Saturday, March 1, 2014

This really burns my biscuit...

Seven layer salad. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Here in my little corner of the blogging world, I just like to flip my burgers and go home. I cook a little something or other, take a few pictures, craft a few words and hit “publish.” I share my stories with friends and family, and my online community of fellow writers. I don’t whine about Facebook charging to promote my posts. I don’t complain about traffic numbers. And whenever Google messes with SEO, frankly, that goes right over my head. But every now and again, something happens that really burns my biscuit and this is it: unauthorized use of my photographs. Honestly, I think I’d be more flattered if it was my words, but they are left alone. My humble little pictures, taken with a dinky Nikon Coolpix set on the cutest little tripod imaginable, seem to have a plain spoken appeal that makes them easy pickings for multinational companies (yes!), mom-and-pop diners and bakeries, Wiki writers, website aggregators, and unscrupulous fellow bloggers.

If you think I’m being whiny and petulant, and hey, maybe I am, why not just skip over to another page of mine? (I suggest this lovely chocolate pecan bark.) But this is indeed theft of my work. Anytime someone uses my images or words without my permission, it is considered unauthorized. There are instances when I’ve asked for my work to be credited and linked back to the original post, and that’s ok with me. The instance that comes to mind is a college professor doing work on Southern foodways and used a picture from my blog, with links and credit. If someone is not making money off of my work, I do consider allowing them to use my photographs. However, when the pictures are used on a site that includes ads or promotes a business, and they want to use my pictures without compensation, that is just wrong. Pictures, not words, are the signposts that direct traffic to blogs and visually-driven tools like Pinterest are the bitcoin of blogging. If my picture is used to direct traffic to another site, then that is stealing. It's wrong, and in some cases, just plain lazy.

Buttermilk chess pie. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Recently, I found one of my most-purloined images, Buttermilk Chess Pie, on a Midwestern bakery’s webpage. When I saw it, I thought: "Now, let me get this straight: you bake and sell pies for a living and you have to steal an image from a blogger for your website?" When I brought the issue to the owner's attention, he blamed the website designer. Poor website designers, the kicking dogs of the internet age. Unethical designer aside, I suggest that in an age when many people, even gradeschoolers, have phones that take blog-worthy pictures, small time bakers and restaurant owners would serve themselves well to take their own pictures of the products that they sell. It’s just dishonest to the customer to show a picture of an item that is not their own.

Poultry gravy made with butter, flour and chicken broth. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

And speaking of dishonest bloggers, those who steal from others are doing a great disservice to their readers. Not that a hand-rapping would do much good there, but I suggest that readers searching for recipes be aware that pictures do not always match up with recipes. Case in point ~ my poultry gravy recipe. I used to get a spike in blog traffic each November when cooks start looking for reliable gravy recipes. Now the image pops up on everything from a Vancouver cathedral priest’s blog to a self-help guru’s the power-lies-within-you post. The gravy boat picture has been used to accompany gluten-free, vegetarian and even vegan gravy recipes. (All those recipes, by the way, sound absolutely disgusting.) My fool-proof recipe includes butter, flour, vegetables and chicken broth. Caveat emptor.

And then there's the story of my rice pudding picture. A fragment of the picture was used on a German multinational's website (since removed). All sorts of nationalities have been associated with it ~ Assyrian, Swedish, Middle Eastern and Latin, I guess it's the sort of dish that is treasured by home cooks around the globe. Many cooks may make rice pudding, but very few trouble with actually taking a picture of their creations. It tends to pop up on websites for small Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants.

American rice pudding. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Every few months, I take a couple of hours and search the internets for unauthorized use of my pictures. I comment on the original post, or go to Facebook, and the matter is usually straightened out within a few days. No harm, no foul. I get a few (I presume) genuinely heartfelt apologies. I even turned one wayward blogger into a confirmed reader of my blog. She honestly thought it was acceptable to borrow pictures like you would a cup of sugar. That’s ok, we’re cool now.

As to keeping this from happening in the future, I feel like the cat’s already out of the bag. Other bloggers tell me they use watermarks on their photographs, and I can certainly see the value there. Any other advice for dealing with this problem?

And I'll say it again ~ the words and images here are my work and I reserve all rights. Please contact me via if you have any questions.


Lynda Mahana said...

Good for you Lucy. I have my name on most of my pictures.
Good go girl. let em have it!

Kate Camper said...

That sucks Lucy. I am glad that you stand up for yourself. These people should know better and if they didn't and you bring it to their attention, they should correct the situation immediately. I'm sorry that you have to deal with stubborn people.

Heather said...

I went to Southern "Belle" and left a comment. And you need a good intellectual promptly arrorney.

Heather said...

Ugh. Intellectual property attorney, promptly.

Lucy Mercer said...

Thanks, Lynda and Kate!

And Heather, I appreciate the reinforcement!

Terry said...

I left "Southern Belle" a comment on the definition of plagiarism ~
Lucy you have every right to be P.O.'d and don't give up!!

Anonymous said...

By all means, develop a watermark for your photos or post them at low resolution so they will be less desirable to copy. Love the gentleness and genuineness of your blog. Barbara

Lucy Mercer said...

Thanks so much for your support, friends. The blogger removed my picture and replaced it with another.