It’s Not Porn, But It is Illegal

It’s Not Porn, But It is Illegal

The Verge published a piece about This is Not Porn, a website run by a Swedish designer Patrik Karlsson that features historical photos of celebrities in non-celebrity contexts. What started as a personal blog has grown over the past 7 years into a website with a social media presence on Twitter (28k followers) – successful enough to garner mainstream press coverage, and for Karlsson to solicit donations of $350 to pay for website hosting and “a beer or two.”

Karlsson finds the images from a variety of sources, does his best to credit the photographer, and when he receives a deletion request, he takes down the image. In the mind of most Internet users, this would seem like a reasonable practice. Karlsson has spent, by his admission, innumerous hours curating content for the site. In a friendly, Internet-esque way, he publishes the following disclaimer:

“I don’t own the copyright of any of these photos. They’re just photos I’ve found browsing the web. I’m not trying to take any credit for them. I just find them very beautiful and I want to share them with more people. If your work is on here and you want it removed, please email me.”

The problem is that he is breaking the law. These obscure and unique photos were taken by a someone who presumably holds the copyright, and they are being displayed in a money making venture without remuneration to the photographer. From a legal standpoint, there is no ambiguity. And consider the issue from the point of view of the photographer: He/she captured one-of-a-kind photos in the age before digital. Scarcity necessarily makes the images valuable, and the photographer might rely on residual sales as source of income. Then a millennial comes along and decides that he will be the arbiter of what has value.

Unlike @historyinpics, it doesn’t appear that Karlson started the website as a moneymaking venture. And he spends time debunking fakes, whereas History in Pics is infamous for publishing inaccurate captions on historical photos. But at some point, the personal project crossed a threshold. His audience reached an arbitrary size where it was no longer a personal blog, it became a brand. And the brand sought out funds to sustain itself.

Curated theft is not a sustainable business model irrespective of how much the audience enjoys it. It would be great if every piece of content could be attributed to an owner and micropayments could be rendered for actual use, but that is not the reality. Tracking down rights holders can be extremely time consuming. Obtaining licenses can be costly. But copyright allows content creators to protect and thus monetize their creations for a hopefully livable wage. Ignoring the law might work indefinitely, or it might get you sued.

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter. He co-hosts the "I Love Photography" podcast on iTunes.

There are 8 comments for this article
  1. Andrew Molitor at 11:00 am

    The music industry actually has quite a nice model of mandatory licenses and royalty payments. Whether this could scale up the necessary several orders of magnitude to photography, I dunno.

    There are no mandatory licenses in photography, at the moment, so it’s kind of moot. But I think it’s an idea worth thinking about.

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 12:58 pm

      Music industry does great with mechanical licenses (e.g. If you want to record a cover of a song), but they haven’t figured out how to handle sync licenses (e.g. using the song in a video) with the same ease (YouTube automates this to a certain extent for specific publishers/catalogs). I’ve been trying to clear a sync license for 6 months now with no end in sight.

  2. Jon at 12:51 pm

    What the world needs is legislation that provides FREE legal means to sue the companies and individuals stealing our images, and a open-and-shut-case attitude about penalizing the company as soon as they cannot produce a receipt for the use of the photos. The two main barriers to justice are: 1) the time and expense to sue 2) the means to collect judgements. When someone can solve those two issues the world will be a better place

    • Jon at 12:53 pm

      I could add a third too: The requirement that photographers should have to get a copyright on their own work. The person who creates something has a de-facto copyright on it until they release that right. Our legislators have it all wrong!

      • Allen Murabayashi Author at 12:56 pm

        In the US, you do have copyright automatically at the point of creation. But registering your copyright confers added statutory benefits.

    • Gerard M. at 3:36 pm

      I love this statement. I’ve been a starving artist all my life and it sucks that so many people with business now how can steal your work without penalties to them and for years until you stumble online and your works bought and sold without your knowledge, until its to late. Oh by the I have been homeless twice in my life time at 20 years old for a month and 34 years old for 3 months. Just one more ranting if allowed …. Why is it that throughout History the true artist work while she or he is alive people don’t value it and pay them fairly, until they die then people go out of their way auctioning off the artists work at ridiculous high prices??

  3. Ted VanCleave at 4:35 pm

    Consider using ImageRights.com for finding infringerments and recovering lost licensing fees. As a photographer who’s images were being stolen. I co-founded the company to help photographers in twenty countries. We also have an easy system for registering your images with the US Copyright Office.

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