Think Before You “Save Image As”

Last month, iLCP Senior Fellows Wendy Shattil and Bob Rozinski filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump for his campaign’s unlicensed use of one of their bald eagle images.
I won’t go into the details of the suit because I don’t know any more than what is already in the public domain and that can be found in a number of online and print accounts such as this one in the  New York Daily News. No need to rehash. Rather, I’d like to explore why this lawsuit is so important. And it is not because Donald Trump is running for President or because of the photographers’ political leanings. Frankly, I have no idea who they support and am sure they would have filed this suit whether it was the Cruz, Clinton, or Sanders campaigns that had taken the liberty to use an image and exploit it by printing it on commercial and advocacy materials without having gotten the permission or having paid for the right to do so.
The issue of image copyright is one that is fundamental to the business of photography. While the internet has made it supremely easy to “Save Image As”, the truth is that unless an image is clearly in the Creative Commons, which few images by professional photographers are, then downloading them is illegal. It is stealing – plain and simple – and no different than plagiarizing from a novel, downloading bootleg copies of music or videos from the internet, or passing off a well-executed copy of a Matisse as an original.

Photographers (indeed all artists!) have the right to make a living from their original work and efforts. A photographer’s camera equipment is very expensive and the many hours, days, months or years spent working toward those rare moments resulting in an iconic image is time not spent earning an income from some other source. And so it is in the licensing and sale of images that professional photographers make a living.

Think about this: would a campaign manager expect to be able to walk into mug manufacturer’s production facility, pick up a few cases of plain white mugs without asking the manager, and walk out without paying? Obviously, the answer is no. So why should that campaign manager bootleg a copyrighted image from the internet, imprint it on those very same mugs and call it okay?

In short, this lawsuit is not about politics, it is about business and the principles of economic fair play that enable our country to thrive and our artists and artisans to operate small businesses that hire millions of employees and pay taxes. The only reason in my mind that this is significant with regards to Trump is that he is a businessman and one would think that of all the candidates, he and his campaign staff would understand and practice these business principles better than any of the others.

So next time you want to “Save An Image As”, for personal use, double check if it is in the Creative Commons, and if not, then respect the photographer’s rights to his or her craft, and just don’t do it! For commercial use, don’t use any image without written authorization by the photographer or their agent, or you will risk prosecution for copyright infringement. And last but not least, to anyone who wants to send emails to the photographers criticizing the filing of the suit, or to me for defending their right to do so, I respectfully ask that you keep it about the business of image copyright and not about who you think should be president. Because honestly, that really is completely beside the point.

Alexandra S. Garcia, Executive Director
Twitter: agarciadc
As of June 1, 2016, iLCP Fellows Wendy Shattil and Robert Rozinski have dismissed their lawsuit with presumptive GOP nominee Donald J. Trump.
John DeBoer, the photographers’ lawyer, wrote in court papers filed Tuesday that, “having come to an Agreement to resolve all claims, [the photographers and Trump] hereby give notice that the above-captioned action is voluntarily dismissed, with prejudice.”
You can read the recap of the lawsuit at the NY Daily News.