Photographs, Digital Rights & Social Media Events

From left to right from Geek2Chic: Emily Molitor, Geoff Livingston, Debbie Weil, Christopher Dorobek, and Elena Ziebarth (image by SmartBrief, Inc).

I had the pleasure of being one of the guest models at last week’s Geek to Chic fundraising event. The next morning event photographer Moshe Zusman tagged me on Facebook with a great watermarked photo from my spin down the catwalk. I cropped it and used it as my profile pic.

Within hours I was told I needed to use a watermarked version of the photo or pull it down. In essence, by using the watermarked image, I would be using my social profile image to promote Mr. Zusman’s photography business. I took down the image because my social profiles are not Mr. Zusman’s advertising space. Instead I have used the above photo which was issued later by Vithaya Photography — also watermarked — but used with permission sans the Vithaya brand mark.

At the heart of the issue is a photographer’s legal rights to their intellectual property versus the shareability norms of the social media world. In today’s digital media environment, images, content and ideas are shared with creative commons credit, links — and some times with no attribution.

For me, it was acceptable to use the photo for a profile pic. There were many reasons for this including serving as a featured guest who helped market the event and gave my time for free; as a professional blogger; because the photographer was hired by friend and organizer Mark Drapeau for the affair; and finally, as I was tagged in Facebook of all places, the most portable of all image networks.

Legal Rights and Social Wrongs

Portrait of Me Shooting the Sunset
Capture by Joanne Marder (my sister)

When I complained about the contracted photographer’s enforcement on my Facebook profile to Mark, he did follow up with Mr. Zusman. The photographer decided not to invoice Mark’s company Microsoft for the effort, making himself a guest and not a contracted employee. He then rumbled directly to me about legal rights.

I acknowledge that Mr. Zusman has a legal right to his photograph. Unhappy with his stance, I have requested him not to use my image as he did not have my legal written permission. This is the only time I have ever asked a photographer not to use my image.

Ultimately, legal rights aside, there are a couple of big social errors that businesses, nonprofits and photographers alike can learn from:

1) Taking photos of bloggers without their permission, tagging them on Facebook with the images, and then demanding they use watermarked versions of the images in any personal use is a HUGE faux paus. Really, if you don’t want your images used and shared freely, why would you put them on Facebook of all places and tag bloggers (Flickr and its Creative Commons licenses offers a much better place for protection)? Most top and mid-tier bloggers are not going to promote a watermarked image, basically an ad for the photographer.

2) It’s never wise to put one’s personal interests ahead of a client’s best interests. I’m a friend of Mark’s and I know this was not his intent, rather an act of an overzealous photographer who doesn’t get social media. If it was someone else, the behavior could have been misinterpreted and Mark’s company Microsoft could be getting plastered with negative posts from angry bloggers. This would have been a tragedy. Mark and Microsoft both deserve great credit for their CSR program Geek2Chic.

I did ask Mark for his opinion on the matter…

“Obviously, the person who owns intellectual property is free to use it as they want and set rules for how others can use it,” said Mark Drapeau.  “However, as with other creative pursuits like music and video, people in ‘the audience’ frequently want to share and use photographic content.  Thus, strict rules for use of it restrict how people can share it.  Generally, I think that the different variations on Creative Commons licenses have done a lot to protect creative content owners, yet also modernize how the content is treated in order to promote the creativity of the audience, too.”

Vithaya also indicated to me he usually doesn’t give his images away without watermarks UNLESS he knows where they are going and how they will be used. However, he did see the value of letting a blogger have the image, and as a result his photograph is my current profile pic.

Marketing Photography in the Social Media Era

Unfortunately for Mr. Zusman, while he is talented, he will increasingly face competition from new photographers that are just as talented and have a better understanding of social media. Consider ace photographer Kris Krug, who plays the social game and uses his artistic imagery to support industry events like TEDx Oil Spill — sans watermark. Krug has a fantastic international reputation as a result.

The Krugs and Vitnayas of the world will win more digital business in the future. They better understand the dynamics at play.

In an era where more and more people will engage bloggers and online influencers as part of their communications effort, photographers like Mr. Zusman will have a hard time enforcing digital rights. Clients won’t gladly suffer watermark demands for big events just as someone wouldn’t tolerate them on their wedding photos.

If attending events and tagging people with photos is a way to get a photographer’s business marketed on Facebook, one would be advised to consider the event! New media power users have many photos uploaded featuring their likeness. It’s easy to find not just passable portrait shots, but very good ones, too. For example, I’ve seen five different photographers shots of me from Geek2Chic, and I know there are more coming.

All things considered, photographers that want social media-oriented business need to lighten up on their legal enforcement. Otherwise they won’t receive recommendations and new business. Or worse, they’ll get negative posts written about them like this one.

This is the issue of our time — not just for photography — but all forms of creativity. The music industry has been ravaged and then reinvented because of digital copyright enforcement (see Madonna vs. Lady Gaga case study). Newspapers have been ravaged, and in some cases forced to shutter their doors thanks to digital classifieds and top tier blogs. The book publishing industry is now facing the dramatic change of digital (albeit somewhat more gracefully) thanks to tablets and readers.

