I recently attended the EARCOS conference, where some of the keynotes mentioned the importance of storytelling to send a message. So here’s a story…
Once upon a time, I had a lovely little sister Esme. She was beautiful, loving, and had a quirky personality all her own. Everyone who knew her loved her, and felt that they were her special friend. She could make everyone feel special, and was great at bringing people together for her fun and games. Now of course, this being the digital age, many in my family had blogs, including her, and as it happened many photos of her ended up in cyberspace.
This is the hard part of the story, so be prepared. This lovely little 13-year old girl went for a run one day and never came back. She had encountered someone who knew nothing of who she was, and didn’t care, and this person stole her life away from her.
Now I’m not writing about this to tell her story and what happened to her, but simply to connect it to the issue that we’re concerned with, which is citing photos.
The picture you see of her was one that was provided for the media, who as is normal with these sorts of things takes quite an interest in such stories. Which was appreciated in a way, because it is nice to feel that the world cares when you have suffered a loss such as this. However the media, as is perhaps also normal, wanted more photos, and instead of contacting us, went out and raided all of our blogs to get more pictures of her. Now those blogs were public, we expect that people will read and use them. Yet for some of us, the context that these personal photos were taken and used for, was not how we wanted to remember them. For one of my relatives, a picture of her son with my sister was used in conjunction with a story about the person who took her life. This was very difficult for her, to see this picture of a happy moment associated with the horror of what happened after. Although it was no surprise that these images were taken and used in that way, it was also clear that, really, those reporters should have asked before using them.
Our solution was to contact the media and give them about 20 photos that we were okay with them using, and they were quite sensitive to this. Yet, these were professional journalists who didn’t take the time to ask for permission, who in fact when we asked justified their using the photos by saying it was on a public blog. Now while I would grant a certain inevitability of people using photos in this manner, it seems pretty cheeky for a journalist to try to justify it as okay when they made absolutely no effort to contact the owner of the blog.
So I really support this idea of citing our photos in what we publish. Yet, sometimes when I look at the current trends, it seems like copyright and ownership of these things is becoming murkier and murkier. When we encourage our students to do this, is it going to work to preserve this idea of attribution, or is it a last gasp before everything becomes public use?