Monday, 9 March 2015

Never ascribe to incompetence what can be explained by sheer stupidity

Earlier today, a contact of mine pointed me towards a web page offering advice to people looking to start a career in photography - it can be found at - How to become a freelance photographer

I've been freelancing with modest success for just over ten years now, so I'm qualified by experience to know whether the advice that Smarta are offering up is sound and, surprisingly, most of it is - there's mention of the need to be organised, the essentials of marketing and working within budgetary constraints... but then the whole thing comes crashing down with the following nugget

"Work for free

Everyone loves free stuff. They especially love it if it’s something they need. When you’re starting out, offer examples of what you can shoot to show off what you’re doing. If you hear about a job you think you could never land, ask to do it for free. You’ll be amazed at the doors it opens."

Ordinarily I'd just roll my eyes and move on - except, in this instance, is one of the delivery partners for the Start Up Loans Company, who are "a government funded scheme to provide advice, business loans and mentoring to startup businesses" (blurb taken from the SULC website)

Worse still, is owned by Shaa Wasmund, who was recently given an MBE for Services to Business and Entrepreneurship in the 2015 New Years Honours List.

Let's allow those two facts to sink in for a second.

A company that administers government backed loans to small businesses, owned by an MBE, is advocating that startups in the creative industries (photography, in this instance) should work for free.

Setting aside the obvious question of "how the hell is a photography start-up going to pay back their taxpayer funded loan if they're advised to not charge clients for work done?", let's look at how the concept of working for free - or ridiculously cheap - is plainly absurd and insulting when applied to any other business, thanks to this video by production company Scofield Editorial

Author Harlan Ellison has a more acerbic and biting take on why "free" should not be a choice for creatives of any type (contains language not safe for work - you've been warned)

Finally, to remove any last vestiges of doubt, illustrator Jessica Hische has compiled a flowchart that starts with the question "Should I Work for Free?" which allows you to find your own way to the relevant answer (hint: it's usually No)

On that note, I think it would be safe to say that no-one at or the Start-Up Loans Company is working for free; I'm pretty sure that Shaa Wasmund asks for more than a byline credit whenever she's asked to put in a few hours for a client.... and I think every UK taxpayer knows that no-one in the Department for Business Innovation & Skills goes more than a month without drawing down a healthy salary funded via the public purse.

So, why the disrespect for creative professionals?

That's what it comes down to in the end. When we're not fighting against instances of our work being stolen - sometimes by those in government / politics - then those very same people are advising us (directly or otherwise) that we should consider working for free.

Frankly, it's beyond insulting. I can't find words adequate enough to convey my sheer disappointment that such irresponsible and offensive advice is being peddled to those who are considering a career in any creative art - which is all the more confusing since, just over a year ago, the UK government published statistics to show that creative industries were responsible for £8 Million per hour to the economy - or £71.4 Billion per year.

Perhaps the businesses that contributed all those pennies need to rethink and follow the advice pushed by et al instead; I'm sure it would be for the best, right?

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The upside-down Politics of a Copyright Infringement

Copyrights, intellectual property and their place in the "digital age" are always a hot-button topic for businesses, the public and - when it holds the potential to influence the electorate - politicians too.

Whether you're of the opinion that the laws in place wherever you live are too lax, overly strong or simply not up-to-date, you can be sure that there are echoes of your sentiments somewhere within the annals of power,

Copyright, trademark and patent laws exist on the books of almost all nations or states, and there are also over-arching treaties governed by organisations like WIPO - such as the Berne Convention - which mean the rights of an author / creator on one side of the world are equally applicable - and enforceable - in some far distant land.

Thus it is with a little surprise, and a considerable amount of disappointment, that I happened to discover that one of my photographs had recently been appropriated and used by the Liberal Party of Australia, as part of material for their campaign in the run-up to state elections in Victoria in late November of 2014.

I was first alerted to this matter when a friend living on the outskirts of Melbourne thought she had spotted one of my pictures on television. Knowing full well that I hadn't had any requests to use any of my work in Australia for quite some time, I asked her if it would be possible to keep an eye out for the same advert again and, if she could, grab a picture on her phone.