The world is going digital. Change is certain, the question remains whether content creators will successfully adapt.

  • Couple of things here:

    a) Tagging you on Facebook was a way to attract your attention and promotional
    b) When you used the pic on your Facebook profile The offer should have been to send you a original for your use without the watermark so you can get the benefit of the full pic without any resolutions loss.
    c) Maybe a request to credit the photographer wherever possible may have been reasonable – obviously not possible on a Facebook profile pic
    I think KK is a great example to follow. I myself have learnt a lot from him.

    As an amateur photographer who takes a lot of pictures at events, I will respect any request from the subject of my pictures.

  • Hey Geoff,

    You’ve filled my feed for a week with debate over the use of the photo (not complaining, just acknowledging just how much dialog has taken place over a single photo). The time that you took to debate the issue, you could have actually accomplished something. I think you get social media, but you also clearly don’t get what it’s like to be a freelance photographer. Giving away your photos for everybody and covering events for free tends to accomplish nothing more than getting you more free events to cover.

    There’s a reason Flickr lets people restrict how their images are used or at least require some form of credit to be given. Perhaps this blog post is a back-handed way of providing credit, but it’s a weird way to do so if that’s the case. Try to survive as a freelance photographer and then you can tout the best practices for them.

    If the person was paid, I’d understand removing the watermark, but so far it sounds like he wasn’t. I think you’re great, but you sound pretty pompous in this piece.


  • @Shashi Exactly.

    @Nick 1) As someone who is a photographer in his own right, albeit an amateur, I found Mr. Zusman’s business approach to his photographry to be questionable. The post raises those questions. I survive as a content creator and someone who specializes in social media communications, so I think I have more than enough chops to offer a differing professional view. 2) He was originally at least on verbal contract, and withdrew from the contract when the issue came up. 3) Don’t like my Facebook feed, hide it or unfriend me. I won’t take offense.

    Thanks for your feedback, Nick!

  • Deanna McNeil

    I can appreciate your perspective. Do we get to tease you that just as this socially ‘green’ photographer gaffed, perhaps you could have done the social thing of whipping him less publicly :)

    These are very real concerns no matter what side of the camera you sit. Thanks for crystalizing more clearly what best practices look like.

  • @Geoff, not unfriending or hiding you :) Just trying to voice something I had previously wanted to. I didn’t realize he was on contract, but that issue would then be brought up with the people who hired him.

    Anyways, being an international model and everything, I’d imagine that there were plenty of other photos that you could use ;)

  • Lisa Byrne

    This post disturbs me. I host social media events and I am a HUGE fan of Moshe Zusman. To imply he doesn’t “get” social media is unfair – on many fronts. As I saw this play out Moshe CLEARLY states his criteria (in the album when it’s posted on Facebook) that if you choose to use his images in your profile it should be done with watermark. I respect you and your work Mr. Livingston, but I must say the dramatic stance you’ve taken on this seems far more personal (and egotistical) than a desire to teach photographers the “rules” of sharing through social media.

  • @Lisa We’re all entitled to our opinions. I did not read Zusman’s policy, as he tagged me with the photo and it was in my stream. I liked and used it. Frankly, when he enforced it, I yielded. So I took the bait and made his photo spam my profile pic, unknowing of his policy or his intent to rigorously police it.

    I host social media events, too, and would not welcome a photographer who took this intellectual property stance. Perhaps having Zusman and his digital watermarked photos can be considered a strategic decision in or against your favor. We all make market decisions based on our opinions and views of such things. Thanks for sharing your opinion.

  • Vithaya

    I read your blog post a few times as I wanted to try and understand your point of view. I can respect that you are a blogger and an author, and I am somewhat surprised with this posting. I am responding to share my point of view as I’ve tried to convey it to you before about this subject, but now in this social space.

    I photographed the event as a guest and posted photos from the event, as I often do when I take pictures at an event. My photographer friend Moshe Zusman also took pictures at the event and posted pictures, and we both watermarked our photos as usual. When you cropped his picture, you went against what he wrote for use of his photo: “You may use the images for facebook profile, blogging and any noncommercial use, as long as they appear as shown here — without altering,cropping or removing the watermark.”

    You said “by using the watermarked image, I would be using my social profile image to promote Mr. Zusman’s photography business.” You two connected on this social site. You don’t have to use the photo nor does anyone whose picture we take and post. We desire to take great pictures and care how people look in them. It’s not about forcing advertising on people, but it’s naturally showing an owner’s work and we need to try to protect our work. Many of these pictures are taken at public events, and people come to events knowing that there will likely be pictures taken at the event, as so many people have cameras. Sharing photos via a social profile is just one of the many ways in which we can share our life and work, and social networking sites are one of the best places to do so. There are times when we use watermarks and times we don’t, depending on what we agree on with those who want to use our photos.

    When you asked to use the photo that I took of you without my “image stamp” for your profile pic, I figured you would enjoy showing it on your profile, but I did not think the use of that photo would be part of a post like this which seems to undermine Mr. Zusman. This issue has consumed too much of my time, and it seems to me that your approach and reasoning of this issue has taken things in a direction that is different from simply enjoying the event. It not my desire for my photo to be used in this manner.

