Not Crediting A Photographer's Work May Cost You Nothing, But They're Paying The Price

'Credits lead to cheques,' says photographer Austin Malema whose images were used on Twitter without his permission after the 2017 Metro FM Awards.
Austin Malema

After the 2017 Metro FM Music Awards (MMA) on February 25, photographer Austin Malema's name was filling the timelines of everyone keeping an eye on the event's red carpet. But it was not just because of the incredible shots he had caught of South Africa's celebs. Instead, it was because he was reclaiming those very images that had been taken off his social media platforms and reposted without crediting him.

"I created the hashtag to create awareness, because people will credit who did their makeup and made their dresses but not who the photographer is," he said speaking to Huffington Post South Africa.

The hashtag he is referring to (#CreditThePhotographer) is something he started last year, following the South African Music Awards (Samas) where he said celebrities like Pearl Thusi, Bonang Matheba and rapper AKA allegedly posted his photographs without crediting him. "It happens and I get that maybe a celeb sees a picture on their timeline and reposts it, but it gets really bad when magazines and publications do it too."

According to the 26-year-old photographer who lives and works in Johannesburg, at this year's MMA, Drum magazine and Yo Mzansi Blog were some of the first publications to repost his work without crediting him.

You will not sell our work as your own and not pay @DrumMagazine@yoMzansi.. we not asking for too much just respect #creditphotographer

— David Motsamayi (@AustinMalema) February 26, 2017

Malema insists that he does not have a problem with his work being reposted and shared — all he is asking for is a credit.

"If they want to use the work, all they have to do is credit the photographer," he says. "Credits lead to cheques. People don't realise that a credit on a photo leads to work for me."

This is especially true when one considers the reach of these kinds of publications. Drum magazine has 192,000 Twitter followers. "It is really sad that the photo reaches thousands and no one knows that the work is mine."

So Malema created a hashtag of his own for the coverage of the event (#AustXmma16) to keep as much control over his work as possible.

#AustxMma16 red carpet with @jessicankosi

A post shared by Austin Malema (@aust_malema) on

With digital platforms and social media being the main channel for many freelancers to promote their work and gain exposure, situations like these can make the whole process a risk. But it is one Malema is willing to take. "We use Instagram as a portfolio, and I think it is worth the risk because I've built a profile from putting my stuff on social media."

Speaking to HuffPost SA, Cape Town-based photographer Neo Baepi agrees: "Ultimately, I am the one with the high-resolution version of those images. There is very little that someone can do with them from taking them off Twitter. But it's the principle".

Baepi has also built her portfolio through social media and has used the platforms to generate work for herself. "For me, it's always about the work and about getting people to respect that. I usually let it go, because I can't always know when people are using my work — but if people are profiting off my work without crediting me, I will definitely take action."

Baepi said that crediting work to the artist that created it breeds a level of respect for the arts that she believes is currently lacking. "Regardless of the medium, this is work that has been created by an artist that is great at what they do. It's time that we started taking that seriously."

A number of Twitter users asked Malema why he does not watermark his photographs to prevent them being reposted. The answer, he says, is simple. "It ruins the photo. I won't do it. I'm putting my work out for a reason and I want people to engage with it. All I'm asking for is credit where it is due."

#austxmma16 with @thando_thabethe

A post shared by Austin Malema (@aust_malema) on

Malema shoots with a camera and then uploads from his smartphone. "I shoot, connect my phone and camera and then edit and upload. No one else is doing what we're doing and we're able to bring real stories to life in real time." His strategy for shooting occasions like red carpets is to capture one candid moment, a portrait, a wider landscape shot and then one where the subject is engaged with the camera. But he adds: "Things happen naturally and I capture them as they happen."

His photographs of actress and presenter Khanyi Mbau at MMA are an example of one of the moments that he captured as it happened and became some of the most shared photographs on the night.

#AustXMMA16 red carpet

— David Motsamayi (@AustinMalema) February 25, 2017

Reflecting on the weekend, Malema says he is not sure if his tweets about crediting the photographer will make a difference, but that he hopes we are closer to being more aware about it.

"I should not still be having to fight about this," he said. "It costs a publication nothing to track down the source and state the credit. If it was any other art form, people would call it what it is — plagiarism. There is no way that you just forget to include a credit, what ever happened to true journalism?" He added that after he used the Twitter hashtag and called out other publications, Marie Claire was the "only publication to apologise for using my stuff without crediting me and reposted an image with the correct credit".

Even with these challenges, Malema is as ready as ever to keep creating work that covers a broad spectrum of styles and mediums. "The difficulty is always getting bigger clients — both big brands and corporates — to see the vision that we have and how we can help them execute it in different ways. You really have to prove yourself with these bigger clients."

With a wealth of experience behind him, Malema says he is looking forward to creating content that takes his current style in a new direction. "I'm a photographer and a videographer and I'm keen to try new and different things. I'm open to doing everything and anything and just creating new things — whether that is the street style look that people know me for, or something more artistic."


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