Some thoughts about plagiarizm in photography

posted on 22nd of january, 2010

Hi, today I got a very interesting response on my blog . Here it is:

"There is always two sides to a coin.Copying keywords , like copying someone's idea , can come back to bite you in the rear end.Consider this. The same keywords are going to pull out that image you copy from. Buyers are not some silly dude with no brainers. They will still look for quality, and uniqueness and style of the photographer or artist.We all know what happens when we got a million and one copycats that flooded the sites with clones of one famous top seller in micro . I don't need to mention his name.The way I see it, you can fool someone with copying everyone here,but eventually, you will actually be drawing the buyers attention to the "genius" you plagiarized from. In other words, you shoot yourself in the foot, to quote my good friend Mani. - posted by Tan510jomast on January 22, 2010"

It gave me the idea to talk a bit about plagiarizm in photography. Does it really exist? Can something in photography really be plagiarized?
If we compare plagiarizm in photography with other arts we'll see some common points, but also some differences. For ex. As a journalist I had an experience when some of my articles were copied – one literally almost from word to word including the title - and this was plagiarizm for sure. In another case only some parts of text were copied and a bit altered. Here I couldn't accuse my colleague of anything, but, of course, the ones who read both the copy and the original could immediately see which sourse was the initial. Copies are always worse than the originals. If the copy is better than original it's already no more a copy - it's a better development of the same idea. So, plagiarizm in writing is the exact copying of someone's text or a fragment of text and signing it with your own name. A sort of copy-pasting.
But in photography you can not just copy-paste somebody's image. To copy somebody's photo (if you not just replace the author's name by your own) you must understand the lighting, collect the objects and create the whole scene by yourself. Then you take your own camera, your own lighting system, select the right settings, shoot and post-process with your own hands.
When I was in photography school we had some lessons on copyright. And we learned that in photography if you reproduce somebody else's image it can be considered borrowing, pastige or whatsoever – even a complement to the author of the initial idea, but not plagiarizm. So, you can't go to court if a copy of your picture is made this way. Many famous photograpgers copy each other for challenge and they are not ashamed to confess it. I read many times in interviews something like that: "Yes, I saw this picture and admires, desided to try if I'm capable to reproduce it. I'm proud with the result".
Copying someone else in photography can very fast increase the beginner's skills. It's a perfect training. First you copy then develop your own style. In fact, exact copying someone's picture is sometimes often more difficult than making an original shot. Especially automatically.
There is another point. We often see on stock (and not only on stock) pictures which seem to be cloned. If you look, let's say, at several amature family albums you will see almost the same pictures there, only faces change. Are these pictures all plagiarized? How? These people may not know each other! The answer is: people have stereotypes. At the beginning everyone makes more or less the same pictures: something in the middle, tourist on Red Square, my face with "glamorous" expression, my face with open mouth (oh, don't you think I'm like Merylinn Monroe here?), then comes myself in sepia, myself with higher contrast or blurred... The further you go, the more unique you become - if that's what you want it, of course. Learning the works of better photographers and copying them for educational purposes helps to develop better vision. It also helps to understand how to present this vision the best way tecnically. There can be another good thing about it: usually in the process of copying something unexpected happens - and these unexpected results can be the first seeds of uniquness.
Once I read in a book about dancing that to learn how to dance you should copy the teacher's motions exactly. Let's say, we have a teacher and two good students who copy him very well. We look at a teacher and one student – they do the same. We look at a teacher and another student - they do the same. But if we look at the two students repeating after a teacher – there is a visible difference.
Same situation in painting. If we compare good copies with a copied masterpiece – no difference. But if we compare good copies made by different artists between themselves we immediately see the individual manner of each. This sort of uniqueness can't be multiplied so easily, which means there is no reason to be frightened too much.
Of course, if you consider yourself an artist and want to make career in art, copying «geniuses» when you create your own portfolio (not for educational purposes) makes no sense. Absolutely. Because in art the one who comes first with an idea – wins. But in commercial photography there is a lot of copying. It's normal. Commercial photography is not art. Art is something which has no practical value and displays something new. And sometimes this «new» doesn't even need to be beautiful. Commercial photography is only in rare cases trully unique. It borrows from art, it borrows from itself. (This is very easy to understand after learning a bit the history of photography). Commercial photography has another function compare to art - it has practical value: to sell. People better buy familiar things. So being too unique in this sphere sometimes can seriously cut off your income. Many pictures which are «too fresh» will not even pass through editor's control. Another inportant moment is that you just can't create unique images every day in the amount which is enough to live on the income offered by, let's say, micro stocks. Even if you are the biggest genius of all geniuses. You will just burn out. If you really find micro-stock best-seller's images unique – look at them better. They are in most cases variations of more or less the same concepts, same compositions and same lighting scheems. Saying so I don't mean these people are not talented. They definetely are. Their talent is to sell, to know marketing, to have exellent technical skills, to be able to arrange the production best way, to have the energy for all this. Their high quality works and the amount of these works prove their exeptional talents. I respect them a lot. They can be examples of successful busyness people for everyone. But to call each their picture unique – sorry... It doesn't mean they don't keep something aside to make a sensation out of it later and it doesn't mean they never made anything unique which was sensation before, it doesn't meant they killed themselves as artists - no, it just means that mass production can not consist of unique things only, and these people are specialists in producing mass things. To say they never borrow from anyone – sorry… To say noone should borrow from them…. Almost eveone on micro-stock tryes and will try it in any case ;)
As for another part of the post which I quatted at the beginning, noone consideres buyer a full. The buyer will search and find exactly what he needs. The most relevant. The best of offered. From his point of view.
I don't know how other micro-stockers treat their own micro-stock activity. I can just say for myself. I treat microstock as a sort of photographic diary where I show the places I visit, some accidential pictures, both old and new, some pictures which I make for training, something typical which I do or something untypical... During the upload I usually like every picture, but later some become favourite, some I begin to hate. I know it's not very much business like. But I do business another way. Here I'm for fun and training. I like stock for the possibility to see what is being done in mass and what sells. For the possibility to copy also – for educational reasons. I don't consider anybody else's copied ideas my own and don't give them away for my own. I also don't care that some of the works I show can be copied. For me it's a compliment. I have some works though which I don't want to be copied by anyone. I prefer to collect them in my drawers and present alltogether as something special - at least at the moment I find them special. For this reason these works can't be found on stock or elsewhere in the internet. So, to fight with with plagiarizm is easy if you wish – don't spare ideas which you consider meaningful. Show them at the right time and in the right place. Be aware that if you show something really interesting someone else may want to have it. Show only what you want to share. Then you are never hurt by the ones who copy.