  • @Vithaya On your last point, I respect your desire not to use your image in this manner, and have removed it from my profiles. Because you did allow me to use your image originally sans this post, I will leave my recommendation of you as is.

    On the larger point, you may try to protect your work, and it’s your right to do so. I consider it spam and an unethical practice for you or any photographer to take shots of people publicly, tag them with photos and demand they use watermarked versions in their social profile. And that’s my right. It’s also my right to complain about it publicly, and use whatever imagery I want as a profile, and recommend and review whichever photographers that best understand this medium. So we’re going to agree to disagree.

    I don’t find it fun to get spammed by photographers who pursue me to have their watermarked images on my social profile. Generally, I find the whole photo watermark enforcement BS has ruined my enjoyment of the event, too. I was wondering which one of you was going to ask me for $50 for a framed copy.

  • Great tips and tricks with the photography. A regular picture is just not enough in the social media era. :-)

  • Geoff, I’m also a bit surprised by this posting.

    First, because I believe all content creators do need to look out for each other in this digital world. I would certainly not clip a quote from one of your books, a blog posting, or even one of your tweets, without quoting you, and it seems that’s all this photographer was asking for – a citation after you clipped a bit from his work.

    Second, because you weren’t an ordinary attendee at this event. According to the Associated Press Stylebook, “It can generally be said that when people become involved in a news event, voluntarily or involuntarily, they forfeit aspects of the right to privacy.” From what I can tell here, when you volunteered to be a model, you implicitly gave permission to temporarily become a public figure and have your photo taken for the duration of that event and attached receptions.

    There was no need for you to give your permission to this photographer to have your photo taken, especially since he was the invited photographer to cover this event.

    Finally, I’m surprised you would tarnish someone else’s fundraiser with such a stink. Bad social form indeed.

    We all know that it’s increasingly difficult to protect creative works of all kinds — words, music, images — in our digital world, but that’s no reason that we shouldn’t try to create graceful best practices. Otherwise we’ll all just keep our creations to ourselves, and that would be plain sad and pointless.

  • @Heather Since when has AP been the paradigm for social media best practices? As to the rest, I have reached out to you privately, but generally stand by my comments. Thank you for making your views known.

  • Hey Geoff,

    Seems like the salient points are that the photo was posted on Facebook and you were tagged. One of the reasons so many have avoided social media is because of a feeling of a lack of control. But those who have embraced it hopefully understand this lack of control is the point. The free form style of social media is what makes it such an effective tool. Easy access. Low or no cost. Potentially large audience. There is always the potential that what you put out there may not be used the way you want it to be. But you have the option of NOT making your stuff public. Once you do that, you have released control. I would always encourage the artists to reach out and ask for attribution/promotion or whatever helps. And I would encourage those utilizing the art to accommodate those requests that are comfortable and possible.

    I am not a professional photographer or someone who makes my living from the arts of any kind. Perhaps I am missing something because of that. However, I do think this situation could potentially be a great springboard to thinking more broadly about how we will navigate these issues. I am certain that this is just the tip of the iceberg of what is to come.

  • Geoff,

    My citation of AP wasn’t regarding social media, it was in reference to your statement, “… I have requested him not to use my image as he did not have my legal written permission. ”

    I just wanted to make the point that many event photographers would think they implicitly had your permission, since you had volunteered.

  • @Heather As someone who engages in online PR and hires professional photographers, you always get people’s permission to reuse the photos… in writing. There is legal precedence for organizations to be sued for using photos without permission. Here is an example:

  • This post and discussion is bizarre.

    What I am reading here is that a freelance photographer wants to capitalize on someone else’s image by sharing it around and linking as much as he likes. However, he is disallowing the subject to use the photograph unless they comply to specific rules about how that image is presented even though it could generate more interest and business?

    It’s very hard to take this seriously. I don’t even know where to begin.


  • Too much focus on the problem and not the solution.

    Also, there seems to be something missing from this post: the email conversation.

    From the DC Tech group, Geoff says, “There was much back and forth between me and the photographer. My blog post was necessary based on that conversation as well as several with the event organizer, IMO. I wanted to give the photographer an opportunity to change his mind and take a different stance before I acted. Just as I would any other person in my social network. If the photographer changes his mind now I would happily write a second post about that, and how we can make amends and have strong conversations.”

    At the heart of photography is as Vithaya says, “We desire to take great pictures and care how people look in them… Sharing photos via a social profile is just one of the many ways in which we can share our life and work, and social networking sites are one of the best places to do so.”

    As a freelance photographer, getting credit for my photos are VERY important to generating new clients and making ends meet. However, Rich makes a good point, “What I am reading here is that a freelance photographer wants to capitalize on someone else’s image by sharing it around and linking as much as he likes. However, he is disallowing the subject to use the photograph unless they comply to specific rules about how that image is presented even though it could generate more interest and business?”

    My suggested solutions to this problem:

    1) As Shashi says, “c) Maybe a request to credit the photographer wherever possible may have been reasonable” such as a caption crediting the photographer.

    2) Have the photographer make a transparent watermark that covers the entire photo in order protect photo rights.

    3) …?

