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When I first discovered the rampant theft of my images, I never dreamed the frustrating hours it would take to regain control. There were nights I seriously questioned whether or not I’d actually survive this hit. But with all the support and encouragement I received along the way (thank you!), hope soon replaced the feelings of despair and I gained a strength I didn’t know I had.

“Is there a problem, Occifer?” (Eastern Grey Squirrel) Nikon D300, 290mm, F/5, 1/125s, ISO 640, Nik SIlver Efex Pro ‘Floral’ Filter

Over these past three weeks, I have become well-versed in finding stolen images and how to use WHOIS to locate the proper folks with whom to make a claim.

I have filed countless DMCA forms, have sent numerous takedown notices and have gained invaluable knowledge about image protection and my rights as an artist. I’ve come to realize the only person who can truly protect my images is ME and I have begun taking the necessary steps to do so. Though I still have weeks of work ahead of me, the rose-colored glasses are off, my friends, and I am indeed, wide awake.

At last count (and I find infringements every day), over 85 different images were being used without my knowledge or permission. The actual number of violations, however, lies somewhere in the 250 range since many images were found on multiple sites all across the United States and throughout the world.

While some infractions were minor (e.g., image posted on a blog or used as an avatar), others were much more serious (images displayed on commercial sites, images used to sell products, images used in YouTube videos, images used as backgrounds, images used in online news articles, images posted on a photography tutorial site, images altered and so on). And, yes, there still remains the issue of the playground image used on an EP cover by a UK artist (the toughest pill of all).

I estimate that I’ve been able to get 95% of the images removed. Some, I may never get removed. New motto: learn, accept, protect, move on.

A hearty THANK YOU! goes out to the following sites: Google, Tumblr, YouTube, Polyvore, Instagram, Wikispaces, Facebook, WordPress and GoDaddy (as well as other countless hosting sites here and abroad) who take copyright violation seriously and acted promptly on my behalf.

There is one particular infraction, however, that I feel compelled to single out since the response by the thief is one that I think you all should hear. It started out innocently enough (as things always do).

~ Here’s the tale ~

While performing my arduous image search, I came across this photo of mine on a so-called “educational” wild life site:

“Snowy Mourning” (Mourning Doves) Nikon D300, 400mm, F/7.1, 1/200s, +0.3EV

No link back to my blog and no credit except for my copyright stamp in the lower right-hand corner (at the time, the center visible watermark was not present). Okay, nothing really new… or so I thought. As I looked more closely at the site to locate the contact information, I read the site’s very lengthy and explicit copyright statement:

Hmmm… how… very… interesting. Ladywildlife had taken it upon herself to offer MY copyrighted Mourning Dove image to others to download/print and use for FREE without MY permission or knowledge and yet, at the same time, appeared to have gone to great length to protect “her” site’s content.

You can imagine my reaction. 

I clicked on “CONTACT ME” and filled in the form requesting my image be removed, pointing out the irony of the site’s copyright statement. When I encountered difficulty in submitting said form (couldn’t confirm it was filed), I performed a WHOIS search the following day and located an e-mail address for the site’s webmaster. I then sent a DMCA notice to the webmaster claiming ownership of the image and requesting its immediate removal. 

After weeks of no response, I received the following e-mail this past Saturday (please click to view larger):

Ladywildlife E-mail

Seriously? You take my image and when I ask for it to be removed, THIS is the response I get?

Allow me to clear a few things up:

First, I did not, by any means, attack ladywildlife. I used the contact form contained on her site and requested my copyrighted image to be removed. When I feared the request wasn’t going through via that form, I followed up with a DMCA notice to the webmaster which is in my rights to do so (and has proven to be very effective). As an aside, I do not feel it necessary to be nice to those who take my creative work without my consent. 

Second, I found no link (or links page) or credit back to me or my blog. No idea what ladywildlife is referring to here.

Third, what on earth gives ladywildlife the right to declare my site as not safe for children? (Can you say, libel?) This couldn’t be further from the truth. However, I am glad viewers of ladywildlife will not be visiting my site since the only reason they would be doing so would be to grab wildlife images for their use without my knowledge. No thank you.

Fourth, ladywildlife, you most certainly did take my image. For someone who claims to be well-versed in copyright law, you have it all wrong. Finding images via a Google image search does not make them free to use nor absolve you from copyright infringement. Furthermore, when you click on an image in Google, the following statement appears in the side-bar: “Images may be subject to copyright.” So, if my visible copyright stamp wasn’t enough of an indication the image was protected, Google was attempting to inform you to do your homework before downloading and using said image.

