Documentation:Digital Tattoo Curriculum/Photographers

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Session Description

Sharing media digitally is easier and more necessary for artists than ever – think Flickr and Instagram. However, as an artist, navigating the maze of online licencing, ownership, and personal representation, especially in the age of social media, can be confusing.

To cut through the confusion and create a path for themselves, artists need tools. Tools can be as simple as asking the right questions to learn what you need to know, like: What is a licence? How does what I share shape my digital identity? How can open sharing be beneficial for my art?

This facilitated workshop will work through these questions, offer definitions and give attendees the tools to learn how to raise the right questions to inform their digital identity and representation online. We hope participants will walk away with a firm sense of what copyright is, how it applies to their work, and what questions they should ask when posting their artwork online to shape their digital identity and connect with others.

Note that a distribution-friendly version of the slide deck that accompanied the in-person portion of this workshop is available HERE.

Read more about the Digital Tattoo

Learning Goals

  1. Understand your rights as a creator as well as the rights of others to use and engage with your work
  2. Discuss ways and approaches that photographers are currently using to represent their photography and themselves online.
  3. Reflect on how sharing photos online effects the creative practice of photography.
  4. Define the role of context and responsibility when sharing content.
  5. Reflect on actions to take if content if shared out of context.
  6. Define the benefits and drawbacks of ‘Open’ practice.

The Digital Tattoo

The Digital Tattoo Project is a collaboration between the UBC Library, the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, UBC’s Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, and the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information and In forum Library.

The DT project is a student lead team effort, we work with students who are updating, developing and sharing resources for our website. The goal is to develop resources that support thoughtful and intentional decisions when it comes to digital participation and impact on identity.

Copyright Basics for Creators

When is a work protected by copyright?

In order for copyright to subsist in a work there are two basic requirements:

  1. Fixation - ideas are not protected by copyright, only expressions of ideas. As a result, a work cannot be protected until it has been expressed in a tangible way. In photographs this usually occurs at the time the a photograph is recorded onto either film or digital memory. So film negatives and digital camera images stored on an SD card or computer, that have never been printed into photographs are still protected.
  2. Originality - All copyright protected works must meet a minimal threshold for originality. Speaking of photographs specifically, an author of a photograph must exercise “skill and judgment” for it to be protected by copyright. Some sort of intellectual effort must be apparent - something that can be characterized as more than a mechanical exercise.Courts have stated that the “skill and judgement” can be measured through elements like the angle of the shot, lighting effects, framing, costumes, location research, duration of the shoot etc. A photograph exhibits originality even by the particular angle and point of view at which the photographer takes it.

Who owns copyright in your works?

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While the default assumption is that the author is the original owner of copyright in a work, there are many ways in which this can become complicated. There is a clear distinction between authors and owners of copyrighted works. Sometimes they are one and the same, but often times they are not. Authors are the creators of the work and under current copyright law, are always individuals (or groups of individuals in the case of works of joint-authorship) – corporations cannot be authors of copyright. Owners of copyrighted works are often the author to begin with, but it is common for authors to transfer their ownership in a work to someone else - either an individual or a corporation.

An important exception to authors being the first owner of copyright is when that work is created as as part of their employment. If, for example you are asked to take pictures of the company Bar-B-Q, you would be the author, but your employer would be the owner.

What rights does copyright grant?

While different types of works have different rights, the general and standard rights that copyright confers are the rights to:

- Production

- Reproduction

- Performance

- Publication

Generally, these rights are understood as economic rights and are granted under the expectation that giving creators the exclusive right to exploit their work will encourage them to innovate and produce more content. This is central to the purpose of copyright, which is to promote the progress of science and the useful arts.

A note on Moral Rights

In addition to economic rights, Canadian authors enjoy another class of rights – moral rights.

Moral rights are, according to the Copyright Act “the right to the integrity of the work and, in connection with an act mentioned in section 3, the right, where reasonable in the circumstances, to be associated with the work as its author by name or under a pseudonym and the right to remain anonymous.”

Moral rights are a result of the influence of French/continental understandings of copyright in Canada, and may help explain why they don’t exist in American copyright law. Under the French idea of “droit d’auteur", works are an expression of the personality of the creator and this is the central lens through which copyright protection should be viewed.