Comments (12)

Posted by Countedsorrow2 on February 09, 2010
Great article!
I agree in full.
Posted by Tan510jomast on January 23, 2010
Right, I am wasting my breath. The apple cart will have to roll on without me.
I have clients to attend to.
Posted by Julia161 on January 23, 2010
I think you just refuse to hear. Most of your works are not unique, too. Thousands of people before used these ideas. These people can all come and say: oh, I was the first to shoot a girl on white background. This photographer plagiarized me. Will you aggre with it? And you are not even aware of such possibility because you think if you created it yourself it meant they are unique. But in many cases this is nos so. If you think that Yuri doesn't make research of the fresh ideas, it's a big mistake. I'm sure he has people for this. He has well-arranged production and well-arranged production can't do without such research. Professionals have no time to open book and see what others do? Never heard worse nonsence. True professionals always have open books. They learn each day. They understand the value of information. In adverticement agencies there are special people for this, too. There are people who analize the market and see the trends, the leading ideas, the news. Have you ever worked...(More)
Posted by Tan510jomast on January 23, 2010
And I think that it's important to look realistically at your work and not say that you create something unique when you just repeat something which was done before by thousands. It's same copying. Even if you don't copy it intentionally. Everybody here does it. But only some feel robbed when noone really robbed them. - posted by Julia161 on January 23, 2010

I am not even sure you know what you are saying here.
Are you REALISTICALLY saying this because you too have UNINTENTIONALLY COPIED other people?
That's like saying someone is "almost pregnant". You either copy or you don't. Is this why you are apparently so casual about letting others copy your work?

I am truly missing the logic here.
Do you leave your front door wide open when you sleep or when you leave the house so your neighbourhood's thieves can come in to SHARE your assets which you spent hours to work to afford?

If your answer to this is Yes, then I surely have wasted my breath from the very...(More)
Posted by Tan510jomast on January 23, 2010
YULIYA (btw, that's the name of one of my models too), I know you mean well,
and your heart's in the right place ain all this la dee dah share and share alike hippy dippy thing.

