Standing at the crossroads of what’s yours is mine

I have been talking for some time about the idea that the image of a piece of work is more valuable to the artist than the work itself.  This is a fairly radical concept for many in the arts, but it’s an accepted fact for most people in media, technology and marketing. This idea is the result of convergence, the merger of previously distinct technologies or fields into a new form, requiring new practices. What has happened in video, music, telecommunications and computing over the last two decades is an example of convergence. It has been happening in the arts for quite some time as well.  


Convergence is exciting, messy, disruptive, changes the way things work and the way we think they should work.  It changes the playing field AND the game. At the center of this discussion is a raging debate over issues of privacy, ownership of information and copyright. To the point, all of this will have an impact on the images of your work. Just to be clear, I am not talking about your work – I am talking about IMAGES of your work.  


Data – your data – is the currency of the 21st century. Billions of dollars are spent collecting it, and multi-billions are made selling it.  Who controls information about you, and who can profit from it is the new Wild West. This also has far reaching ramifications for artists and makers, specifically on the issue of control and right to compensation for the use of images of your work.


There has been a lot of talk about Pinterest of late. It is the newest shiny bauble on the social networking scene. Artists (some, anyway) love Pinterest because it seems to shower free attention on a lucky maker. We love free and we love attention. But nothing is really free and some of the more astute makers are already saying “Wait a minute… what’s that tucked down there in all that legal terms and conditions.


Pinterest has clearly recognized the value of the image of the object. Its business model and revenue strategy is based on assuming control over images posted to its site. This is demonstrated beyond doubt in their carefully worded Terms of Use. We saw an opinion on this concept (not the actual terms and conditions as stipulated by Pinterest) by an attorney who makes his living writing these kinds documents. It’s just standard procedure, no need for concern, according to this source. If you believe that, you haven’t been paying attention to what Facebook, Google and your grocery store are doing with all the data they are collecting on you right now – including photographs. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.


All this being said, we’re not particularly anti-Pinterest. They are simply one example among many in a trend that foreshadows much larger problems for artists. The trend is that a system, indeed an entire industry has developed for acquisition, distribution and monetization of private data. In this particular case “data” means “images of your work”. The problem is no system has been developed to ensure control, individual rights, privacy and revenue sharing from the use of that data.  If you think copyright law will protect you, you are woefully mistaken. Look at the music industry.


The closest we come to being organized on this issue is photographers, who recognized this trend decades ago. They organized to protect themselves and worked to pass legislation specific to their interests. By the way, do not confuse that with YOUR interests. There has been an ongoing and at times contentious debate over who owns the rights to images of an artist’s work – the photographer who took the image or the artist who created the subject matter being photographed. Current copyright law sides with the photographer, even if the artist paid the photographer to take the pictures.


Now that your gears are turning, try this idea on for size. The image of a work of art will be used to represent the item and the artist far more often, and be seen by a much larger audience, than the actual object ever will, its importance to the artist’s career is immediately obvious. Now consider that unless you took that photo of your work yourself, you probably don’t own it in the first place.


If that isn’t enough of a minder-binder for you, now Pinterest asserts that they have the right to financial compensation for the use of any image of your work posted on their site. All of this accomplished by neat legal maneuver signed sealed and delivered when you or anyone posts an image of your work to the Pinterest site. Pinterest makes repeated declarations that they have “worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services.”

Just standard procedure … to take control of and make money off your images.  By the way, just because you can’t imagine how they are going to do it - they already have. Which is why they paid a lawyer (maybe the one on the other site) a s*** load of money to craft that very specific language.


This is where we’d like to bring your attention to another trend of convergence - social media and activism. It’s what you are doing right this minute, reading this.


Just as photographers and stock photography companies have become very efficient at collecting royalty payments and enforcing copyright control for the artists and photographers they represent, we need to start organizing ourselves along the same lines. Is there a role for the major arts organizations to play? This is certainly how things got rolling in the photography world.  


Many arts organizations are grappling with how to make themselves relevant to their constituencies in a changing world. A collaborative effort could harness the power of social activism to assert artist’s rights over images of our own work.


At the end of the day, it beats sitting alone in our studios helplessly watching someone else take control of what’s ours.  

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Comment by Harriete E Berman on March 2, 2012 at 10:02am

2Roses says it so well:  "Businesses like Pinterest have figured out that they can make far more money by letting people look at your work than by selling your work. The image of your work is worth far more than the work itself."