Fifth, with regards to the copyright statement on my site, what you call ‘sloppy wording’ is the standard verbiage from the US Copyright Office and is actually, not even necessary to protect my site’s content. (All that is required is “© 2009-2012 Tracy Milkay/Milkay Photography  All rights reserved”). However, you will notice that I have since expanded my statement to be crystal clear so there is no room for confusion.

Sixth, thank you for the reminder about contacting the various search engines to get the older, un-watermarked versions of my images removed from searches and cache. This was initially lower down on my ‘to-do’ list but now I understand the importance of sending such requests at the same time I implement my image changes. A win-win for me. 

“Nope, I haven’t seen your missing peanut” (Eastern Grey Squirrel) Nikon D300, 400mm, F/5, 1/160s, ISO 640, Nik Silver Efex Pro ‘Center Focus’ filter w/Selective Toning

So there it is, folks. The above example is by far the most extreme case I have encountered to date. Fortunately, the majority of responses I’ve received have fallen to the other end of the spectrum, from honorable folks who’ve apologized for using an image of mine and have either removed it per my request or provided the proper credit/link.

I understand image theft is a widespread problem, experienced by artists all over the internet and my situation is nothing new. The internet is indeed, a complicated place (it is not called a “web” for nothing).

On the one hand, it provides a global platform for self-promotion of creative work and that is an amazing thing! However, on the other hand, it also exposes one’s work to theft, which is a tragedy. My goal here is to educate those in the creative arts field as well as those who are not. (I also hope to soon return back to the art of taking photos and look forward to the day where this is all behind me.)

My message is this:

To artists, do everything you can to protect your work!

To the rest of the communityplease respect and support the work of writers, photographers, graphic designers, painters, etc., and think before you download/use content you find on the internet. There are working artists behind those creative works who are trying to make a living and when their work is taken, without their permission or knowledge and with no compensation back to them, how can they continue to do so?

As always, your comments and ideas are welcome. I do not profess to know how to resolve this problem but hopefully, by simply opening up this dialog, together we can raise awareness. Spread the word.

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A few weeks back, right before the digital photography class I was teaching was about to start, there was a sudden power outage in the room. Try has he may, the building maintenance “guy” was unable to fix the problem so I simply moved my class to the lobby of the building. While it’s not the most lovely of places, the suspended ceiling just happened to be covered with more than a dozen strands of colorful garlands made up of origami paper cranes. Neat! 🙂

“Soarin’ ” (Origami Paper Crane Garland) Nikon D300, 120mm, F/5.3, 1/160s, ISO 3200, Built-in Fill-Flash w/Gary Fong “Puffer” Diffuser, -1.0 EV, Nik Silver Efex Pro “Infrared Film Soft” Filter w/Selective Toning & Vignette

Not one to miss an opportunity for intriguing subject matter, I instructed my students to shoot the birds (with their cameras, of course 😉 ) and look for angles and patterns that create interesting compositions. I also joined in the fun, playing around with different camera settings and switching back and forth between shooting in color as well as in black and white.

Those shots remained completely forgotten until today when I came upon them while scanning through my media cards. Turns out, I preferred the compositions I’d taken in color except for the stained drop ceiling tiles in the background (which I thought would have faded away with the shallow DOF I was using). 

So, I popped on over to Nik Silver Efex Pro to see if one of the trusty black and white filters could diffuse that not-so-great background and perhaps, bump up the contrast to make these birds really sing. A few clicks later and that’s an affirmative on the background and the contrast but now, I missed the color. 😦

Hmmmm, lemme think. Welllll, it was the orange bird who caught my attention in the first place soooooo let’s give him the spotlight and see if that does the trick.

Click, click, click – Boom! One fun abstract image! 🙂

On February 8th, 2011, I embarked on a committment to fitness, promising to stick with it for 16 weeks. My annual physical the day before was a high motivating factor since I could no longer ignore the few extra pounds and elevated bad cholesterol level. Nothing horrible, mind you, and I didn’t even get a reprimand from my doctor since compared to most women my age, I am actually very healthy. But I knew I didn’t like the direction things were heading and decided to make a change right then and there.

The Pro-form Elliptical that had been collecting dust in our spare room since November 2009 (yikes!) was as good a place as any to start. Over the years, I’ve pretty much had a hate-hate relationship with that machine. (For anyone who has ever had the pleasure, you know exactly what I am talking about 😉 ). Since elliptical machines work the upper body and the lower body at the same time, workouts are more intense and you tire more quickly than doing the same amount of time at X-level on say, a stationary bicycle or a treadmill.

