Unfair Use

If you’re a photographer looking to sell your works with little of the overhead or effort usually required, then Redbubble is a great place to be. And it’s not only prints you can offer, but your photography or any other type of art on a range of products from duvet covers — yes, someone is sleeping soundly under my Heathrow Airport graphic — to pencil cases.

Like much of the “upload” economy (YouTube, Snapfish, Soundcloud etc) there is always the risk of copyright infringement. Most often, someone uploads your original work and starts passing it off as their own. Redbubble, like the rest of the upload economy, are sensitive to this and offer easy ways to lodge a DMCA takedown request of the works in question.

Considering most of my work is my own original photography, you can imagine my surprise when I received a notification of a takedown.

The image in question was this one:

A photograph of a power station in Berlin, shrouded in fog, captured with by Hasselblad 503CX on Rollei RPX400 film. Not exactly controversial. Now, which part of this work was allegedly “violating” someone’s rights? The image itself? Nope! Believe it or not, it was the product description.

The company who filed the notice was one RCP Technik-Verwaltungs-GmbH, owner of the Rollei brand. Yep, the owner of the Rollei brand filed a complaint about a photograph captured with a product which bears their name.

Now, if you’ve been around photography for long enough, you’d know that the company currently known as ‘Rollei’ ain’t your grandfather’s (or even your father’s) Rollei. RCP Technik owns the brand and they licence the Rollei name out to various companies, including the wonderful German film company Hans O. Mahn GmbH (better known to photographers as Maco) who make Rollei-branded emulsions.

One would have thought a photographer promoting the fact they shoot a Rollei-branded product would be a good thing for the parent company (more exposure of brand = more awareness = more desirability = higher sales = charging more for use of the Rollei name next time around).

But apparently not.

Sigh. The image has been removed from Redbubble — contesting the notice means opening myself up to legal action in California — and I have removed all mention of Rollei from any photographs I have for sale.

A quick search of Red Bubble for “rollei” reveals 78 results remaining. Compared to a search for “kodak” (4,338 results), there appears to have been a mass (possibly automated?) takedown request for anything containing “rollei”. I would have thought there would be many more results than 78. All we poor fobs can do is “comply”.

Welcome to the world of IP and copyright in 2018. A blunt, reactive world where a statement of fact (“captured on Rollei” or “Fuji” or “Kodak” film) can land you in trouble. I don’t blame Redbubble at all — they have a business to run and protect from IP violations — but I just wish there was a better way to discuss these issues with complainants in good faith before reaching the blunt instrument of a DMCA takedown notice.

We live in a world of brands. They are literally everywhere. “Public” spaces are build around our subservience to branding, accosting us at every opportunity. That photographers, or indeed anyone, can’t reflect reality without risking trouble is absurd. 

Note that one of Kodak’s popular hashtags is #madewithkodak…and look at its popularity across teh interwebs, 77k posts later. I love my film brands and as someone who does marketing as their day job, I know the value of a passionate brand advocate (spoiler alert, it’s high). 

I’ve been shooting some Rollei Variochrome recently and found it to be an interesting film. I was going to post a review and post some images on Instagram. I will still do this, but instead of naming the film ‘Rollei Variochrome’, it will be henceforth known as ‘Roly Poly Changeable ISO Slide Film’. I daren’t mention the Rollei name.

I’ve contacted every entity I can find which calls itself “Rollei” in an attempt to seek clarification over this issue. I await their response(s)…

DISCLAIMER: All trademarks that appear on post and any other posts are property of their respective owners. No infringement is intended.

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