  • Mr. Livingston;

    The point that Mr. Zusman was trying to make with you is the following:

    1. I believe that you are wrong when you feel that you must give written permission prior to Mr. Zusman taking your photo and associating your name with the photo. As per Bert Krages , an attorney out of Oregon, indicates here:
    The general rule in the United States is that anyone may take photographs of whatever they want when they are in a public place or places where they have permission to take photographs. Absent a specific legal prohibition such as a statute or ordinance, you are legally entitled to take photographs. Examples of places that are traditionally considered public are streets, sidewalks, and public parks.

    Since Mr. Zusman was tasked to take photographs at the event and since you did not object to having your photograph taken at the event by posing and not requesting to have your photograph taken, the implication is that you are allowing Mr. Zusman to take your photo. The event was public and he was tasked to take photos. He may have refused payment but the invitation to take photos was still there and therefore, the intent was there.

    2. Mr. Zusman clearly states that the photos may not be altered in any way, shape or form. This includes cropping the photo to remove the watermark. You did not hire Mr. Zusman for this event. He was hired by a third party and the agreement made between him and the third party excludes you. Therefore, by using his images of you and altering this, you are essentially breaking copyright. Per Section 107, of the United States Copyright Office:

    Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to
    be considered shall include—
    (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
    (2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
    (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted
    work as a whole; and
    (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted
    The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

    Now looking at your biography on your blog, you use social media as a business. Your business is to provide consultation services to companies and markets and help them utilize social networks and media to promote themselves. Per your front page:

    A social enterprise, Zoetica provides superior communication consulting, training, and strategy to help mindful organizations affect social change. We do this by building relationships with the community using well-honed social media communication and networking skills.

    Therefore, by using Mr. Zusman’s image as a profile pic, one can deduce that the use of the image on a social media network helps to promote your business as well, especially if it is an improvement to a previously used image. In addition, you mentioned that you are a professional blogger and that using the picture on your profile will enhance your image. This allows for note 4 above to come into effect and therefore disqualify it for fair use.

    3. You provided credit for the photo used above. However, although my use of facebook is somewhat limited, I do not know of a way to show credit on a profile pic permanently. This is a contradiction to your post. In providing a method of permanent credit to one photographer but denying it to another (by removing the watermark) this is essentially stating that you are allowed to pick and choose who you give credit for when using another person’s work. If you do not wish to give credit to someone, please do not use their work.

    4. In addition, while you feel justified about using another person’s work for free because they were tasked by a friend, I fail to see the logic. Looking at your Management page on Zoetica Website, I can easily determine which picture is the best (I don’t know who the photographer was for you but it was better than the one for Ms. Beth and Ms. Kanti. However, in doing so, unless you paid or received the photo from the photographer for free and received the use of it as well, I don’t know who the photographer is. This is potential lost revenue for the photographer.

    To recap,
    1. A photographer has the right to use images if taken in a public place and if the subject denies the image at the time, it is implied.
    2. Use of a photo for potential revenue violates the fair use and unfortunately, since your business is about social media, I believe this would exclude you from using it on a social media network
    3. Picking and choosing who you credit is, in my humble opinion, poor taste if you use both photos. However, you have removed the photo Mr. Zusman took of you so therefore, it is a non-issue now.
    4. Use of a photo for your commercial benefit and not providing proper credit is tantamount to stealing.

    I believe that Mr. Zusman’s request was simple and not out of the ordinary. You may use his photo for FREE if you do not alter it. I find it hard not to understand what the problem was.

    (Please forgive any grammatical or spelling errors since this was done on my phone)

  • Oh and I just read the response to Ms. Heather. In this case I believe you are wrong because the person using the photo was making money from the photo directly. As the article clearly stated, Hallmark was making money DIRECTLY by using the photo of Ms. Hilton on a card. This is different than posting it on a social media network. Had Mr. Zusman sold your image to another party, your point would have been valid.

  • Jessica Del Vecchio

    re: “… I have requested him not to use my image as he did not have my legal written permission. ”

    You have no legal right to privacy at a public event. Mr. Zusman’s use of your photo falls under the editorial use and no permission from you is required. The link you cited in your response is a completely different situation and is not at all relevant to this discussion. His use of your photo is not for commercial purposes.

    Whether or not you feel that Mr. Zusman’s restrictions on the use of his photo were smart, it was well within his legal right to impose them.

    You seem to believe that the only possible reason that Mr. Zusman would request that you not alter his photo in any manner and that it display his watermark would be that he is seeking publicity and free advertising. That is a gross misconception.

    It is internet bullies like yourself – who want to force professional photographers to give up their legal rights at every turn, providing free content to blogs, facebook, twitter, etc. – that require that photographers enforce their legal rights.

    None of the reasons you state as why it was acceptable to you to use the photo in a manner which was not authorized or intended by Mr. Zusman, have any legal relevance. That your friend hired the photographer would not even grant your friend the right to use the photo in this manner. That you were a guest or even a featured guest at the event provides you with no claim to the photographer’s intellectual property.

  • Jay Awaken

    Sadly, I am sure there are lots of details missing here, but the fact that you cropped the photo shows that you going against his terms of use. Clearly, you don’t agree with those terms, but you have to act like every other consumer. You deal with the terms, or you don’t use/buy the product.