“I Hate/Love U” (Skechers Shape-ups XF Accelerators) Nikon D300, 38mm, F/4.5, 1/10s, ISO 640, Built-in i-TTL Balanced Fill Flash w/Gary Fong ‘Puffer’ Diffuser, -1.3EV, Nik Color Efex Pro ‘Old Photo’ Filter

I started off slooowly, knowing full well if I did too much too soon my enthusiasm would quickly wane and I’d be right back to doing nothing (sound familiar?). Over time, I increased minutes and then, intensity levels, even adding in weight training and abdominal/core workouts on my non-cardio days. About six weeks in, I started HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) on the machine and began to notice changes in muscle tone and my clothing started to fit better. I still wasn’t in love with exercise but I was in a routine that actually seemed to be working. 

Then, ten weeks in, my committment was seriously challenged. While out and about, doing routine errands, I rolled my left foot on an uneven sidewalk, breaking the 5th metatarsal bone. Ouch. I was devastated. All I could think about was, I had come so far, put in so much time and sweat and what was I going to do now?? Luckily, I was able to get in to see an orthopedist the next morning and was sporting a (removable) walking air-cast and crutches when I left their office. Yes, I did break the bone but I was given full permission to continue working out, as long as I could endure the pain. 

“Good Form’ (Female Fitness Portrait) Nikon D300, 28mm, F/4.5, 1/10s, ISO 640, Built-in i-TTL Fill Flash w/Gary Fong ‘Puffer’ Diffuser, -1.3EV, Nik Silver Efex Pro ‘Silhouette II’ Filter

Are you kidding me?? 

At the time, I thought the orthopedist was insane. I couldn’t even put weight on that foot so just HOW was I going to exercise?? He assured me that after a few days of rest, elevation and icing, I would begin to feel better. Riiiiight.

Needless to say, I was not convinced but sure enough, time proved he knew what he was talking about. Four days after the ‘incident’, I was back on the elliptical. I did 25 minutes that day (albeit on Level 1 and at a reduced pace than what I had been doing) but I felt like I had climbed Mt. Everest. Was I shaky and scared to death? You bet. Did my foot feel like it no longer knew what to do? Oh, hell yeah. None of that mattered. The important thing was, I was back and from that point on, I knew I was going to be okay.

In the days and weeks to follow, I did what I could, had good days as well as some setbacks, but I kept at it, determined not to quit. And here I am, six months since I started (that’s two months more than what I originally committed to), a new woman. Sure, there are days where it isn’t easy and my conviction is thoroughly tested, but I’ve made friends with that ‘machine’ as I am convinced that it not only saved my sanity, it acted as the perfect rehab for my injury.

Without it, I certainly would not have healed as quickly as I did and when faced with the possibility that I couldn’t work out, I realized I actually wanted to. (Funny how that happens, huh?) I have a completely new outlook on fitness and exercise these days…it is simply now part of the routine.

If you are looking for a run-down of pounds/inches lost, sorry to disappoint. I do not own a scale and I never took measurements. My goals were to lose the love handles and the ‘jigglies’, improve core strength and overall muscle strength, develop muscle tone, be able to take the stairs and not lose my breath, make my heart strong, and in general, no longer shudder when I look in the mirror.

Mission accomplished. 🙂

The resident birds take our crazy Nor’easters in stride…I wish I could be this nonchalant about a storm that dumped 2 feet of heavy snow, downing branches and snapping my Coral Bark Maple in half . 😦

"Snow Sparrow" (White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis) Nikon D300, 200mm, F/5.6, 1/125s, -0.3EV, ISO 640, Silver Efex Pro Vignette

I shot this from the shelter of my sunroom before I had to bundle up and head out to shovel. This is going to be a long winter… 😦

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Update…I lied in my response to Karma’s comment! Well, not really, I simply forgot that shooting in RAW means all the color data for the image is available even when the camera is set to ‘monochromatic.’ I just need to process the image through Capture NX to retrieve the color version.

So, per Karma’s request, here is the color version of the image, sans vignette:

"Snow Sparrow" (White-Throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis) Nikon D300, 200mm, F/5.6, 1/125s, -0.3EV, ISO 640

Personally, I prefer the b&w version as it mutes the background and focusses attention on the bird. Also, for me there is not enough ‘color’ going on here to make any sort of statement. 🙂

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