that MY work has been enjoyed on THEIR app, by THEIR users. 

No - it’s my own problem that it was screen-shotted and uploaded, bypassing the systems of the app I originally shared it on. It’s my own responsibility to police. 

I am so disappointed that PicsArt considers themselves part of the Art Community, because they are anything but For Artists. If they were, they would pay my invoices for the image usage, remove the images and apologise. 

After one afternoon of searching PicsArt, I calculated the images of mine that I found were used 1547 times. 

If I had a pound for every time my images were used without my consent, I would be a very rich person indeed.

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