What kind of changes regarding copyright ownership have been passed in recent copyright reform?

2012 marked an important year for photographers because the Copyright Modernization Act passed that year introducing several measures to afford photographers more protection over their works than were previously granted.

Before the 2012 amendments, s. 10 of the Copyright Act, gave copyright ownership of a photograph to the person who owned the film or digital camera, not necessarily the photographer. S. 13(2) of the Act gave copyright to customers who had hired a photographer and paid for their photographs in full.

However, the Copyright Modernization Act repealed both of these sections. Today, the person who actually takes the photograph is now be the author instead of the person who owns the film or digital camera used to take the photograph.

The Copyright Modernization Act also created an additional private use provision that allows an individual to use commissioned photographs or portraits for private or noncommercial purposes. Without specific contractual agreement, this new ownership default seems to allow commissioned photographers to use personal images such as family, wedding, or children portraits for purposes unknown and unintended by the subjects. A photographer could publish these commissioned photographs in a magazine, sell them to collectors, or even exhibit them in a gallery without having to first obtain the subject’s consent. These changes could seem to favor the knowledgeable photographer, placing an unfair burden on the inexperienced consumer.

However, freelancers should note that even if you own the copyright to the photographs you took for a commissioned work, you cannot freely give or sell those prints or negatives to a newspaper where the subject later come into public light. Doing so may violate your duty of confidentiality, privacy, or other legal obligations, and customers could sue to stop your action and recover monetary damages. Also, the photographer could not have licensed advertisers use the photographs to endorse a product. In this case, customers could sue both the photographer and the advertiser.

User Rights

While we have primarily been focused on copyright from the creator perspective until now, it is important to know that copyright law in Canada is actually meant to strike a balance between creator and user protections.

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“User rights” is a general term used to describe a broad set of rights made available to different segments of user populations.

The broadest user right is called fair dealing and is available to all users, so long as they meet the requirements set out by the Act.

There are other user rights created for specific groups including exceptions for educational institutions, museums and archives, public libraries etc.

Creative Commons

Applying a Creative Commons license is an easy way for creators to make their works available for certain types of reuse. The 6 Creative Commons licenses provide various levels of “control” to the creator, while still making the work available for some reuse. CC licenses are becoming the defacto way to communicate “some rights reserved” to users with over 1.1 billion works currently carrying a CC. Creative Commons licensed images can be found online on Flikr Creative Commons the Wikimedia Commons and along with many other sites.

Your Digital Presence

Our Big Questions

  • How do I form my online identity as a photographer?
  • How is the web changing photography?
  • What are my responsibilities when posting?

We hope that by thinking about these questions you can develop new approaches and strategies for thinking about your online identity as a photographer, consider the role of social media in changing photography and think about some of your responsibilities when posting images.

The Ubiquity of Photography

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The sheer volume of photography shared on the web is staggering: in October 2013, Facebook reported that 350 million photos were being uploaded by users every day, with over 250 billion uploaded in total[1]. In May 2015, Facebook reported that over 2 billion photos were shared daily on Facebook services, which include Instagram[2]. Hundreds of billions have been uploaded onto each of these platforms as of 2018[3] and more than 1 trillion photos have been uploaded to the web. What does this mean as an amateur or professional photographer?

The arrival of the smartphone camera made all those concerns seem antiquated. It precipitated a new image culture in which photographs have assumed a fresh importance in our digitally mediated world, particularly the sharing of photographs on platforms like Instagram, where they are measured in likes, comments and repostings, all monitored by algorithms. Photography reflects, records and advertises our lives online. Is it, though, exhausting itself through its very ubiquity, losing its meaning in an age of almost unimaginable image overload?[3]

Flying in the face of the unstoppable flow of digital images online, traditional photography culture endures and proliferates, with both the photobook and the photo archive – material things that can be handled, browsed over, collected, exchanged – assuming a heightened importance.[3]

But what do all of these changes mean? How do you inform your online identity in this space? How does the online space inform our photography? As this quote noted although are photographs have assumed a fresh importance in our digitally mediated world. What does it mean to be measured in likes, comments, reposting and monitored by algorithms?

