All that hard work. All the hours spent going here or there, waiting for the light to fall just so. Adjusting camera settings as needed. Pressing the shutter and hoping to capture some magic moments... Later, at home loading images on the computer, watching in a mix of elation and despair as they spill onto the screen: a curious parade of successful shots and silly mistakes. Next, long hours spent at my desk, writing the words and posting the pictures just for you, dear friends and readers.
But lately, there are intruders; so many intruders. Like thieves in the night, they steal my words and images and send them to suspicious -and sometimes dangerous - destinations. They remove my name and watermark and claim the words and images as their own. They alter source links so that clicking on a photo directs people away from my work and into counterfeit, advertising or spam sites.
Having to deal with the fallout of such bad behaviour isn't pleasant. Between devious photo-snatchers, defiant bloggers and hapless (often incompetent) search-engine bureaucrats, I've felt under seige...all this, simply to protect my copyrighted work. Every day I discover a new outrage which must be addressed and remedied. When I should be creating, I've been forced to spend hours and hours tracking photo hijackers. Over and over again, I've had to assert my rights of ownership, while challenging usurpers who seek to capitalise on my initiative.
These exceedingly unpleasant experiences have made me feel like cocooning; wrapping up tightly and drawing in all my words and photos... Guarding them close, like a mother bird protecting just-hatched nestlings.
I've installed code on my websites, trying to block search engines from indexing my images (Bing, I'm looking at you!) and Pinterest users from "pinning" them. I've exchanged nearly 500 (!) emails with site owners, blog hosts and search-engine copyright staff, trying to safeguard my rights.
And my observations thus far? Companies and individuals alike simply don't care. They will do whatever they think they can get away with, until forced to stop (usually when threatened with legal action). Companies want to make money from our work; individuals prefer publicity; search engines seek traffic.
And the worst offenders in my own experience? Wedding-related commercial sites; conservative religious sites and dodgy spam sites in Germany, Spain, Argentina, Brazil and Romania (among others). These companies and individuals seemingly have no qualms about stealing photos or reproducing entire articles and claiming credit for my work.
Where does this leave the content creators and copyright holders? Between a rock and a hard place. Yes, the law is on our side. But making sure copyright law is upheld - and reclaiming our work from dubious locations - can prove difficult, time-consuming and expensive.
Until more companies act to stem the tide of copyright infringement - and more individuals begin to respect other people's original work (rather than assume content online is free for the taking) - it seems creative professionals face a long, uphill battle. This can feel discouraging, due to the sheer volume of copyright infringement abuse reported every day. But sooner or later, such behaviour has to change: the theft-by-stealth behaviour of rogue companies and individuals is unsustainable.
The search engines and site hosts have to step up and accept responsibility for content posted on their sites. And companies and individuals have to stop appropriating other people's work. Otherwise, this Wild West free-for-all mentality threatens to undermine the internet as a positive force for communication and education.
Photos of a Mallard and her ducklings in "our" canal. Sadly, it seems none of the ducklings survived.