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‘Stealing’ or ‘borrowing’ shared images commonplace in NZ

Sonny Bill Williams may be made the mistake of infringing copyright with his Instagram post depicting the All Black and his teammate Ofa Tu'ungafasi in prayer, but he isn’t alone. Violations of copyright are almost a daily business practise across New Zealand.

CEO of digital marketing agency Insight Online, Kim Voon, says it’s not uncommon for under pressure marketing managers and business owners to grab photographs and images off Google search to use in their own marketing and social media posts.

“Modern marketing has an insatiable appetite for content. It’s relentless and in the pressure cooker moment the temptation is there to cut and paste. Unfortunately, every photograph and every image – if it is authentic – has an owner somewhere.

“In our experience, most marketers don’t want a bar of stock images and I can’t say I blame them. Using stock images is cardinal sin; they’re tacky, transparent and just plain blah really. The alternative, however, is to steal.”

Voon says the Internet gives the illusion that everything is free.

“There’s this assumption of ‘permissiveness’, I guess you can call it. It never crossed the mind of Sonny Bill Williams that somebody owned the image he was using, and that unfortunately is the way it is with most people – it’s not because we’re bad people, it’s just not something we think about.

“The Internet is a place where images, graphics and other content takes on a life of its own. Everything gets shared and recycled multiple times. The crowd takes ownership. What Sonny Bill Williams did, by apologising and crediting the photographer, was a good thing that will hopefully make others more aware about ownership issues.”

Voon says he found recently that his own company website for Insight Online had been essentially duplicated, down to imagery and words, by another organisation in India.

“It’s endemic to social media and the Internet and the only way we can change it is to behave with integrity ourselves.”

There is a better way.

1. Build your own stock library

Voon says original photographs of staff and clients are far more powerful and effective than anything that is ‘borrowed’, ‘shared’ or bought from stock libraries.

“As a marketing agency, we know that original photography and images outperform the duplicated stuff hands down.

“Every year we get in a photographer, get some clients and staff together and spend the morning doing a photo shoot of people in meetings, in the local café, at their workstations, and around the water cooler etc.”

2. Make photographs a condition of employment

Voon says his company has made participating in photo shoots part of the employment contract.

“Of course, it is open to discussion when we’re negotiating their employment contract. Most people don’t mind because it’s helping the company, which in the long run benefits the staff. Some staff have drawn the line at video however, and that’s ok – there are others who are happy to get involved in that.”

3. Customise stock images

If you have to resort to using stock images, make them your own.

“It’s easy to make a stock image a bit more authentically your own. For example, you could crop it in a certain way, add graphics or a caption that is incorporated into the image.”

Voon said that while images on the Internet can take on a life of their own, they won’t necessarily communicate the brand image or personality of the business and for that reason alone – the law and honesty aside – they’re not worth using.

“It’s not the right thing to do whichever way you look at,” Voon says.

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