An Open Letter to Ian Sobolev, founder of 500px
I enjoy exploring new technologies and websites to showcase our work. A relatively new photo site, 500px, has been attaching a lot attention most recently. While the site is visually appealling, the functionality is somewhat limited and there are real security concerns among some users, myself included. I have raised several questions and one of the founders, Ian Sobolev responded to my blog post. I have attached the text of the Open Letter I drafted. I am still awaiting a response from Mr. Sobolev.
I appreciate your willingness to promote debate amongst the users of 500px regarding my questions about copyright protection and disabling easy downloading of images from your site. While I am open to debate, I believe your simplistic answers in the form of your opinion, does little to comfort me in using your site as a platform for displaying my photographic work. For clarity, I have copied your post with my responses here:
1. “Hi Gregory, 900px wide print will make only 3 inch photo — and most commercial entities like publishing houses will never bother with that (some already request 600dpi prints). ”
I tested this theory and was able to make an acceptable 8×10″ print from a downloaded image. Granted it is not museum quality, but certainly acceptable for the common person.
2. “We had a right click protection on photos, and we understand the concern, but really, it’s just bad user experience. Any even moderately savvy user can download the photo — if you see it, you can copy it. Even if it is embedded in flash, it can be copied in exactly the same quality. Some users, who are afraid of copying the photos, choose to upload photos less than 900px wide (e.g. 500px), but really — if the photographer is afraid of someone downloading his/her photos — the internet is now the place for them.”
Aside from being condescending, this is a bold statement from the founder of a website that encourages artists to display their work. Many photographers put their heart and soul into their work, not to mention time, money and effort. How does this statement do anything to assuage concerns that their work will be treated with respect?
3. “We’ve seen many companies, e.g. Flickr and other implementing right-click protection and ‘invisible pixels’ — that’s just ruins experience for everyone, and doesn’t protect photographer at all (except from moms-and-paps that just would like to have this photo on their desktop).”
I fail to see how disabling right-click capability ruins the experience for anyone. I personally use Flickr and the functionality has not affected my ability to view and enjoy images from other artists. What it does, is prevent the casual user from simply downloading the image with a few mouse clicks. I understand that there are work arounds and other technologies to defeat almost any safeguards. I also believe that the persons that engage in this activity are relatively small in number.
4. “And even more, if you upload something to Facebook — yes, they have protection, but they also (wrongfully) claim copyright on all your photos. We don’t. And we help photographers pursue cases of stealing (you may want to ask around, we are serious).”
While I appreciate your stated committment to pursuing cases of image theft, this reactive approach also fails to give me comfort. I believe a proactive approach would better thwart potential pilferage of images. Thus, I would feel more comfortable with a copyright warning and optional right-click disabling to be institiuted on 500px.
This functionality is intended to prevent the casual web surfer from taking images. For example, if I go to my favorite search engine and look for certain images, I should be notified if a particular image is copyrighted and furthermore, perhaps disabled from downloading. The average marketing person sitting in an office should not be able to simply insert an artist’s image in their monthly newletter, without compensation, unless of course the artist has made the image creative commons or similar. Another example, a random web surfer sees an image and makes a greeting card to place on the market, typically on a micro-sales site, such as Etsy. Now this person is potentially generating revenue from the original image, quite possibly without knowledge that the image was copyrighted.
Many, many other sites have implimented some form of image protection, and for good reason. I, as an artist invest a lot of time, money, effort and creativity into my work. It is reasonable to expect that I would enjoy the same protections that a retailer would to prevent theft. In my last Blog post, I likened this to a poster shop. I can go to a poster shop and view the works of many artists. I cannot however expect to walk out with free posters. It is shortsighted to suggest that posters of images, perhaps one of my own images, is somehow more valuable simply because it has been printed on paper.
Now I come to the golden opportunity. If I was marketing for 500px, I would embrace the fact that there are some photographers that have concerns. Some photographers, who invest in their passion for the art, would like to have some reassurances that their work will be protected, even if it is at a minimal level. Take these suggestions and listen to the voice of the user. Institiute some types of protection, where the user can opt-in if they choose. Then make this a “premium” level feature available to subscribed users. It is a win-win situation, since I personally would not pay $50 (current rate) per year to use the service without having some type of protection scheme in place.
The link to the post is here: http://500px.com/gsalicki/blog/3994