Until the other day.
On this very blog.
By an irate reader.
Whose picture I had stolen.
I don't often get comments on my posts, but the few that come in are usually encouraging and full of kind words. Not this one.
The photo of the beggar is STOLEN and violates my copyright as stated below the original photo on my Flickr page. Remove it immediately! First and last warning, otherwise legal action will follow!!
Just like religious zealots to use stolen property!
My stomach did that dropped-off-the-edge-of-a-cliff thing and my face flooded with shame.
My brain started flinging out excuses:
It's a hoax.
There must be some mistake.
I didn't steal anything.
I followed M's link to his Flickr page...there was the picture of the beggar, but I didn't recognize it. I scanned the blog post he had commented on that I'd written 5 years ago...nothing, nothing, nothing until right at the end...there it was...the last photo...M's beggar.
Danggit! I so wanted to be right.
But there was no doubt...that was M's photo and it was on my blog without permission.
I highlighted it and hit Delete.
Then I Googled M's name, found several other links where he'd followed others who had used his photos without permission. He employed the same threatening language with all the other thieves, too. It didn't make me feel much better.
I plugged his name into Facebook, found his page and wrote him a message. I apologized for using his photo without permission. I explained I most likely Googled something like "spiritual poverty" (which was the theme of the post) and his beggar came up, that I probably thought it captured the essence of my post and I copied it onto my computer. I've never intentionally hacked or broken codes or overrode security systems to get photos. I assumed if they were on the internet without a watermark, then they were free game.
You know what they say about "assume". I made a donkey's bottom of me.
I told M I was sorry, that I truly admire his work and I honor his art. I asked his forgiveness and told him I'd removed the photo.
I signed it, "Religious Zealot" with a smiley face
M wrote back. The mood of his reply was much softer than his initial comment. He thanked me for my message and gave me some very interesting facts about using photos off the internet:
I fully realize that most of the 292 illegal uses of this photo were not copied from my Flickr page, but from somewhere else where it was also illegally posted.
As a rule of thumb, unless an image is specifically marked (by the original author) as public domain or creative commons, it is copyrighted.
If the original author cannot be identified, chances are it is already stolen, and should not be used.
In Canada (where I live), recent (4-5 years) changes in the law, state that a photographer cannot give or sell his ownership of a photo, it remains hers/his for life! She/he may sell usage rights to a photo but never the rights to it!
In this case, I found my photo used illegally on 292 sites!! My photos are for sale, but how can I sell them if they are used illegally all over the place?
Always consider that whatever you grab off the internet (photos, text, whatever), someone had to work to create it. I spent around 4-5 hours trying to track down those 292 sites! Some I couldn't do anything about, as they did not have a link to send a message or comment, others were in a language I couldn't understand so could not communicate with them, etc... Very frustrating.
I appreciate M's information because I am a religious zealot in the sense that I want to do what is right in God's eyes. I don't buy pirated DVDs, even though those are the only types sold in Uganda, because I know I can get originals through Amazon and friends in the US. Yes, I have to pay more money, but I have peace that I'm not buying stolen goods. I don't feel comfortable sharing music, or copying DVDs from others' hard drives to my computer for the same reason...I feel like I'm stealing them.
I know there are a lot of gray areas in the debate about what is legal sharing and illegal stealing, and this post is not meant to take one side or the other.
I'm simply sharing my personal journey with God that has lead me to set a very high bar in anything media-related, because that is the area God has gifted me to serve. I need to be above reproach in order to have any spiritual authority through the written word and in other forms of social media.
Of course I aim to follow God's ways in all areas of my life, living to please Him, glorify His name and be holy as He is holy. But I know when it comes to the area of media, the bar seems higher for me than others, and I'm okay with that. I don't mean to sound "holier than thou"...my point is that I believe my giftings and calling are tied to media, and in order to walk in the anointing, I have to be without fault in that area, especially.
I wouldn't mind being called a religious zealot again some day, but my prayer is that next time it will be in the context of having done something that brings glory to God, rather than tarnishes His name.
So to be on the safe side, I'm not even thinking about Googling "religious zealot" for a cool photo that someone else took. Instead, I leave you with an original snap of my own that has nothing to do with this post, but at least it's mine.
May God receive the glory.
My pesto-cream cheese Santa hats made for a Christmas Eve party. If anyone wants to use this photo elsewhere, be my guest! :-)