But, the importance of creating from self is imperative. you can admire each other's work but you should never even think to copy your peers. You develop your own
It's something a good business person develops way before they even started to
work as a professional
The thought of copying or even looking at someone else's work ends right after photo school. In professional work, a pro doesn't have the luxury of free time to stay home to open books and check websites to copy. A pro's work schedule is full y booked to be too busy merely creating work for clients and self.
An amateur may have the time to copy and plagiarize. They also have less at stake when someone points out their blatant inability to create something of their own.
Perharps, it's...(More)
Posted by Julia161 on January 23, 2010
And I think that it's important to look realistically at your work and not say that you create something unique when you just repeat something which was done before by thousands. It's same copying. Even if you don't copy it intentionally. Everybody here does it. But only some feel robbed when noone really robbed them.
Posted by Justmeyo on January 23, 2010
May not invent the wheel again but that not mean to copy images .As for words I do not know how it is normal to copy other words from other pictures, I think it's important that you put your brains and find relevant words for photo you want to sell!
Posted by Julia161 on January 22, 2010
Hi, Tan510jomast. I think you call copying only exact copy-paste and I call it everything which is not original. For this reason I seem to be more tolerant to this :) I know that in photography it's very easy to make a copy by an accident. For ex. often to avoid copying I first shoot and then see what others did in this matter. Sometimes I see that noone made a similar picture, but sometimes find many shots very similar to mine. Almost clones. Does it mean I plagiatized them? No. But I well realize that these ideas are not original and don't really belong to me. They also don't belong to other people who made similar shots. They belong to the past. To stereotypes. Everything which is stereotype I also consider a copy. This sort of a copy can not be shown in exibition, for ex., but on stock it can be very well used, because still there is some difference between copies. If there are too many of them it's rejected, no problem. Many things are done under the influence which can be even unconcious...(More)
Posted by Tan510jomast on January 22, 2010
I'm back, lol. Another thought came to mind Julia, in fact two.
Anecdote 1:
I remember how I got caught copying in primary 1 during a test. My teacher pulled me up and put a dunce cap on my head and I stood in front of the class with the scrawl COPY in front of my test paper.
Maybe we should do the same here. lol.

Anecdote 2:
perharps not quite an anecdote. Long time ago, in music, the Rolling Stone became famous copying Chuck Berry. As white kids in UK preferred hearing the water-downed, poorly performed, version of the original. It wasn't so bad, really, as Mr Berry still got the lion share being paid royalties on his composition .
Unfortunately, in stock photography, Yuri Arcurs,etc.. is not paid a royalty for the obvious clones of his work. It wouldn't be so bad, if in fact he was.

Posted by Mani33 on January 22, 2010
Oh my God both the blog & the comment had forced me to read much :P
I agree with learning from a concept & repeating it in your own style...
An assignment for example!
But copying it as it is & upload it in your name, for me is not acceptable!
Most of us don't live with the earnings of Microstocks & many are here for fun, but no body likes to see his image copied! There is always an angle to shoot the same object in a different way! That's what I believe more... Learning with copying should practiced at home not on professional sites! It feels great to start participating with your own touch & style even if the image has been done by hundreds!
Julia the only thing that I don't agree with you is to keep the precious unique work in the drawer! Eventually it's protected my codes marks & by law! So keep us posted with your new ideas everybody!
Cheers ;)
Posted by Davidwatmough on January 22, 2010
I love your post. Only a fool wouldn't study what pictures sell best and try to emulate the quality and relevance. It is clear that even certain subject areas sell better than others. I am trying to concentrate largely on business and banking areas and find developing new concepts very satisfying. I scour charity shops for subject matter. My lesson this week from rejections was don't bother with on camera flash.... its a waste of time. Thanks again. David.
Posted by Tan510jomast on January 22, 2010
I never thought I would have my name mentioned twice in one month in DT blog. I should spend less time here , lol.
I don't want to go into my credential of photo school or my training, or me training others, we all have our own history.
We all did some form of copying. At Zone Vi Workshop a long time ago, I too was trying to be the new Ansel Adams. In glamour, I too was going to aspire to replace Richard Avedon. In movies, I wanted to be Cecil Beaton and the way he saw light. In my work as a photo correspondent, I also wanted my own Minimarta so one day someone can mention my essay in the same breath as W.Eugene Smith.

But all in all, I studied these maseters. Even met the world's greatest living portraitists at that time I was a mere graduate starting out on freelancing in the capital, where I had an audience with him at his Chateau Laurier studio. It was to me, as important and memorable as a catholic meeting the pope.

But never once, did i ever "copy" or plagiarize...(More)

Comments (12)

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Photo credits: Julia161.

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