While I understand that we ALL would rather make work that do anything else (me included), one more time, someone else is making money, and artists starve in the studio.

Comment by 2Roses on March 2, 2012 at 9:55am

There are many twists and turns to all of this. A timely example:

Friday, March 2012:  Shutterfly has agreed to pay $23.8 million for the online Kodak Gallery business, which includes the transfer of Gallery customer accounts and images in the U.S. and Canada to Shutterfly.

Comment by 2Roses on March 2, 2012 at 12:50am

Randy, this is exactly about getting back to the studio.  Being aware of the business practices, legal issues and real world concerns that will determine if you can actually make a living making things IS being in the studio - fully, and engaged in your business.  Making things is only one half of the equation. What you do with the things you make is the other half. Most of us would like to exchange the things we make for money. How that happens brings us smack back to the middle of this discussion.

We've introduced the concept of convergence and how it changes the way we do things. One of the things that is changing is why and how artists can be compensated. It isn't just about selling your work in a gallery anymore. In fact its not just about selling the "work" at all.

You can decry the amount of time people spend "looking at our computers or smart phones", but also ask yourself - what are they looking at? 

Brace yourself, because here comes a paradigm shift.

They are looking at "content" and artists are "content creators". Businesses like Pinterest have figured out that they can make far more money by letting people look at your work than by selling your work. The image of your work is worth far more than the work itself.

Comment by Harriete E Berman on March 1, 2012 at 10:59pm

Getting back in the studio doesn't address the very serious issue in front of us.

Our images are on the internet because is serves a valuable role sharing our work with a larger audience. When people "pick up and post" our images on Pinterest without proper attribution, description, source, metatags, etc, we are in trouble. Whether you are on Pinterest or not, the problem is out there and growing.  

Comment by Randy Long on March 1, 2012 at 10:10pm

I love the comment by Tom McCarthy below and I agree that we should be making things instead of spending all our time looking at our computers or smart phones.  Get back to the studio!

Comment by 2Roses on March 1, 2012 at 5:24pm

Thank you for weighing in Tom. You ask "Could convergence ultimately lead to image before object?" The answer is… it already has. Main stream jewelry stores have been moving in this direction for several years now with 3D software that lets customers "design and build" their own custom jewelry. The finished Cad file is then produced and the customer picks up the finished product from the store. There are many online jewelry retailers that use a similar approach. Stuller offers one such product 

It is inevitable that more studio jewelers and designers who already work in 3D and CAD (Anthony Tammaro, Arthur Hash, Phil Renato to name but three) will begin to take advantage of the technology and media to deliver a more collaborative creative experience for their customers.

Comment by Brandon Holschuh on March 1, 2012 at 1:21pm

I've done a bit of research about intellectual property rights and the laws used to enforce them. Specifically as it relates to artists. This 2 Roses topic of images-not work-applies to the intellectual property (subject matter) of the photo itself. Take a look at what wikipedia defines intellectual property as....

Intellectual property (IP) is a term referring to a number of distinct types of creations of the mind for which a set of exclusive rights are recognized under the corresponding fields of law.[1] Under intellectual property law, owners are granted certain exclusive rights to a variety of intangible assets, such as musical, literary, and artistic works; discoveries and inventions; and words, phrases, symbols, and designs. Common types of intellectual property rights include copyrightstrademarkspatentsindustrial design rights and trade secrets in some jurisdictions. The term intellectual property is used to describe many very different, unrelated legal concepts.

Does an "image" of an artists work fall under this set of laws? I think so.

-Brandon Holschuh

Comment by Harriete E Berman on March 1, 2012 at 12:09pm

This is an amazing post. 2 Roses is addressing many of the problematic issues with Pinterest.

Many of the issues raised here by 2 Roses exist on other social networking, or photo sharing sites, but I could live with the concern. On Facebook and Flickr or Crafthaus, I posted the images and shared them with an internet audience, but for the most part, I could include a description and my name. I had control of the images.

Pinterest is different because it assumes it is ok. to take my images, post my images on their pin board and there was no requirement or expectation that the person should provide a description, attribution to the artist or the source for the images. People are not even posting the best images of my work, but tiny little thumbnail images.

Today, I found a few images without my name or description. It was practically luck that I found them. I left a comment with the images asking that they add my name and description. I wonder what will happen? It was a test. Next time I am reporting the person.

This is a huge topic. 2 Roses raises important issues. Keep thinking, keep talking about this topic. It is huge it is important.


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