Archive for 2012

Red on Black – How Original is It?

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

Most serious photographers are concerned about copyright issues, and this isn’t just about protecting income. It’s also about having control about where your photographs appear and also this attitude in society that if it’s posted on facebook, or any other image sharing sites, then it’s available for anyone to make use of without even asking if it’s ok.

Personally I’m always pleased if someone likes one of my images enough to want to share them and I don’t mind people doing that as long as they ask my permission; it is for purely personal use; and they pop a credit to me or my website along with the image. Use for advertising or product promotion is something entirely different and I need paying for that.

So it was with interest I read with fascination this story about the

Copyright Threat reported in Amateur Photographer.

First thing that struck me was that this wasn’t the first time I’d seen a black and white photograph with one object coloured red.

red umbrella small

…and yes it is one that I took and digitally manipulated, but it is a red object against a black and white background, with an interesting building behind it and a featureless sky, and a river. Am I too violating their copyright? Unfortunately their image (which I’d never seen before reading the article) pre-dates mine. But if I’d visited Shrewsbury in 2004 and gone through the same process four years earlier would I have a case against them? And I’ve seen this done on tv loads of times with a coloured object or actor against a b&w world.

But the truth is that there is an iconic red on black and white image in public consciousness and that arose from the film Schindler’s List. It looks great, and when things look great image makers first want to reproduce it and then improve on it and add their own personality to it. I remember reading something about font design several years ago and it was a statement to the effect that everything is built upon what has gone before. Rarely are ideas totally fresh – simply because our brains just register everything, most of the time without us even realising it. The wheel didn’t just appear fully formed with an axle – perhaps someone first spotted a fallen log rolling down a hill and then pondered upon that for a while.

If we go down the road of thinking that everything we think of is ours and was given to us in total isolation to anyone else’s input then creativity is dead. Just imagine if no one can any longer put a single coloured object against a b&w background – because that’s where this is leading. It’s a powerful visual concept and makes images stand out.

I thought photographic copyright was designed to protect photographers from unregulated use of their images. But this has shifted the playing field into the area of patents. It has the potential to set a dangerous precedent.

And yes I know that in this particular case there is another factor: that of Temple Island Collections actually offering this image to the people who then went out and copied it to apparently avoid paying Temple Island Collections their rightful dues. This, in my opinion, is an unworthy action. But unfortunately people steal ideas all the time. Most of us just shrug and get on with our lives – a little older and a little wiser.

By the way, for obvious reasons I haven’t downloaded the image of the red bus against the b&w Houses of Parliament even though I would have given credit for it. I hope AP got permission to reproduce it. So be sure to click on the link at the top of the article to see what all the fuss is about.


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