Shaping Our Online Identity

Standing out online can be a difficult task if you don’t know who you are! This is the case if you are photographer, a student, or a businessman. This can be especially important if the interactions with the community you want to reach is completely online. Meeting someone face-to-face gives context and understanding that are more difficult to achieve online. Many photographers build a very specific online identity to easily communicate their goals, interests and abilities. Consider photographers like Paul Nicklen and Angela Owens, and how their identities are similar and different.

Defining who you are and how you want to be perceived online is a key component of shaping your digital identity. Below are some key questions to consider:

  • How might someone view you online if they have never met you?
  • How would you like to be viewed?
  • Do you want to be perceived first as a photographer? (Are you a baker, family member or student too, and where do those roles fit for you?)

Being intentional about an online identity can help to shape it and how others view your presence. Knowing who you are and who you want to be will give you the tools the consider if/when you may want to change your online identity. It gives you a metaphorical place to stand on as you go forward with goals to change or enhance your presence.

Once you know the answers to the above questions, define your goals through the following questions:

  • What is your intent by sharing content online?
    • What do you hope to accomplish with your online presence, and in what time frame?
  • What is your goal for online sharing?
    • What is the community or communities you hope to reach? What is the best way to reach them? What are their interests? Is there any examples that you might be able to learn from?

Knowing the answers to these questions, especially with clear and measurable goals , will allow you to move forward with greater agency and control on how you want to be perceived.

Clicks, Likes and Algorithms

Algorithms are changing photography in different ways. A quick search on Google finds article after article about how the Instagram algorithm works so that we can get more favorites and follows. What does this mean for our photography and photography in general? What are the impacts of 'feeding' our data into the Algorithm?

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Algorithms are intertwined with all aspects of photography. Every picture that your take on a smartphone "is silently improved by algorithms" the second after it is taken. The photos that we view and how we view photography is influenced by algorithms. This is described by Ed Finn in his article for Aeon "Art by Algorithms":

We rely on computational systems for our essential aesthetic vocabulary, learning what is good and beautiful through a prism of five-star rating systems and social-media endorsements, all closely watched over by algorithmic critics of loving grace[4]

The work of algorithms ranges from the portrait mode in phone cameras that create computer generated bokeh to AI generated portraits of people that don't exist. Last year a Google AI captured photos from Google Street view and cropped and did auto-post production on them. The resulting photographs were rated by professional photographers and two out of five images were indistinguishable from photographs created by humans and ranked as pro or semi pro level of photography. Algorithms may not always be visible to us, yet as we share, like and view images on social media sites like instagram, facebook and 500px some of influence becomes more apparent.

Computation is a parallel project, grounded in the impossible beauty of abstract mathematics and symbolic systems. As they come together, we need to remain the creators, and not the creations, of our beautiful machines.[4]

Agency and Context

With social media, an image can go viral in a matter of seconds. The Vancouver-based photographer Rich Lam experienced this situation with a picture he took in 2011 after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup, which resulted in a complete chaos in the city's streets. His iconic picture shows a couple kissing in the middle of a street while police is trying to control the riot.

To understand how Lam dealt with the situation, we sent him some questions. Here is what he said:

Digital Tattoo: How did you feel after the photo went viral?

Rich Lam: It was a bit of a surreal feeling when the photo went viral. It was almost 19 years ago and this was before I was really invested in social media and such. Plus I was extremely busy at the time and tired from shooting the playoffs that at times it was more of a burden than anything trying to be helpful and doing interviews with various news outlets around the world.

DT: Some people questioned its authenticity, right? How did this make you feel with regards to having agency over your work?

RL: Some people did question its authenticity but those were mainly the people that knew nothing about me or the work that I have done. I learned quickly about trolls and armchair quarterbacks and realized how many people have never been in a riot before. It was great to hear how many colleagues and friends of mine shoot down any doubt that this was not an authentic moment and the people I work with and work for know what type of person I am and know that I would never produce unauthentic work.

DT: Did people take your photo out of context at some point? If so, how did you feel and what did you do to fix any misunderstandings?

RL: Some people did take the image out of context but what was nice was the amount of press and subsequent video of the whole incident that came to light helped set the record straight. I am very grateful for the people who came forward with the video to show that this was real.

DT: Has this whole experience changed the way you work somehow? Why?

