Grok Photography

Photos and words by Petter Senften

Copyright Is Dead

More than a year since I wrote something here, but today I’m here to talk about copyright and why it’s useless for modern photographers.

I see a lot of professional as well as amateur photographers who slap a Copyright-symbol on their photos as if it’s some kind of magic protection from evil. The sad truth is that the concept of Copyright itself is somewhere beteen pointless and evil. Don’t believe the nonsense, copyright is no longer relevant in this digital future.

Copyright had relevance 30 years ago, before the widespread digital distribution rolled in. Every time I see a photographer with a website, where all the photos are thumbnail-size and if they’re somewhat decent resolution are covered in various bullshit copyright-protection watermarks and/or various hacks to try to prevent downloading of the photos, I sigh and move along. That photographer is obviously stuck in the past and is a dinosaur.

The web is about sharing. You literally cannot put something on the web without it being shared. Either in the traditional sense of sharing (i.e. distributed) but also shared in the sense that people see it and share the experience, the thoughts, your art. It could also be shared in such a technical sense that it’s shared into the cache of the visitors webbrowser. Sharing is part of the internet. You can’t show something and try to cordon it off as if it was some kind of goddamn museum.

My philosophy is to live in the present, and the future. I appreciate sharing. I refuse to fall for the temptation of slapping watermarks, copyright and various other crap on my photos. If you want to share my photos, PLEASE DO! The only thing I ask is that you don’t pass them off as your own, and if possible link back to my website. But since I cannot control this I have made the choice to not be bothered. I can’t stop people if they choose to do this, but I ask kindly that you don’t because it’s just rude.

Therefore I refuse to acknowledge the concept of copyright and instead choose to license my photos and creations with a much more relevant type of license. It’s called Creative Commons and I’ve chosen the CC-BY-ND 3.0 license. You can read more about it at the page tht link leads to, but in short it means you are free to distribute my work in any way, shape or form as long as you don’t change it. Those are the provisions of the license. Also, I’m not difficult as such, if you want to do something with one of my photos feel free to ask – I’m generally very generous and not the difficult kind.

The only restricition I place is that if this is for widespread commercial use, you need to contact me for my permission. Non-commercial use? Go nuts, have fun as long as you credit me. Use it for your wallpaper, your magazine, whatever.

Photographers need to let go of this silly fear of “stealing” on the web. The minority of assholes who download someones photos exist and are a pain, but 99% of websurfers are cool and just want to enjoy your art. License your stuff under a CC-license, move away from the stupid “copyright” and instead enjoy the freedom. Because that’s what most artists, musicians and creators want – to have their work enjoyed and admired, not locked up behind bars and worry about trivial problems.

The one driving force behind my photography is that I enjoy it and that others enjoy it. Everything else is a bonus.

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  1. Mind 2013/06/24

    Well said!

  2. Richard 2013/08/17

    Uhmm… you’re mixing things up. Copyright is the law that says you own your own work and can decide how you want it to be used, the license is the tool you use to say what others can do with your copyrighted work.

    In Sweden, there’s no way for you to throw away your copyright, you have it automatically as soon as you’ve created your picture. In the USA, the only way to put your work outside of the framework of copyright is to make it public domain, in which case you forfeit any right to tell anybody what to or what not to do with your work (a license on public domain work is simply ridiculous).

    So as a matter of fact, excercising a license like you do is to express your rights as a copyright holder.

    • Petter 2013/08/17 — Post Author

      That used to be how it worked, and how it was originally intended to work. However, copyright has been distorted and perverted into a license in itself and is daily being used to restrict rights and restrict how people view media.

      Copyright has become the tool to restrict fair use (something which oddly isn’t defined in Sweden) as well as pursuing legal action against unfavorable opinions. I will not participate in that.

      • Richard 2013/08/18

        Not sure what you mean by the original intent. Are we talking 15th and 16th century printing time (where publishers were what we’d call copyright holders today), 1793 French law (where the copyright was given to authors, composers and artists), end of 18th century US copyright law (in essence the same thinking as the french law, with the possibility of public domain added), the Berne convention (which has been modified a number of times since the start in 1886, the last changes being made in 1971)?
        Basically, they all say the same thing, that the copyright holder has exclusive rights (you know, “All rights reserved”) and can grant a license to anyone it wishes, where the license *lessens* the restrictions otherwise imposed by copyright law. Ref:

        Additionally, the USA has the concept of fair use (Sweden has a form of fair use as well; Ref:

        So I’m sorry, but as far as I understand it, you’ve misunderstood something. Copyright in itself is *very* restrictive (as I said, “All rights reserved”), except for fair use or the corresponding thing in Swedish law, and a license is a piece of text that lifts some or all of the restrictions, i.e. grants rights to anyone as the copyright holder chooses.

        What I found ironic is that in your original entry above, you say that you refuse the concept of copyright, and yet you use a license that works with copyright (in other words, you do participate in the concept of copyright). In the use, the only way to really refuse the concept of copyright is to put your work in the public domain. In Sweden, you don’t have that possibility (there’s something called “allmängods”, but as far as I understand, this only happens automatically 70 years after the creator’s death; Ref:

        • Petter 2013/08/18 — Post Author

          My point is that I don’t care if copyright can be applied to my works. I’m not refusing it, I’m simply saying I don’t care about it.

          “All rights reserved” is a saying I dislike. I don’t mind if others use my photos or work. What I do mind is if someone takes credit. I do enjoy the CC philosophy of sharing and I try to do it myself. I believe in giving people reasonable terms to distribute and use stuff and copyright in my opinion isn’t about giving people fair rights. Even if copyright ceased to exist the rights to my work is still mine, if someone else claims to have created my photos I still have the originals and as such can prove ownership. Copyright won’t help me one damn thing in that regard. Neither will CC, but CC is a better way of setting terms.

          I’m uninterested in getting bogged down in hair-splitting debate about legalities and rights. I’ve made my choice, I like it. If copyright can be applied to my works then so be it, but it’s of no real concern to me.

          • Richard 2013/08/18

            Oh, I entirely agree with you on CC licenses, they are great tools. If you look around, I use cc-by-nc more or less everywhere on the web.

            I’m just concerned that there is so much confusion on what copyright and licenses are, and sorry to say so, your writing adds to the confusion. It makes talking about the matter more difficult than it already is.

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