Photographer Noam Galai took a picture of himself screaming and uploaded it to Flickr in 2007. Four years later, that image has become part of cultural discourse, appearing everywhere from anti-government graffiti in Iran to the cover of a book in Mexico. Noam’s face appeared on all kinds of merchandise, but he was never credited, and didn’t receive any payments for its widespread use. He tells the story here:
He’s generally very phlegmatic about the whole experience, honoured that his face has become a badge for freedom fighters, and flattered that it has global significance. However, as this video shows, he’s bemused that his work could go so uncredited and unrewarded.
Compare the fate of Galai’s image to that of an iconic photograph from another era – one in which principles of copyright very much held sway. Robert Doisneau’s The Kiss By The Hôtel de Ville was shot in 1950 for Life. Since then, it has been reproduced over and over, but has been jealously protected by copyright law, so much so that a couple who thought they might be the ones in the picture thought it was worth bringing a lawsuit. Doisneau’s name is synonymous with his work, however, and no one would dare use it, as happened with Galai’s image, to illustrate a magazine article without obtaining proper permissions.
Is intellectual property just a quaint twentieth century concept? If so, how do we expect artists, writers and photographers to make a living?