    I’ll add my thoughts on the whole thing:

    1) This is why there is ALWAYS a contract. When I work events, it is either paid and I give up the photo rights to the corporation paying, or it is contracted as a no-fee coverage and it is used for advertisement/publicity. The rights of the photos should always be covered. Shame on both parties for that(Microsoft and Moshe). I’m sure this won’t happen again to either.

    2) All photographers have to go through this decision process. With wedding clients, I just let it slide when they misuse photos on Facebook. The client relationship is worth more to me than fighting that battle. But that is my decision. Apparently in this case, he felt otherwise, which is completely his choice.

    3) You probably enjoyed the event while he was working. Carrying around his pro DSLR and flash. In exchange for his work, he wanted free publicity or possible payment. Perhaps you should have simply asked to purchase the digital image. Maybe you did. I assume you didn’t since you didn’t mention it. He might have only charged you a couple bucks. Then you have to act like every other consumer and make your purchase decision. So either A) Pay the price B) Don’t use the product or C) Make your own (bring your own damn camera).

    You chose none of the above because you didn’t agree with his “social policy” for his business. Perhaps I don’t think $11 is a fair price for your work on Amazon and I believe information should be shared freely for stuff like that. All social bloggers should know that. At least it should be offered as a free digital download. It has worked for countless authors and maybe I believe that your method is a HUGE faux paus. If I believe that, should I do the equivalent of “cropping out the logo” and just getting it from BitTorrent? Are you okay with me making that decision as a consumer even though I know it is against your terms? I seriously doubt you’d be fine with that. Maybe I should go blog about how Geoff Peterson is a greedy writer who doesn’t want to share his works, while keep calling you out by name and mentioning other bloggers who do it “right.”

    4) Last, but really the most important point. This is clearly personal since you used names. You could have spoken about this issue in an overall tone/scenario without names and gotten your point across just fine. This fact alone made this article seem petty, vengeful, childish.

  • Correction, in the recap. I meant to say that if the subject does not deny the image at the time, it is implied.

  • Yet, legally right, Zusman’s photo is still not in my profile, and he lost the opportunity to make the event into a network building opportunity for him, all over a watermark. That’s the point of the post, and no matter how you argue it, it’s still the end result. And so marketing to me in Facebook failed because of his very correct legal rights.

  • Nadine

    I think it’s pretty shitty to bad mouth someone else publicly just because they don’t let you use their photograph of you without their watermark. If you don’t like it, just don’t use it, and ask them to delete their photo of you.

    Legalities aside, it’s the nice and polite thing to do: to credit a photographer when you use their work. It wouldn’t have hurt you to just put a little link on the bottom of your photo, or to use the watermark. Instead you went into a pissy match.

    Basically it just sounds to me that both of you are pissy people. He could’ve gone the more generous route with you, and you could’ve gone the more generous route. But instead you’re both squabbling online.

  • Amber

    I think if you liked his image enough to want to use it as your profile you should give back a little by using his watermark. If the role was reversed and he used your wording and didn’t say it was yours, I’d bet you wouldn’t be so nice.

    • @Amber, I have people that use both my writing and my photography without attribution. I see these incidents, and simply comment for attribution. While I wish people were savvier about attribution via linking and creative commons use, I’d much rather have my content, photos and ideas out there. It builds more influence. I also don’t waste my time with Draconian enforcement. Forward motion is better.

      I would never use a watermarked image as a profile pic on principle. My social graph is not ad space for any photographer.

  • Geoff,

    IMHO, you are both wrong. I don’t know you or Moshe personally so I have to relate everything to my own personal experiences.

    I get annoyed when people use my photos and crop out my logo but I let it go. I understand most of my clients are not in the industry and a logo is an eyesore. That’s just me and I relate to my clients wanting to remove the logo.

    On the other hand as a photographer I would be more outraged if another professional(blogger) yet alone photographer(even though an amateur) would use my photographs and crop out my logo. Especially one who did not paid for my services and is just stealing my content.

    Your argument that it was Moshe who invaded your ‘wall stream’ by tagging you in a photo does not give you the right to alter his images. It only gives you the right to accept the tag or decline it.

    You don’t like the logo, delete the tag and move on.


  • Robert

    What I find amusing is that you found no issue whatsoever with taking the photo and editing to remove any and all attribution to the photographer, but then you prattle on about the etiquette of this “social” digital world we live in. Since when did etiquette include being a jerk about the creative property of others (i.e., intentionally altering said work and then throwing a fit about it when called out for it)?

    You seem to be under a misconception that merely putting something out there on Facebook and tagging it is equal to giving it away. Let me ask you: Do you take the same cavalier attitude toward all intellectual property you find online? Do you routinely pull content from other blogs without crediting back to the source?

    It’s one thing to share content. It’s another to intentionally alter it so as to obscure the author. I would be willing to accept your “social media” argument that by posting it and tagging you that you then felt authorized to use the image on your profile — as long as you applied the same standards you would to quoting, in part or in whole, a blog post you found interesting (or wanted to reference/comment on).

    A blogger who rips content from other blogs, posts it as is or alters it, and completely fails to cite the sources would quickly lose credibility, if not be outright attacked. It wouldn’t matter what their self righteous justification was for behaving this way.

