To the Thieves Who Stole Our Images
So last Friday, you might have been one of many Filipinos who clicked on part 1 of a promised “exposé” published by a shadowy organization called We Are Collective.
It’s “a compendium of stories from several trusted local sources who wish to remain anonymous” but re-written in the first person. Well, we all know that’s how all credible stories begin, by using fiction-writing techniques on accounts by “several sources” who don’t wish to identify themselves. Good start. Let’s go:
“Much has been said about Leni and Jesse Robredo.” And more is about to be said, like, A LOT MORE. Almost 11,000 words more, as of our last count. I mean, look at us—we’re known for our short articles. It’s not like we have a section dedicated to Long Reads or anything foolish like that.
Anyway. We’re a full page down now, and we’re still at “Before I embark on this storytelling journey.”
What a rollercoaster of emotions! It’s like that time when our parents piled us all in the back of their VW Beetle for a trip to La Union, and then one lifetime and three full bladders later, we asked, “Are we there yet??” and were told that we hadn’t even made it out of the village gates yet.
Also, “storytelling journey,” because we’re all pre-teens here discovering the Internet-as-journal for the first time. Carry on, brave storyteller!
Aaaaaand finally we’re at the Beginning(s): “Again this may take some time, so bear with me.” NO! Stop the car, dad, we need to get out and pee again. And we also need to stretch our legs, so let’s have a wander around the site, shall we?
Hey, that photo on your front page looks awfully familiar…
Come to think of it, the banner on the exposé itself looks familiar too…
This isn’t one of ours, but we’ve also seen it somewhere…
They didn’t tell us they were going to use those photos on their own site. Hey, Jason Quibilan, Francisco Guerrero, Edwin Tuyay: Did they ask you for permission?
Copyright infringment is against the law in the Philippines. Taking an image for your own use, no matter how lofty you think your goal might be, is still against the law.
Or is there something we’re missing here? “It’s not a gray area. If they take something that’s not theirs, it’s theft,” says Atty. Roderick Vera, a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property rights.
Because the Internet is full of overnight experts, “fair use” is a term that’s now being bandied about as a legal loophole that excuses the use of the image without permission. “Fair use is allowed if the image is to be used for teaching, commentary, a scholarly article, or a critique—but it needs to be about the image itself. In this case, the images are not being used in that manner; they're being used to accompany the story and provide visuals for their website. That isn't covered by fair use," says Atty. Vera.
But the images are out on the Internet! We put it out ourselves, even. That means anybody at all can take it—and it’s our own fault for putting it out in the public domain. Right?
No. Continues Atty. Vera, “You don't lose ownership. You may lose control, but you don't lose ownership. It's like parking your car on the street. It's out there for everyone to see, but it's still yours."
In the meantime, We Are Collective have issued a non-apology for the copyright infringement:
They’ve also suggested in their comments section that maybe we should just let bygones be bygones, since they have no money:
Well, last we checked, not having any money isn’t any better as a defense than having too much money (“Yes, I am guilty. But, Your Honor, I am a zillionaire. Bygones?”). And since when has it been the victim's responsibility to approach the thief to extract an apology?
It’s also been suggested that, since we’re all guilty of downloading things from the Internet, perhaps nobody is guilty. We’d like to know when you last used the “Everybody else is doing it” defense: Was it when you were five years old? How did that work out for you?
All the images are still up on their website, as of our last check. Listen, WAC, if you claim to be doing the public some good by exposing criminals, perhaps start by, you know, not committing a crime against members of the public? And if you mean to correct the issue, perhaps taking down the images would be a good start. Unless, of course, you believe that everyone should be held to strict account according to the laws of the country which you claim to love—everyone but yourselves, that is.