Was The “Stolen Scream” Really Stolen?

Posted on 9/5/2012 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

In March 2011 we published a brief story about how Noam Galai’s picture of his screaming face had been used extensively all over the world without his permission. The image has gained a reputation as the “Stolen Scream.”

This image has received a great deal of publicity in the photographic community as a classic example of copyright infringement. Many users have benefited commercially and economically from using this image without compensating Galai in any manner for his part in their success.

Galai says that the only time he has ever been paid for use of the image was when National Geographic’s requested the right to use it in their “Glimpse” magazine. This use occurred after the image had already been widely used on the Internet and in many other ways.

Now Galai has produced a 10 minute video explaining how the image of his face has been used in hundreds of different ways in 30 to 40 countries.

In Iran his is one of the faces on anti-government posters. In Mexico the picture was used on the cover of a book and is credited to another photographer, evidently someone who grabbed the image and sold it to the book publisher. These are just two examples.

He says that when the picture is used as art he is “cool with it,” and doesn’t expect compensation. Wider exposure for the image is something he seeks. On the other hand when big companies sell this picture on T-shirts or other products, or use it to promote products they are selling, he thinks he should be compensated.

The dilemma is that he views his work as art and want the widest possible exposure (hopefully, at least with his credit). He would like to be paid for commercial uses, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue he is willing to spend time or money fighting to protect.
He has done virtually nothing to legally pursue any of those who have earned revenue from the use of his image.

He feels that if he had taken the picture 20 years ago (before the Internet) the only place it would have been published would have been in his room. Very few people would have seen, or known of the existence of the image.

Thus, was the image really stolen, or did Galai allow and facilitate by posting it on the Internet.

Art vs Commerce

There is a fine line between what one may need to maximize exposure for their work and what one may need to do to earn a living creating their art.

For some people making their work freely available can lead to wide distribution and provide them with a degree of personal satisfaction. This is particularly true, if somehow their name can become known. In such cases economic reward may be secondary. For others the purpose of creation may be to earn their living, or at least some supplemental income.

Copyright allows the creator to make that decision. But, for the potential user it is often very difficult to know the motivation of the creator, or even who the creator is.

A huge percentage of the people who create images just want others to see and appreciate what they do. Most would be honored to see their image used on a T-shirt or in a magazine and would consider a free T-shirt or magazine adequate compensation if they expected any compensation at all.

A very small percentage of creators create images as a profession and expect reasonable compensation when their work is used. Unfortunately, there is no easy way for potential users to determine which category the creator falls into.

The Internet has made it so easy to instantaneously distribute images without the knowledge or intention of the creator that once any image is made available for viewing in any form (even print) it is impossible for creators to keep track of all potential uses of there work.

On the other hand it would theoretically be possible to make it easy for anyone with Internet access to determine if the creator of a given image expected compensation for use of the image, and to provide the creator’s contact information.

Here are the key elements:
    1 – It is possible to create a “fingerprint” of any image. That fingerprint can be used to locate the specific image in any database searched.  See TinEye.com (http://www.tineye.com/) or Google Images (http://images.google.com/).
    2 – A single database needs to be created that contains all images where compensation is expected for their use. It could also contain images where the creator wants credit, but not necessarily other compensation.
    3 – Each image would have the creator’s contact information attached to it.
    4 - Creators would need to insure that a copy of every image they produce is included in this database.
    5 – Anyone who has found an image they would like to use could upload a digital file of the image in the same manner as they would upload an image to Google Images. The database would be searched and the customer provides immediately with information about the creator and the rights available.
    6 – Laws could be established that would require anyone who wished to avoid being a copyright infringer to search this database. If an unauthorized use was made after the image was in the database it would be prima facie evidence of infringement.
For an additional discussion of this concept see the Protecting Image Copyright Worldwide.

Copyright © 2012 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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