Have you even seen the hashtag #createorcredit? If not, and if you are active on social media, I suggest you read this article by Catherine Grace, former intellectual property lawyer turned lifestyle blogger, on “the moral rights of the creative”. Catherine’s post (the first of a series) deals specifically with image usage/theft, and I will speak a little about my own experiences with that here too, both as a professional creative and also someone who is active on social media. There are more subtle (and not-so-subtle) appropriations of work and ideas that you may have seen at play on social media, and I’ll talk a little bit about that here too.
Of course we are all influenced by things we see and experience, even if only on a subliminal level. We all borrow from what has come before. And, as I came to believe from studying art history/theory at university, a creator can claim the originality of a piece, but the wellspring of collective knowledge or “movements” that have come before will of course have a bearing on his/her creative path and thus the creation of the piece itself.
So, when it comes to the creation of food and/or food styling, of course we are influenced by others. And there are times when, purely by chance, people will come up with similar things at a similar time. I have seen it happen. It has even happened to me. On a couple of occasions, on the very same day I have posted a recipe, a friend of mine has posted something similar… perhaps we’ve even done so within minutes of each other. Clearly no one is copying anyone else (we all know how long it takes to make and shoot food!). But, in circumstances like this we often mention each other in the captions of our images, to be courteous and to make it known that it was amusingly coincidental.
For this reason (and others too), I think that “calling people out” can be a dangerous thing to do. It’s my way to give people the benefit of the doubt (at least initially) rather than to confront, although I do understand why some people feel the need to speak up, especially when the theft of content/copying is blatant (and sometimes it is glaringly so).
Case in point, a while back someone I follow on Instagram (who has a sizeable account) had the exact styling of an image copied by an account with over 1 million followers. When she tried to explain the situation she was accused of being “petty”. She was told by some “it’s only food, get over it” and by others that her naming and shaming was “ugly”, even though almost everyone who commented noted that her work had been obviously “ripped off”.
The truly sad thing in this case is that, despite all the evidence, despite the fact that the woman who had copied the work scrambled to delete the offending image and any accusatory comments (which served to confirm her guilt in the eyes of many), the damage seemed to hit the smaller account doubly hard. Why? Because, sadly, size equals credibility in the minds of many. Needless to say, the comments section on her post blew up. Some people said things along the lines of, “If your idols are copying you, you’re doing something right. Take it as a compliment.” Really? If you sat for a day in an office and worked your butt off so that your boss could make money off your work, before patting you on the back then sending you home without pay, would that be complimentary? Or fair? Being called “petty” and “jealous” if someone appropriates your work/ideas only makes the appropriation sting more (as if someone you admire and respect making money from your ideas isn’t insulting enough). The smaller account took a risk in speaking up. And it caused some backlash initially. But, two years on, I am happy to report that the account (and the business linked with it), is more successful than ever.
When it comes to outright image theft, some of you may know that around the end of 2014, someone started an Instagram account, used my name, my exact bio word for word and stole much of my content. What they hoped to achieve from all of this, I have no idea. The mistake that they made (among other things) was following some of my friends, who noticed the “strangeness” straight away and notified me. I am not sure what the policies are now, but back then I had to fill out reports to Instagram complaining of both content theft and identity theft. I was asked to provide copies of my passport for identity verification and, although some might think the process rather fast, I found it time-consuming and beyond annoying. I also took the liberty of notifying anyone who happened to have had their content used without credit by the same account, including Melanie of Naturally Nutritious fame, who I have been friends with ever since. By the way, that account still exists but hasn’t posted a single image since all the account content was deleted by Instagram. The bio annoyingly remained the same for sometime, however today it simply reads “Hi”. 😛
Then there’s the “sneaky brands” who take your images and try to palm them off as unique content. I had a bit of a rant once on Instagram when I discovered a brand was using my images without crediting me… again. And I have rewritten certain points from said rant below. FYI, you can easily identify these brands by their use of captions containing their product name/hashtag, some vacuous “lifestyle inspo” such as “Sunday morning goals” and the glaring absence of your name (even though YOU created the content). You will also find yourself tagged in the bottom far corner of the image (where no one would think to click as you are not mentioned in the caption). Sneaky.
If you are new to Instagram, please read this. It may be flattering when people start to take notice of your good work and regram/repost your images etc., but the VERY least you should expect is to be credited properly.
Imagine the following scenario. You’re employed to create an advertising campaign for a lipstick. Money is spent. Literally hours of effort go into creating concepts/mood boards and the styling/shooting/image editing, etc. The campaign is released. Then another brand takes the exact images you worked on and uses them in a campaign to sell their own lipstick. Would this fly in the “real world”? I’ve been working as a creative professional for many years, as a graphic designer & now, for the past 8 years, as an art director. If the company that employs me discovered their images- shot by me- were used by a competitor, the proverbial poop would hit the proverbial fan. If it’s not ok in the “real world”, then it shouldn’t be ok in the virtual one either.
We, who create content and share online, are “creatives”. Personally, I spend hours- sometimes days- working on recipes, taking/editing photos. I share freely. And if you do too, your work/time/creativity should NOT be exploitable by others who can make money from your efforts.
Regrams credited properly, are one thing, but your hard work is not someone else’s instant free personal “endorsement”or marketing campaign for the taking.
Respect yourselves, creators!
Businesses (& personal accounts) that rely heavily on regrams for their “marketing” should, at the very least, be courteous. Brands and individuals that collaborate, create trust, are kind and show due respect WILL attract a loyal support without game playing… and with their integrity intact.
Please don’t get me wrong. Sharing freely and creatively is one of the most rewarding things you can do. And the blogosphere and Instagram (despite the recent algorithmic changes that everyone hates) are great platforms for sharing. But being a good digital citizen requires the observance of some basic fundamentals. So, other than doing some of the things mentioned above, here is a quick reference advice list (of things I try to practice myself):
- Be kind and uplifting on social media, whether interacting with big accounts or small.
- Crediting someone for a recipe/inspiration when you create something yourself does NOT in any way negate your own creativity, but it does suggest you’re a decent person.
- If in doubt, give credit.
- Don’t be afraid to let brands know that using your images without crediting properly is not cool with you. I do this on a regular basis, and 95% of the time they will rewrite their captions and apologise (it’s not exactly “cool”, but it’s better!).
- We are all influenced by trends but if you genuinely love the creative process, focus on growing your own inspiration & using your own voice, rather than looking to what seems popular and only trying to emulate that.
- Respect yourself, others and karma.
Have you ever experienced image theft or any of the other things mentioned in this post yourself?
Do you give people the benefit of the doubt if so? Or do you confront the situation/party concerned?
And do you believe in “naming and shaming”?
❤ MM xx