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From Guest Editor Josh Peters. Imagine being a freelance photographer. Making a living off of your craft and enjoying what you do every day. You work on your portfolio and upload some of your images online to try and get noticed. Then one day you wake up and find out that Toyota has used one of your images in their new 4Runner campaign. That’s every freelancers dream, right? The big time. Well, what if you didn’t know that Toyota had used your images? What if you only found out because a friend told you your image was being used?
This happened on Tuesday to Colorado-based freelance photographer Michael Calanan, who found out about his photo’s major debut on Toyota’s site from a friend. How’s that for a kick in the pants? You don’t even get to tell your parents about one of your images being part of a major corporation’s campaign because you didn’t know it was. This should have been a proud moment for Michael Calanan and his parents.
He should have been able to call them up and tell them about his debut for a global brand. How dare Toyota take that moment away from any parent who has gritted their teeth and said “that’s wonderful son” and put some atrocity on the fridge, and now finally gets to see their progeny’s work in a major campaign. They can’t have that proud moment if they don’t know it exists.
Now if you click on the image of the two grizzly bears it takes you to Michael’s Flickr page, so in truth they didn’t technically “steal” it. However, they never asked Michael if they could use his “All Rights Reserved” image in their campaign either. What if Michael hates Toyota (which I don’t know if he does) and wants nothing to do with them? Shouldn’t he have a say in how his artwork is used?
It’s not like he made it difficult either. He put a contact email address right below the image. All the person at Toyota would have had to do is take 30 seconds to email him saying “Hi, I’m SoAndSo with Toyota and we’d like to use your grizzly image on our new site and link it back to you with full credit. Please let me know if that would be alright.”
Toyota seems to have adopted the mentality of “I can use it because it’s on the Internet,” which isn’t entirely the case as the State of Utah recently found out. Instead of rallying the artist behind them, they just angered him, his friends, and probably some extent of his family. 60 seconds of courtesy could have made all the difference in the world. 60 seconds could have excited the artist, who would have told his friends and family, who would have in turn told some of their friends, and so on.
This chain reaction could have brought many eyes to see it in a positive light and applaud what Toyota was doing. Instead, it caused a rant on Twitter by Calanan, that caused his friends to rant on Twitter (me being one of them), which led to more ranting which then led to Toyota making apologies and taking down the images on one of their sites but not the other, and this none too flattering article being written about them. Seems like the 60 seconds would have been worth it.
The point I want to make here isn’t how things can’t stay hidden for long in social media and the Internet, in general. The Jaguar Post-It story has gotten national coverage, been covered to death and beautifully illustrates that point. The point is Responsibility.
Toyota probably didn’t create this in-house and so used another company to create the site, but that’s not what we the customer and we the Internet user see. We don’t see “created by so and so firm” we see TOYOTA! Now more than ever is the time to ask questions, to make sure everything was done ethically and with permission. After all, at the end of the day, it’s their name and their reputation that gets associated with the product and how the campaign gets handled, just like it’s Calanan’s (and the other photographer’s) name and reputation that get associated with their images and how they’re used.
As of writing this, Toyota has taken down the images from only one of their sites and has not contacted the artists like they said they would. Is that an admission of guilt? Are they conferring with their lawyers and pulling out their hair because they thought for sure they understood this Internet stuff? Who knows, but what I can tell you is this. Just because it’s on the Internet, doesn’t mean it’s free.
If you’re not sure how all this works, then ask someone who does. “Borrowing” images for commercial use is not okay, especially when it’s how that person makes a living. We all need to eat, but the food tastes better when we do it with ethics, responsibility, and don’t “borrow” images from talented Denver photographers.
Josh Peters is a freelance social media consultant who has been deeply involved in the research and application of social media for several years and is the co-author of TwittFace. He blogs at Shuaism and pretty much lives on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.