RL: I don't think this has really changed how I work. It has given me a greater understanding of how people behave on the internet and that there are no boundaries to what people can say while staying anonymous.

As Lam experienced, it can be very stressful to navigate the days that follow a picture going viral. He was lucky to count on the help of his colleagues to help clarifying misunderstandings and providing the context for his work.

Taking control after an image goes viral can sound an impossible mission many times. Therefore, it's crucial to reflect in advance about the importance of providing context, which is a fundamental part of photography. The same picture can have different meanings depending on how they are interpreted. And the wrong context might not only change the meaning of a photograph, but also cause harm.

In an interview to the Irish Examiner, the photographer Kevin Griffin reminded that viewers have to remain critical. "Who presents the image? Where was it taken?" he said. "We cannot consume images aesthetically on their own anymore because we know that we can be manipulated."

As an example, he mentioned one of his pictures that show a cow swimming pulled by a rope. Without the proper context, the viewer could think that the cow was under suffering. "It’s not dangerous for her. She does them regularly. It’s part of her annual grazing. She goes across this lake so she can go to these fields to graze," he said.

So, before taking a shot, it's important to consider:

  • How can we make sure we are providing the context?
  • What’s our responsibility when we share images without the proper context?

As consumers of photography, another crucial reflection is:

  • What’s our responsibility when we replicate without verifying?

Reflecting on context also means understanding our intentions. Photographers have the power to manipulate an image even if it's just by showing only a very specific angle of it. "Photography is perspective," as Adriana Teresa Letorney, founder of the platform, said to B&H Photo Video.

And with intention comes responsibility. It's fundamental that a photographer reflect on their responsibility by registering and sharing a moment.

Some much needed questions to ask yourself are:

  • What's your intention?
  • How your intention can affect your photography?
  • How your intention can affect what you're portraying?
  • What's your responsibility with what or who you're portraying?
  • What's your responsibility with those who will view this picture?

Since it can be challenging to stop and answer this questions in the midst of a moment, it's important to start reflecting about your intentions and responsibilities with your photography as soon as possible.

A code of ethics is an interesting tool to guide a photographer's reflection on intention and responsibility. Many organizations have theirs – for example, the Photographers Without Borders and the National Press Photographers Association – but you should consider building a personal code of ethics for yourself. A good starting point is listing your values as a photographer. This will guide you while putting together your list of principles and practices. Also, you can take a look at examples from other organisations and list what you could change to make it more correspondent to your own context.



Plain Language Information on Canadian Copyright Law, SLAW

Copyright and Privacy in Photography, CIPPIC

A Guide to Copyright, Canadian Intellectual Property Office

Copyright in Photographs in Canada since 2012, Open Shelf

General Context

Don't Let Social Media Ruin Your Photography, PetaPixel

How Does Photography Affect You We Tried To Find Out, Wired

Has Social Media Ruined Photography, Techradar

Why Instagram is Terrible for Photographers and Why You Should Use It, Wired

Shaping Your Identity

How 4 Photographers Approach Social Media Sequencing and Storytelling, Photo District News

Jonathan Worth Wikipedia

Jonathan Worth Tries Out a Copy Friendly Business Experiment, Boing Boing

Agency and Context

These Images Prove You Need Context to Appreciate Photography, Irish Examiner

Donald Trump Retweeted Our Photo Out of Context, San Diego Union-Tribune

How Photos Fuel The Spread of Fake News, Wired

Photographers Without Borders - Code of Ethics for Photographers

Chop and Crop, NewYork Times

Interview: The Story Behind Rich Lam's Infamous Vancouver Riot Kiss Photo Pop Photo

Love Among the Ruins, Vancouver Sun

Ethical Research Manifesto for the Lower East Side

Clicks, Likes and Algorithms

Clear Evidence - Stop Geotagging Your Nature Photographs Fstoppers

How Instagram's Algorithm Works, Tech Crunch

The Future of Photography is code , Tech Crunch

Art by Algorithm, Aeon

Are There Better Alternatives To Instagram? Photographers Weigh In, PDN

The Future of Digital Photography in the Age of Instagram, The Guardian

Artist Resources

Canadian Artists Association / Le Front des Artistes Canadiens (CARFAC)

Federation of Canadian artists

Artist Legal Outreach

Copyright Visual Arts