If you post photographs on social media you run the risk that someone will copy and use your work without your permission. Chances are they won’t even give you credit so no one will know that it is your image.
In theory that is a violation of copyright law, but like speeding on an expressway it is a law that is widely flaunted.
I’m not sure whether to be angry or flattered when someone steals my photos.
At times I’ve been amused. That was the case when someone posted on Trainorders.com a photograph of a flier on the wood bridge carrying Bort Road over the CSX Erie West Subdivision tracks near North East, Pennsylvania.
A group seeking to save the bridge from removal put on that flier an image that I made of a CSX train passing beneath the bridge. That photo had been posted on the Akron Railroad Club blog.
I was less amused when I discovered the organizers of a Michigan railroad conference lifted an image I made last July of Amtrak’s Blue Water at Durand, Michigan.
An educational group should know better than to steal a photograph without permission or giving credit.
On occasion, someone sends me an email asking permission to use one of my photographs.
The Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers did that for an image I made of an Amtrak train in Kalamazoo. My images have been used with permission in professional presentations and in the magazine of a rails-to-trails group.
But All Aboard Ohio stole a photograph I made of the Lake Shore Limited at Bort Road and published it on Page 1 of its newsletter. They did give me credit, though.
Some photographers won’t post on social media because they hate having their photographs used without their permission.
Others post stern copyright warnings, but those may be useless because it is easy to copy and paste online content.
Those who steal copyrighted work are largely unapologetic about it. Supposedly, some people believe that if something is online it is in the “public domain.”
There may be some truth to that, but I see it a different way. There is larceny in the hearts of many, if not most Americans.
Some scrupulously honest people will refrain from theft out of principle or moral obligation, but far more others have the attitude of “I’ll take what I can until someone stops me.”
The cost of stopping people who steal photographs can be high and the rewards low or nonexistent even if you prevail in a lawsuit for copyright infringement. Using the legal system is not free.
Many, if not most, who “steal” the photographs of others are not making money from the theft.
They see what they did as providing an illustration. I can look past those situations, but have a harder time with situations such as the blogger who copied an image I made inside an Amtrak dining car and used it to illustrate a travelogue about his Amtrak trip. The post suggested it was his photograph.
I received an email from someone I don’t know alerting me to that theft and providing a link to the site moderator to seek removal of the image.
I was told this blogger has a reputation of stealing other people’s images. Although I thanked the watchdog, I wound up not doing anything about the theft.
In part that is because I have adopted the philosophy of David Oroszi, a highly-respected railroad photographer from Dayton.
He once wrote that if someone is able to profit from stealing one of his photographs, well then good for them.
He did not elaborate on why he felt that way, but it might be a combination of understanding that the battle might not be worth waging and feeling comfortable with his own success as a photographer.
Dave’s images have appeared in numerous books, including several he has co-authored. Magazines regularly pay him for use of his photographs.
He knows what retailers know that you do what you can to protect your property but some loss from theft is part of the cost of doing business.