|The Jackson Lake original on the left and the "Lake Titicaca" impostor on the right ~ © James Neeley 2010|
|The "original" original|
Mr. Neeley figures someone must have swiped his image, rotated it, and retouched out the watermark. What was the purpose of the theft? James doesn't know, but the oldest version that your editor can find has a post date of January 17, 2012. If one does a Google search on the exact title of this page, "Milky Way over Lake Titicaca Peru", there are over 132,000 web pages with this phrase—and a random spot check shows that virtually all of them carry a version of James' stolen image! (A reverse Google Images search of the stolen image shows over 240 versions on the web.)
Why do they do it? Why do people post images on social media sites such as Pinterest, Google+, and Facebock that are not theirs? With many it seems to be a game to see who can get the most views, comments, and unearned accolades—even though this is a form of theft by deception.
What can be done? Although one can use copyright law to sue for damages, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to shut down the offending websites, this can be an arduous task, much like trying to find and recapture a bag of windblown feathers. In this case, the stolen versions are thousands of times more popular on the Internet than the original, and virtually all of them without credit or links to the real author. Even when source links are occasionally given, they usually lead to a another theft or more miss-information. All of this clutters the search engines and makes it harder for the original photographer and his photograph to be found. (In fact, if you do a reverse search now, using James' most original image, only the theft versions appear in all but last pages of the search results!)
Beating them to the punch: One of the sites on the Internet most responsible for the sharing and proliferation of images is Reddit. Many people find their images first on Reddit that they share on the social media sites. A stolen version of James' image was recently shared in the 'pics' section of Reddit and received over 2400 positive votes and over 360 comments.
An image exhibiting this kind of popularity might easily receive over 50,000 views and hundreds of re-shares. Internet-savvy photographers have learned to be the first to share their watermarked images on Reddit, linked to their own websites (i.e. their Flickr photostream), and flood the Internet with good links before the thieves do it with stolen versions that have dead-end links! (Other popular sections on Reddit for sharing night photography images are the SpacePorn and the ExposurePorn pages.)
Example: This Reddit post by your editor was responsible for many of the 40,000+ views and dozens of re-shares (with proper links) of this John Moulton Homestead photo.
More of James Neeley's photography can be found at his website, with additional links to his blogs, workshops, and Flickr photostream. (A review of James' night photography can also be found on this blog.)
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