This is an article written for Creative Light Magazine and should be read after my earlier post on the subject. It took me a while to write this and get across how I feel about the issue.
The issue of plagiarism in the photography community has crossed the pond and decided to knock on my door. The case here is different to what happened in the States – Doug Gordan and Jasmine Star (both well known photographers and educators) were ‘outed’ for publishing material that was not original. I was made aware of a UK photographer that had blog posts taken almost word for word from my website describing her approach to wedding and portrait photography. It turns out that clicking on her website was the online equivalent of opening Pandora’s Box.
First I want to be clear about the extent of the plagiarism that I unearthed using Google and a few SIPs (‘statistically improbable phrase’ which according to the web resource Plagiarism Today are usually between 6-12 words long and completely unique to your work). I quickly found a number of websites where the content was almost entirely my own – from the perhaps obvious words about how I approach shoots, to my FAQs, Pricing and most shocking of all the About Me section. I found the exact words about how I started out on at least 10 websites including a reference to the fact that I have 2 children. I hope that you are all aware that this is illegal but from my perspective I am more upset by just how unethical it is.
What I unearthed made me both upset and angry and I made a considered decision to confront the problem. I have worked incredibly hard to achieve ‘success’ with my business and I am not going to sit back and let the laziness of others cause damage. I have had some criticism for going public with the problem (negative opinions are part and parcel of having a high profile in the industry) but it really is time to talk about the elephant in the room. Why do so many photographers think that it is ok to copy and paste someone’s words and position them as their own?
All of the cases of plagiarism that I found were on other soletrader photography websites – ie just another me trying to run a business on their own. I am one of the honest photographers who stand up and say ‘what we do is hard’. We have to be good at so many things other than crafting strong images to succeed. We all have to be writers today because of the need to support the imagery with a whole lot of words and then push it all out on our blogs and social media feeds.
I am still surprised how many people in the industry comment on what a good writer I am. Despite what many of you think it doesn’t come easily or naturally. Like any other skill I have had to learn what works and put a lot of effort into crafting words. It was exactly the same with my photography because becoming ‘good’ at any skill takes time and practice. So you can perhaps also understand why I was angry about people stealing the sentences that I spent hours honing – trying to ensure that they were on brand, genuine and able to communicate how I feel about the thing that actually matters – the art of photography.
Some photographers deal with the problem of written content by hiring copy writers to do it for them. I totally understand that some people just can’t do it themselves and that this can be the solution. If you have taken this approach then you need to be mindful of the responsibility and trust that you are handing over to this third party. You absolutely must check any content that is created on your behalf because you are responsible both legally and ethically for anything that is published under your brand.
Of course one of the problems with photography in the UK is the lack of real brands that have been developed professionally and with the necessary investment to deliver individual businesses with a unique ‘personality’ and ‘tone of voice’. Knowing who you are and how you sound will make written communication far easier to produce. Branding is a big subject and we don’t have the space to explore it further here.
I’m not naïve enough to think that this monologue will have any great impact on the problem of plagiarism and as the industry gets increasingly saturated the issue will grow. Rather than struggle alone with the pressures of running a photography business make the most of the wonderful support network that you have with The Guild. It would also be timely to just refresh yourselves with the Code of Conduct that they stand by.