    Furthermore, if social media makes up a significant portion of your own personal promotion, and this was a photo you deemed flattering enough to your social image to use as your profile photo, then it could be said to have intrinsic value to you AND your image. Value that you didn’t pay for, but clearly hoped to benefit from. Yet you went out of your way to deny value to the photographer by intentionally altering the work. You created a one-way street to benefit yourself.

    Again, this violates the social media “contract” of not only sharing content, but also sharing the source.

    Finally, for someone who cites etiquette as justification for their irritation, you committed two very severe errors: First, you failed to ask the photographer about cropping the image, and second, you admitted that you didn’t bother to read the photographer’s rights statement.

    It could be argued that you’re now making a third social error: Despite your own mistakes in this situation, rather than handling it maturely, you decided to rant here and try to make yourself appear as the wronged party. Now, while I do agree that social media is fantastic for “outing” legitimate wrongdoings, as this post of yours sadly points out, it is also fantastic for allowing people to behave childishly.

  • It’s a shame you thought you could give this photographer a negative review by writing this blog post. It really sheds light on who you are as a person. You couldn’t agree with the terms so you had to get into a pissing match online to justify your position.

  • Natalie

    You claim that Mr. Zusman’s use of the watermark was a “network building opportunity” and you mention that you do not want the photographer to use your profile as an “advertising space” — I believe that you are severely misguided.

    First and foremost, Mr. Zusman’s right to copyright his work & apply a watermark onto it is his choice. He asked politely for anyone who wants to repost the photo to avoid altering it in any way and to leave the watermark visible. Furthermore, the use of a watermark (especially in event photography) is a mechanism for giving credit to the photographer who took the photo. It is not always a source of advertising or personal promotion – rather it serves as a visual citation.

    In my opinion, your exaggerated rant is merely a response to getting caught. Instead of respecting the time, effort, and work put into Mr. Zusman’s photography – you took something that didn’t belong to you & instead of obeying the rules, you broke them. When you were caught, you went off like an angry child. In case you haven’t noticed – Immaturity doesn’t look good on a man your age.

  • Natalie

    Also – Geoff, you stated: “At the heart of the issue is a photographer’s legal rights to their intellectual property versus the shareability norms of the social media world. In today’s digital media environment, images, content and ideas are shared with creative commons credit, links — and some times with no attribution.”

    I find it absurd that you argue against a photographer’s rights to watermark & protect their images based on societal norms of reediting & cropping pictures for Facebook. Just because everyone is doing it, that doesn’t make it right. Didn’t we learn this concept in kindergarten?

    You are an author and therefore I’m sure you understand that plagiarism is a growing issue on college campuses around the country. If I were to take a quotation from your book, wouldn’t you want proper credit? And by including you in my citation – am I advertising your book or merely respecting the time and effort you put into culminating your work?

  • Geoff,

    I want to thank you again for not forcing me to include a watermark promoting the CitizenGulf event with your photo. Since you are sometimes paid to take photographs, I thought it truly demonstrated your character.

    By the way, after reading the newest comments, I am even more interested in this subject. Maybe you could send me those e-mails and perhaps I could offer a solution in the way the communication was handled on the front end.

    All my best,

  • Timothy Kaldas


    From a legal perspective you’re obviously in the wrong (the above comments demonstrate that clearly) and I think you’re coming to realize that. From an ethical perspective your criticism of Moshe is absurd and reflects a total disregard for the efforts and rights of artists who struggle as it is. You claim “he lost the opportunity to make the event into a network building opportunity for him, all over a watermark.” How would he have benefitted from you posting one of his photos after removing the attribution. He lost nothing. You lost a nice picture of you “all over a watermark.” Moshe was completely in the right to insist on his terms of usage (using the watermark in this case). The legal issues have been clearly explained above. You wanted to use his work and give him no credit and now you’re whining because he’s insisting on respect for his intellectual property. I’m proud of Moshe for not letting you use his image without proper attribution. And of course you have the right to complain baselessly about Moshe’s sensible actions. We have the right to comment and criticize you for doing so as well.

  • If you don’t want to advertise for this person, then don’t use the image. You have no right to the image at all. Only the owner can decide if it can be displayed without the watermark. I don’t understand where you thought you had the right to remove it and use it as your own. Without credit you are basically saying you own the image and you can do what you damn well please with it. Well that’s not true. Stop being so childish.

  • Geoff,

    First let me say I think it would have been more professional to blog about the issue itself rather than trying to put another fellow photographer and professional on blast just because you had a disagreement with him which I am sure could have been worked out. To me that is a HUGE problem with the credibility of the blog-o-sphere.

    Now, whether paid or not, the images taken by Mr. Zusman are legally his unless you have purchased the rights to use or own the photographs. In situations such as Facebook, he published it to his profile and was kind enough to tag you (acknowledging you). By you cropping his watermark out of the photograph you have in essence tampered with and altered his original work/photograph which as a photographer yourself, I am sure you know that is a no no.

    My clients on Facebook and Twitter use images I have tagged them with everyday for their profile images and do not crop out my watermark/logo because the understand why the image is watermarked in the first place.

    At most if you do not want him to display your image, you may have the right to ask him to remove it from his gallery.

