Artists Requesting Reform of PhotoBucket Practices

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Dear PhotoBucket,

I am writing today on behalf of a collection of artists and photographers that have approached me over the past few weeks regarding your service. Most, if not all, have had their artwork appear on PhotoBucket without permission and have sought resolution either through contacting the user or you established DMCA procedure.

In that regard, there has been very little complaint about the speed or professionalism of your DMCA resolution system. I, as a consultant in the area of content theft, have had the pleasure of working with your abuse team several times on DMCA complaints and have always found their response to be swift and decisive.

Nonetheless, there are two elements of the PhotoBucket service that worry these artists, and myself, from a copyright perspective.

Photo Prints

Currently, by default, every new account is set to public and can be viewed by anyone on the Web. Anyone that can view the page can, in turn, purchase prints of the photo through Qoop.

Many of the artists who have contacted me rely on such prints as a means sustain themselves. PhotoBucket, through Qoop, has the ability to undercut that market and directly hurt their bottom line. Furthermore, since any print from PhotoBucket of their work would be, most likely, from a low-resolution Web image, the output product would be inferior and could damage the reputation of the original artist as well as provide unfair competition to the artist's authentic merchandise.

Though I am not an attorney, there seems to me to be a legal gray area involved in this printing service. Though the DMCA protects hosts from liability when their users infringe copyright, that protection is not available in situations where the host profits directly from the infringement. This could create liability for both PhotoBucket and its parent companies where none existed before.

But what is most worrisome about this is that even users who upload their own photos in exactly the intended manner use could could be unwittingly victimized by this service. One could easily imagine a situation where unwanted prints, calendars and shirts are made from family photos intended solely for posting to a blog or private community.

This makes the photo printing an issue not just for artists that dont use PhotoBucket as a tool, but your own members and users.

Take Down Problems

The second concern revolves around that of the notice and takedown system itself. Simply put, with over four billion photographs, it is nearly impossible for an artist or photographer to locate or request take down of all of their works.

Worse still, many are reporting that every time they file a takedown notice against one work, another copy pops up, often times on another account with a very spam-like username that is filled with large amounts of other questionable material.

Simply put, PhotoBucket as an industry leader, is too large to effectively police from the outside. The burden would be enough to hamper the efforts of the largest copyright holders but can effectively crush the best efforts of a smaller artist.

Though this problem exists on many photo sharing sites, PhotoBucket, as the leader in this area, seems to be the most frequent target both by users who maliciously intend to exploit the works of others and users who do not understand copyright or the protections it offers visual artists.

This, of course, does not service PhotoBuckets purpose as it harms the reputation of the site, especially among visual artists, and creates additional work for abuse personnel. Clearly, cooperation between PhotoBucket and visual artists is in everyones best interest.

Requests

In light of these issues and potential conflicts with PhotoBucket, the visual artist that have signed this letter politely request two simple changes to the PhotoBucket service that can help them protect their rights while maintaining the high level of service users have come to expect from PhotoBucket.

The first request is the limitation of the photo printing service. This can be acheived easily by turning all account to private by default and then having the user make it public with the understanding that it means their photos will be available to print.

Another solution would be to make this feature optional and turn it off by default. This way, only users who distinctly approve their photos for printing will have them available to do so. This type of granular control over content is highly desirable among artists and copyright holders and is a way to be cooperative with artists without restricting features.

The second request is a revamping of the takedown process to prevent repostings of infringing images and help artists control the use of their work on PhotoBucket.

In May of 2007, your parent company, Myspace, launched a service called Take Down Stay Down for its video product. This service prevents a file from being reuploaded once a takedown has been issued for it and is in conjunction with similar fingerprinting tools for Myspace Music.

We, the artists and myself, would like to see a similar system on PhotoBucket. Ideally, such a system would fingerprint the image once a takedown has been filed (and no counter-notice has been received), remove other copies of the image on the service, prevent future uploads of the image and work even if the file has been format shifted, cropped or otherwise trivially edited.

The technology for such a service already exists and is widely available. Several other companies are already looking to apply this technology to the Web as a whole. It could be executed in a way that is non-intrusive to the user and does not affect the functionality of the service in any way. Users not engaging in questionable uploading would never notice the change.

Such a system would not only improve the reputation of PhotoBucket, but also reduce the amount of time spent handling abuse complaints. Since many, if not most, of your DMCA notices are likely from a small group of artists, it makes sense that preventing these pieces from appearing on the service in the first place would drastically reduce your load in processing such complaints.

In reading through the commentary about the Take Down Stay Down system, it has been relatively non-controversial and viewed as largely effective. If such a system can be implemented for audio and video, it should at least as practical to apply it to still images.

Conclusions

In conclusion, we, the undersigned, want to thank you very much for your time and consideration on these issues. We greatly appreciate you taking a few moments from your busy schedules to consider the issues weve raised and our proposed solutions.

We feel that PhotoBucket is a great service built with the best of intentions in mind. In addition to wanting to protect the rights of our images, we want to ensure that PhotoBucket remains a great service for everyone to use.

We feel that these proposals can help visual artists, both on and off PhotoBucket, get the most from the service and ensure that PhotoBucket remains a good neighbor in the Web community.

We thank you again for your time and look forward to hearing from you regarding this matter at your earliest convenience.