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On stealing photos. And the morality of a three-year-old.

In November of last year, when my nephew was three, he was given a playmobil plane for Chanukah. It was long fought, with him having picked it out of a catalog a month before, called his grandmother in New York and asked if please please please she could buy him something he referred to as “the California airplane.”

When it arrived, he was elated, running around the living room in a figure 8, between my sister, who was applying stickers and putting the plane together, his grandmother, who had made the plane arrive, and any available floor space. I rememeber specifically, he kept on saying, “I’m so happy! I’m so excited about the California airplane!”

A day or two later, after some infraction (throwing a toy at someone, I believe, and this is a pretty strictly anti-throwing house), my brother in law put his hand on the airplane and tried to talk to J about throwing. “Are you going to stop throwing?” he said, as he pulled the airplane away from J. J went blind with possessiveness. It was perhaps, not the finest hour in parent-child interaction, my brother in law pulling the plane away from J, and insisting that he say he was sorry. The plane was pulled further out of reach, up and away, and my brother in law insisted he apologize. And J didn’t hear a word he said.

My nephew wasn’t having it. It was his plane, and he loved it, and he’d played with nothing else for two solid days. And so, as instructed in day care and general three year old life, he used his words.

That’s not your plane.

It’s mine.

Give it back.

It’s not yours.

You can’t have it.

Grandma gave it to me.

He wailed and sobbed.

That’s not fair.

It’s my plane.

My plane.

Not yours.

It’s mine.

He keened and wailed.

Eventually the detante ended, and he got his plane back. He snurfled the last of his snotty tears, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand, and cuddling the plane towards him. “My plane.”

Three year olds know what is theirs, a lesson they learn early and hold close throughout the rest of their lives. The thing they learn after that is, if it’s not yours, then don’t take it.

Which brings me to the great spate of photo theft of late on the blog. On not one, but several occasions recently, I’ve had people just download photos from the blog and reuse them on their site. Sometimes they link to me, sometimes someone else tells me they’ve seen the photos. The first time it was a tourism site I happened to come across. Photo by bearshapedsphere on creative commons, they said. I wrote them and said, “No, it’s not, take it down or pay.” They took it down.

The next most recent event included a newbie blogger in Chile who I actually made make a public apology on his blog. Which he did. And then on Friday, another blogger in Chile (this one in her mid 20s, some 22 years older than my nephew) not only took photos from my blog, but also walked off with some from another gringa blogger and then tweeted her thanks.

What I should say here is that it’s particularly egregious because these three most recent events include people from my small community, people who write in English about Chile. I’m as likely as not to run into them at a party, to have friends in common with them, or to give them some link love (or not) from the blog.

On a “backchannel” conversation (which makes me sound like much more a spy than I am), with a bunch of friends, professional photographers included, it was suggested that I should a) demand money b) make her take them down and c) call her out. It is tempting, oh-so-tempting to call people out.

For now, consider this truism that even a three-year-old knows. Photos found on other people’s sites? Not yours.

Next time it’s name and shame time, as Matt Wilson suggested. I encourage all of you to do the same (despite what I wrote in this article on MatadorNetwork on content scraping about just accepting it). Next time you find someone stealing your stuff, shout it from the rooftops. I know I will.


Hacer el perro muerto (from the picture above), means to dine and dash, or walk out on a meal without paying. I took a photo of this stencil on March 11, 2007 in downtown Santiago. You should not dine and dash. I bet my nephew knows that, too.

Also, the two bloggers who took my photos took photos of the protests. I hereby suggest that if you want good protest photos, that you get down and dirty with the protesters. And bring a lemon. You’re going to need it.