  • Amber

    @ Rich, What he is truly demonstrating is the fact that he does not depend on photography to put food on the table.

    Geoff, I really think you are missing the point or you are very misinformed. I highly doubt if someone was making money off of your work without your blessing you would be ok with it. You are coming off as very arrogant

  • Erin

    This has pretty much already been said several times in the comments, but it would seem to me pretty cut and dry.

    You wanted to use a photo taken by someone else, on your page. You didn’t want to do it on their terms, despite it being THEIR intellectual property. So if you don’t want to play by the rules, (the well stated rules) then don’t use the photo, and then move on with your life.

    If I lifted a blog post you wrote, put it on my website, but didn’t credit you, then you called me out on it and I still insisted I was in the right, I think you’d be pissed too.

    This was not worth pursuing to this degree, and smearing a respectable photographers rep for the sake of your ego. The mature thing to do would have been to either accept the use of the photo with watermark, or decline the use of the photo all together, and move on your merry way.

    • Erin: Actually, what is clear from this flurry of comments is that professional photogs feel like it’s their right to market their wares using tagged watermarked images on Facebook. As you all seem to be pros, I thank you for this insight as it explains the behavior I saw. Yet, a link on a photo community site and ensuing negative comments don’t make spamming any more acceptable to me. I do appreciate everyone’s passion and desire to earn a living off of their creative talents though.

  • Amanda Hoffman

    Your argument about the tagging does not hold water. Tagging provides the opportunity for the tagged to untag themselves. You can remove it at any time if you don’t like it. A photographer who posts a photo, and then has it stolen and altered, does not have that option. I cannot go to your facebook page and delete the photo you have stollen. You are not stuck with being tagged but I would be stuck with being stolen from. Obviously asking you to remove it doesn’t work. You threw a fit. So how is that anywhere near the same?

  • Tricia

    Everyone seems to be of the same consensus. You’re wrong. You didn’t pay for usage of the picture and therefore should not use it without the photographers consent. As the photographer stated, you could use it provided you keep his watermark, hence contributing something for his time and effort in taking, editing, and uploading your image.
    You seem to be making a huge issue for such a small request.
    And, as you stated, you removed the image…so why the harsh unnecissary blog post?

  • I’m sorry. I am tired of people claiming to know the law. Here is the law.

    “• Using someone’s image for commercial benefit

    Many countries recognize that individuals have a right of publicity. The right of publicity is the direct opposite of the right of privacy. It recognizes that a person’s image has economic value that is presumed to be the result of the person’s own effort and it gives to each person the right to exploit their own image.

    Under this right, you could be liable if you use a photograph of someone without their consent to gain some commercial benefit.”

    To which, Mr. Zusman was right to take Geoff’s picture but he was wrong to publish it for commercial gain (promotional) without Geoff’s consent. To which, Mr. Zusman is lucky all Geoff did was attempt to use his image.

    While Geoff may have been at a public event, outside of editorial, it is extremely questionable in the manner of how he used it, including linking to Geoff, which constitutes implied consent that did not exist.

    I may not know the law, but I do know why we post signs when we film and have photo releases handy when we shoot events where you can clearly make out people. It’s to avoid confusion. Any professional should know this.

    Furthermore, since when it is wrong for a potential customer to disagree with the said policies of a company, which Geoff has done here? Mr. Zusman is obviously a business. Suck it up. You’ll have worse reviews to worry about if you don’t learn too.

    By the way. I am not a lawyer. Thank goodness. :D


  • Jenn

    Would you photoshop out Microsoft’s branding if you were wearing a name tag with the microsoft logo on the lanyard? Photographers brand themselves on their products; their product just happens to be the actual photograph. I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all to ask that his images be left as is. You were the one who chose to use something that he created and uploaded. If you didn’t want to be a part of the photographer’s “marketing campaign”, you should have untagged yourself.

  • Generally speaking, I understand many professional photographers are upset with my stance. I am OK with your anger, and encourage you to keep venting. You know, it’s a time of change and many views on this.

    I am not OK with personal attacks on my blog, and ask that the discourse adhere to my comment policy ( Of course, the discourse can continue elsewhere.

  • Rosie

    Rich… What you say above is irrelevant to the issue at hand. Mr. Zusman has the right to publish the picture; he did not need Geoff’s permission to use the picture that he took. By Geoff agreeing to do this public event, he became a public figure and therefore has allowed his picture to be used implicitly.

    Geoff, I like how you point out that you are using the other photographers picture because “he gave you permission to crop out his watermark”. So you asked permission from this photographer to crop out the watermark but you did not give Mr. Zusman the same courtesy, why is that? The only answer to that question that I can think of is because you knew that Mr. Zusman was going to say no, because you read his disclaimer but you liked the picture and you wanted it so you stole it thinking that you were not going to get caught with your hand in the cookie jar.

    I smell a fib based on the fact that you did not “read his policy because he tagged you” . The only way you could have gotten the full photo was to click on it and go to the original photo in his album where it clearly states his policy on use.

    You said that you did not want to use your social profile to advertise his business but yet you are ok with using his picture to market yourself?

