How not to make money off a viral story

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Copyright 2005 Sean McCann

In September of last year, I was contacted by Ephraim Ragasa, a student at the University of Florida for permission to use a photo I took of Psorophora ciliata, the Gallinipper mosquito. These large mosquitoes are surely one of the largest blood-feeding mosquitoes in North America, and it is quite a shock when they come around looking for blood.

Ephraim wanted to use the photo for a Featured Creatures article, a common assignment for students in the Entomology and Nematology Department at UF.  Since that time, for whatever reason, the media has picked up on this and spun it into a story of “Giant Mosquitoes Invading Florida!” or some other such tripe.

The photo has been copied and reproduced at least a hundred times since then, being used by news media, in pest control websites and on blogs. Only Deborah Netburn, a journalist with the L.A. Times has contacted me for permission to use the photo. She turned out a very nice article, with the scientific name spelled correctly and the facts straight. I was happy to help her.

For the others, many did not credit me, I certainly have not seen any payment, and frankly it pisses me off that everyone except me is making money off my image.

It turns out that the copyright notice on the UF website is nebulous and seems to imply free usage rights for “educational purposes”, so I guess it is down to me that the photo does not give me any income, although the pest control companies will be receiving an invoice for their uncredited and illegal commercial usage.

Anyway, all of these issues been covered extensively and in much better detail by Alex Wild, someone who makes his living from photography, but speaking as a student who is having trouble paying tuition, I lift my middle finger at the unethical commercial exploiters of copyrighted work. So there.

Update: The Hastings Park Eagle agrees with me:

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9 thoughts on “How not to make money off a viral story

  1. It is definitely a thought. They generally only would take that on if I had registered copyright in the US, otherwise there are no statutory damages payable. I think someone with a better catalog than me would be well advised to do so.

  2. Wouldn’t you know it – I’m watching the local news this evening (WPTV) and lo and behold there is your picture, larger than life, up on the screen. They had it credited to UF in small letters in the corner of the image. It is honestly the best picture they seem to have of it. Not that that makes you feel much better I’m sure. In a selfish way I was excited to see your pic on the local news all the way down here in FL! I’m all like “Hey, there’s Sean’s pic” and no one else in the room had a clue what the hell I’m talking about 😀

    Maybe think about a watermark? I don’t particularly like the way it looks on my images sometimes, but I do it anyway. Kind of brands me.

    I really wish you would’ve gotten the credit and coin 😉 you deserve for this pic, but I think it really is a compliment to your talent that one of your images went viral!!

  3. The sad thing is, it is not that great a pic! If people like me are to be able to keep doing this, there has to be some compensation for commercial use at the least.

  4. You can’t expect to make money by your photos just being spread around this site (or others); the majority of people who take photos off the web are either knowingly taking stuff they don’t have the rights to, or are oblivious. In that context, gross watermarks on photos may keep your photos off of other sites, but they aren’t going to magically increase sales, and they certainly will significantly disrupt to 99% use case of them.

    If you want to sell photos, you need to present them within that context so that the people who do actually purchase stock will find/consider them. If I need some mosquito image I’ll head over to http://www.istockphoto.com/search/text/Mosquito/filetypes/photos,illustrations,video/source/basic#96049e5 (or another dozen similar services).

    I have no idea what the conversation was like with the other person, but it seems like spreading of this specific photo could have been stopped by you being more thorough. You have the power to remove it from most of the places it is used, and there are services to enable you to easily sell stock.

    • If it isn’t your primary thing, or you aren’t a big name in of yourself, then making your own site is too huge of an endeavour, and you should join the other stock services.

      You can then make sure that every photo that you use on your blog is available on one of those services, and link to it.

      Then you can at least catch the lazy and honest person. =P

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