What is Photographic Plagiarism?

What exactly is plagiarism in photography?

Part of my problem is I sometimes think too much and I’m left pondering something I maybe shouldn’t be worried about yet; Plagiarism and Theft.

Not that I would take someone else’s images and exhibit them as my own but I have already had two of my own images used elsewhere. So blatantly that they were not even edited in any way.

Theft is clear-cut and definitely off of my page for moral behavior. Plagiarism on the other hand, at least in photography may be a lot harder to determine.

If I was writing an essay and a percentage of words looked like they had been copied and pasted or that the discussion and conclusion where not believed to be through my own thought processes, I would expect to be quizzed & held to account for plagiarism.

Now In music there are only so many ways that scales can be placed in any order to play as a solo over a particular chord progression. Come to thing of it, there is a finite number of chords and therefore only a certain amount of voicings and orders that those chords can be played. Take that thought down to particular genres of music and you are further limited.
So at some stage a lead guitar player will intentionally or unintentionally play something that sounds almost identical to, or exactly the same as another guitarist.

Does that mean s/he has stolen it? Not necessarily.

As part of my photography learning process I joined a 52 week project on Flickr.
I have had to try to capture a themed image every week and the theme that has left me thinking about plagiarism and theft is on forced perspective.

I had to look up forced perspective and try to figure out what I had to do and how I wanted to do it. I can’t say that I am the most creative person I know and this weeks challenge found me feeling particularly unimaginative & unable to think outside of the box. Therefore I had a good look online for some inspiration.

What I found didn’t really surprise me in that many of the images were copies of other people’s original ideas.

It is this that got me particularly thinking about plagiarism in photography.
I had a photograph published on the ITV news site. (More about that another time). I also had another photograph appear on Facebook. I was angry about them being used in the first place, particularly without my consent. But equally annoyed if not more so and left disbelieving my eyes that they had not even give me a credit. No No, worse than that; someone else had taken the credit for it.

Obviously if someone uses your own work it is nothing less than theft.
But if someone sets up a photo shoot to look exactly the same as a work you created or captured, could we argue that it is plagiarism?

I think the key phrase being ‘exactly the same’ is important. However I don’t know the answer or necessarily have a fully formed view. I also suspect this will be a very grey area and receive divided opinion depending on who we were to ask.

I guess what I’m asking myself and you is:

Is it just the image that can be stolen or is it the idea, the actual concept?

Again, I’m not entirely sure I have a fully formed opinion and think it would be down to whether or not someone was making money on the back of another persons idea or imitated image.

But then again, never mind if they are or are not making money, why should someone even take creative credit for an image that they have re-staged???

For example the two images below are the photographs I decided to go with for my weeks challenge of forced perspective. They are not ‘exactly the same’ as anyone else’s images and I took these particular photographs myself. I made the decisions on all the factors that went into capturing these particular images but the original idea was not mine. These are simply my versions of someone else’s concept. So can I still take any credit for creativity?

(The images have not turned out as well as I had hoped and with a little more patience I know I could have achieved a much better result).

Large racket!!

Big Feet

(Warm thanks to Seb Clover who kindly agreed to pose for these pictures. For those that are interested, Seb crossed the English Channel single-handedly at the age of 11 and at the age of 15 became the youngest person in the world to successfully sail across the Atlantic Ocean single-handedly in late 2002 / 2003. This record was held until 2007).

I would like nothing more than to credit the people who produced the first forced perspective images that I have attempted to replicate, but I can’t. Simply because I have no idea who it was.

After searching the world-wide web (albeit briefly) I’m still unsure what constitutes plagiarism in photography.

I did however find an article at PetaPixel that highlights theft as a problem and has reminded me that I should look into how to protect my images.

I doubt they (Peta Pixle) will have any interest in my novice musings on whether or not my replication/variations of images are plagiarism but I think I will send this post to them and invite them to comment.

As normal, thank you kindly for taking the time to read my short but sometimes rambling thoughts & naturally, if you have any thoughts on this subject please post them into the comments.

One comment

  1. I think it is easy enough to arrange how to copyright your work Jimmy. However, claiming intellectual property on ideas and composition, that’s a different ball game entirely!
    Cheers mate, Pete.

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