This is what she managed to send to me.

Without a shadow of a doubt, it was clear that it was one of my own photographs - a rather infamous one of mixed martial arts athlete Joe "Daddy" Stevenson, following his loss to BJ Penn after their lightweight title fight at UFC 80 inside Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle, England on January 19 of 2008. Here's the full frame that I shot on that evening.

Joe Stevenson (c) Martin McNeil, All Rights Reserved
The first thing you'll notice is that Stevenson is facing the opposite direction in image per the television screen grab, but it's unquestionably the same shot which has merely been mirrored (flipped) during the editing process. Mirroring my own shot and then placing both pictures side-by-side using Photoshop shows that they are one and the same - no other photographer had my vantage point or captured a remotely similar picture on that evening.

My frame (top) and a close-up of the screen capture (bottom)
At this juncture, I didn't know the full extent or nature of the use, but one thing was quite clear; no-one from the Liberal Party of Australia, much less anyone claiming to be acting on their behalf, had contacted me to seek even the most basic permission to use the shot.

What followed next took a bit of time and digging around on account of the way internet search engines index content - particularly photographs. It may take weeks or months before search tools such as Google, TinEye and other similar applications are able to crawl, catalogue and point towards relevant content, and this was certainly the case here.

As it turns out, the Liberal Party hadn't just used the picture in a network television broadcast; it had also been posted to the social media accounts relating to the Victoria branch as well; here are two URLs which, at the time of typing, are still quite live

You'll notice that their use on Facebook attracted 1,489 "likes", 849 "shares" and in excess of 2,000 comments. That's a significant amount of reach and impact. Over on Twitter, the use garnered 32 "retweets" and 18 "favourites"

The last remaining question was as to the extent of use of the photograph when broadcast - which took the most digging of all. Whilst I do not know on how many stations it aired, nor how many times it was repeated, I did find out that the advert had created quite a stir in both political and sports reporting circles, which eventually led me to find a copy of the advert itself - as aired - at the following link

The ElectionWatch site in Australia referenced and linked to the video (as at this page, though you may have to scroll down a bit), linking directly to the YouTube account operated by the Liberal Party though, curiously, it is no longer viewable as the permissions of it have been set to private.

Regardless of this small hurdle, my discovery of a copy of the video helped to track down the person who might be said to be most directly responsible for the issue at hand: during the closing seconds, there is a notice saying that it was "Authorised by D. Mantach, Liberal Party Victorian Division" and thus unambiguously the official product of their party political apparatus. D. Mantach turns out to be Damien Mantach, whom has been the State Director for the Liberal Party in Australia since 2011.

The Australia Copyright Act (1968) has exceptions for what is called Fair Dealing (more commonly known as Fair Use in many countries which have such exceptions); I've researched the text of the act, and the manner and means in which the Liberal Party made use of my work is not covered by the very narrow language of the exceptions therein.

So, what to do?

Well, I sent an email to several key people within the Liberal Party, laying out my claims and asking that they reply to me on or before February 28, 2015; the message was sent to
  • Senator George Brandis, QC - the Attorney General for Australia, Minister for the Arts and also deputy leader of the Government in the Australian Senate... and a Liberal Party member.
  • Bruce Billson MP - Minister for Small Business, Member for Dunkly (Victoria) and also a Liberal Party member.
  • Damien Mantach - as referenced above, via the email address as published here (not in the least because his name is also at the very foot of that page)
As of the time of publishing this post, I have only had an automatic response email from Bruce Billson MP, indicating that my message had been received; I've had no other word from anybody from or claiming association with the Liberal Party.

Politicians, when spouting rhetoric on matters of law and justice, are often quite fond of saying that no-one is above the law, and that we are all equal before it. Scarcely over a year ago, George Brandis QC spoke to the Australian Digital Alliance Forum about planned crack-downs on copyright infringement.

I'm still waiting on word back from Brandis - and others - as to how they will address their own party's infringement of my copyrights and, whilst I'm hoping that this situation will get resolved as quickly and cordially as possible; perhaps if this post gets shared across social media and in the press in a similar extent to the way the Liberal Party used my photograph, they might deign to actually reply to me.