The price-tagged rule that hurts

Puzzled and a bit annoyed (in a first-world way, that is): after endless debates and lively discussions with friends and professionals around the idea of sharing, trading and even bartering, I got fined by a worldwide company I only knew of as a sponsor to major events. Apparently, I had improperly used a photography without a valid license. Baffled, confused and absolutely perplexed is how I felt when I read the letter: no warning, just a major fine, with a list of FAQ’s confirming there was no way out.

The customer service person I then talked to confessed that the law on using any kind of media nowadays was evolving almost monthly and it is fairly difficult to keep up with it. Indeed. I admitted my ignorance, which led me to recognise my fault. Legally, and financially: I take it is the best way to learn, and remember. Although, and this is where I struggle: what happens when one shares a picture through social media, or any art piece reproduction which gets reposted? Who gets what in that chain? And who misses out? And why is nothing done about it? If we want to relay some companies’ mission and methods, this constitutes a considerable loss of income, without necessarily going back to the original artist.

Maybe it is a political question, and/or a societal one. While some great information and art is now shared, mostly for free, and more and more directly from the creative source, there still are massive mountains to climb to legally access some content made “public” by others. Encouraging hackers to break into some (government) codes for political reasons may belong to another, and likely more philosophical, league. Knowing the ground work, time and equipment required to shoot a photography worth publishing by some magazines, or any artwork for that matter, I fully agree to compensate the artist. At the same time, it is often extremely easy to use, and abuse sometimes, any type of content available online. So where do we draw the line? And who draws it?

More and more online courses are offered for free, growingly coming from reputable universities as well. Access to knowledge, and how-to’s gets easier and easier everyday through the Internet: from learning the best bobotie recipe to cleaning the lens of a camera without going through a financial toll, everything is out there. Sure, some information may require more research than other, for safety, veracity and reliability reasons. Our merchant world sometimes seems to misrepresent the mandate some organisations have in mind, overkilling their very purpose. I am aware it is not charity, and it probably should not be either.

George Orwell had a point: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Now onto defining what falls under and/or qualifies as public domain (turned to commodity) and who governs what: that has become a daily mission for both lawyers and anonymous creative, for opposite reasons, drilling a concept of freedom.

Image credit © Cynthia Bataille