    Whether you like it or not Mr. Zusman has every legal right to his photography, the laws are there for a reason. You do not like it? Take it up with those that made the laws.

    You also say that this event was by a friend of yours for a great cause, but you have given it a great disservice because you let your bruised ego get in the way.

  • Tony

    It’s funny you ask people to adhere your comment policy when you don’t adhere yourself to the photographer’s terms.

    But you know, I don’t feel like what the majority feel will pass onto you as you are dead set on what you think is right.

  • I guess I just don’t get it. If you liked the picture enough to use it, why wouldn’t you want to give credit to the person who took it? It seems like that would be less of a big deal that purposefully going out of your way to remove their signature from the image. That’s just my opinion as a photographer and a blogger.

  • Milena Dekic

    I just think it’s quite hilarious that you ask people to adhere to your comment policy but refused to adhere to the photographer’s usage policy. Hypocrisy, much?!

  • Robert

    Geoff, this isn’t solely about “earning a living.” I suspect that the marketability of a photo of you on Facebook is pretty much next to zero, other than on whether or not said photo showcases a technical merit for taking photos. I mean, regardless of who you are in the blogosphere, the recognizability of your face isn’t much more than the average person to any other average person. Furthermore, the chances that some famous or quasi-famous contact of yours will see the photo and think, “man, I absolutely need to hire THIS guy to take candid portraits of me at some random social event” are also pretty slim.

    So that high horse should be dismounted.

    Still, even going with your position that you don’t have an interest in using your social currency to market some photographer, I say fair enough. And yet you saw definite value in the photo, otherwise you wouldn’t have wanted to use it.

    You assumption that it was free for the taking and alteration merely because it was posted to Facebook is incorrect. The fact that it’s a photo OF you makes no difference. You were in a setting for which photography was a part of the event.

    I realize that the social media landscape is defining new rules almost every day. However, until those rules are crystallized into law, then the actual laws on the books trump “social etiquette.” And the letter of the law states quite clearly that you have no right to alter and publish the photo without permission of the author – regardless of where you found said photo.

    That is where you clearly went wrong in this matter.

    I’m not saying that Moshe wasn’t being overly strict or uncompromising. Maybe so. But who knows without seeing the actual back and forth e-mails. However going with the “he started it” or “I’m just reacting” route makes you out to be ridiculous.

    The solution on your end was painfully obvious: He doesn’t want you using the image without the watermark? Cool. Use a different freakin’ image.

  • I’ve blogged for 10 years. I’m a professional photographer. I share a LOT of images with just the creative commons license on Flickr. If I volunteer to shoot an event, the images that I post on Facebook are always watermarked. I tag people that I know – they can always untag themselves.

    No one EVER has said that this is wrong to me — and as a long time blogger, user #8610 on Twitter, a member of Flickr since 2004, the person that named WordPress, well — I consider myself pretty well versed in “social media norms”.

    I’m sorry – but I think you were in the wrong for cropping out his watermark. Those were his terms of use, and if you didn’t want to play by the rules he had ever right to ask you to not use the image.

    I think you would feel VERY differently if it was your own copyright that was being trampled on.

    Oh, and by the way – he was invited to photograph the event, whether he invoiced for it or not. It was a public event, and you were aware you were being photographed. So he did have every right to photograph you. Based on the reasonable expectations, he was well within his legal rights to photograph you and share the images publicly.

    “but used with permission sans the Vithaya brand mark.” … so in other words you ASKED first that time? Maybe if you had asked Moshe first you might have gotten the same response? At least you learned to ask first.

    So, do you work for free without even so much as credit for the work that you do? I notice you have a copyright logo here on your site — does this post mean that based on the social media norms (well, your definition of them at least) that it is ok if I just copy your posts and post them on my site with no credit to you for the work? No? Why not?

    Your “standards” are flawed, Geoff. Sorry. I don’t agree with you.

  • @Tony & @Milena: LOL on the hypocrisy comments. I think the general negative thrashing I am taking is indicative that I’m not closing my ears. I just don’t think calling me curse words or flat out you’re a “f&%@tard” will be productive, nor is it fair to do that on my blog. I mean you can do it on Twitter, right? Even better, it’s more public.

    The comment policy says, “The discussion on this page should be provocative enough to encourage questions, disagreements, and meaningful dialog as to whether we are right or wrong. It’s not about being safe, it’s about pushing the envelope, thinking and, hopefully, learning. However, personal attacks won’t be tolerated and will be deleted. Thanks for coming by and visiting.”

    I interpret deragotry to mean, i.e. cursing, deragory “you” remarks, etc. I think the comments on this stream indicate I am quite comfortable with being told I’m wrong, and Tony, you are right. There can be 1000 professional photog comments here telling me I’m wrong, and it won’t sway me on the watermarking, tagging, enforcing, marketing specifics. I’m not a pro photog, and I don’t like the practice as a would be consumer, content creator or contractor of photogs for all of the above reasons.

    It’s also the right of people to sound off. As a result, I have learned a lot and am listening.

  • Chris Lin

    “…creative commons credit, links — and some times with no attribution.”

    As far as I know, every Creative Commons license requires attribution.

    The fact that it happens doesn’t change the fact that it’s counter to the license agreement.

  • The customer/consumer is not always right.