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The unseen cost of the internet sharing culture

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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“If you don’t want people to share your photo, don’t put it on the internet.”

-vast numbers of people on the internet, 1995-2013

This refrain is among the most common threads in the great internet copyright wars. It’s a facile argument for its ignorance of 3rd party uploads and of the blind resharing of photos tagged “attribution required” at upload, but I digress. Correct or not, the fact that internet content is so often copied without credit carries its own chilling effect on what gets posted.

With too many people unwilling to credit or pay photographers for their services, many photographers actually do follow the above advice. Some post nothing at all, or only upload small samples of their full portfolios.

The relative secrecy of these visual artists is a shame. Some of the unshared work I’ve seen in person is aesthetically spectacular, or scientifically informative, or both. And the losers in this situation are us, the users of the internet, because we will never see the amazing work not shared.

Alex Wild About the Author: Alex Wild is an Illinois-based entomologist who studies the evolutionary history of ants. In 2003 he founded a photography business as an aesthetic complement to his scientific work, and his natural history photographs appear in numerous museums, books, and media outlets. Follow on Twitter @myrmecos.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. David Cummings 6:24 am 08/19/2013

    And the solution to the problem is … ?

    Link to this
  2. 2. Hitchiker of the Galaxy 9:08 am 08/19/2013

    Artists should look to China how to develop a bussiness model when copying work is legal.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Alex Wild in reply to Alex Wild 10:32 am 08/19/2013

    “And the solution to the problem is … ?”

    Well, that’s the hard part. Technological fixes, if widely adopted, would help. Youtube’s video embedding both makes content easy to share while simultaneously preserving the source, for example.

    Link to this
  4. 4. David Cummings 11:42 am 08/19/2013

    Thanks, Alex.

    Link to this

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