The internet's image problem

Alex Wild wrote about image sharing (without attribution or concern for copyright) run rampant at his blog, Compound Eye. The object of his ire is I Fucking Love Science, a keen Facebook page that’s become a hub of science outreach on the web. It’s a great page, but many, many images are posted there daily without attribution, and Elise Andrews, who runs the page, makes money off the venture.

But I’d argue that that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Andrews is an independent operator, and her transgressions are minor and, as Wild rightly points out, could be easily remedied. The bigger problem is that large, corporate sites, often with millions of dollars in revenue or deep pockets lined with venture capital, have the same blasé attitudes about creator’s rights. They frequently misappropriate copyrighted images to generate traffic and ad impressions on their sites, sending paltry traffic to the original site. I’m talking about BuzzFeed, Gizmodo, Popular Science, Business Insider, and others. I’m speaking from experience here. They’ve all taken my infographics, without permission, and posted them to their sites, in some cases without even proper attribution or a link.

I’ll grant that the internet is still a bit the Wild West, but that doesn’t mean it should be a free-for-all. Even Huffington Post writers have gotten in trouble for “over aggregation” of written posts. (Sad, in a way, because I’m sure the writer was pressured to do exactly that.) But with images, there seem to be fewer qualms. What makes images different?

I’ll leave you with a few words from Ed Yong, who chimed in last night on Twitter: “If someone posted my writing on their site w/o link or credit, I’d be fucking outraged. This is not different.”

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