Editorial: Identity Theft; Are You A Witness To It?

In March 2017, in recognition of Eltham District Historical Society’s 50th Anniversary, a small group of volunteer members commenced the immense task of digitising the Society’s collection. The purpose was two-fold; to ensure its preservation in case of disaster and  catalogue it on Victorian Collections in order to share our local history with the extended community. This has only been made possible by the generosity of a handful of members who have personally donated thousands of dollars to purchase the equipment, as well as hundreds of hours each of their own time to scan, process and catalogue the images. In just under a year, this small group have created almost 12,000 digital records and catalogued almost 6,200 items on Victorian Collections; freely available for the public to access and appreciate.

We are very much aware that as soon as you upload something to the Internet, someone will take it for their own personal use. That is the nature of the beast we deal with, especially social media where it is a two-edged sword in getting the story out but also having your work taken for granted. For this very reason, many historical societies are reluctant to share their collections. Up until now, Eltham District Historical Society has resisted the placement of watermarks on our images, as some societies do, and which was more common place a decade ago with the major museums,  the National and State Libraries.

Recently our attention was drawn to an individual who had downloaded a number of images specific to one of the districts we cover (Eltham, Eltham North, Research, Kangaroo Ground, Montmorency, Briar Hill and Lower Plenty) and who had then uploaded them to a Facebook group without any acknowledgement of the source of the images. Now we applaud that this individual clearly has an interest in our local history (why not join the Society?) but by not acknowledging the source of the images, he has denied us and the members of that group the ability to engage with each other and share more stories, helping to capture and preserve that local knowledge. In this particular instance, the images had only been catalogued and uploaded to Victorian Collections less than 24 hours earlier. One image we had been preparing for use in our popular #ThrowbackThursday post that week but this individual had stolen our ‘surprise and delight’ moment, at least for now, and a substitution had to be arranged.

The images taken were all subject to protection under Australian Copyright law. This individual and in turn Facebook via its group had breached the photographer’s copyright. Any image taken since January 1, 1955 is protected under copyright law. In the case of photos within our collection that remain in copyright, Eltham District Historical Society has either a full or limited license to use the images. This license is not transferable, so taking those images and republishing them is theft; identity theft. Even when photographs are no longer within copyright and considered to be in the public domain, Australian Copyright law still maintains that the artist/photographer is credited under the Moral Rights requirement.

Upon investigation, it was found that over the past three months, this individual had taken approximately 100 images from our collection and re-posted them. Never once did they acknowledge the source of the images, the photographer or whether they were still in copyright. People could mistakenly believe that these images were the personal property of the individual who posted them and not the result of significant efforts undertaken by a band of dedicated volunteers.

To take someone else’s images without acknowledgement is identity theft; it is immoral and in some situations a blatant breach of copyright law.

The administrator of the group was contacted and informed of this situation. We were pleased to see the offending posts were all removed within two days of notification.

Our volunteers have donated significant amounts of money and time to share these collections. To simply come along and take the images  to upload somewhere else without permission or any accreditation as to the source of the image or the photographer is disrespectful of our volunteers and their efforts as well as the donors of these images. It is disheartening and demoralising and curtails their enthusiasm to continue with this work. It also has the potential to curb future donations of material to the Society as donors may place restrictions on the use of their material and do not wish to see it posted all over the Internet without proper credit.

We are happy for our images to be shared but we want to be part of the discussion. The best way to share them is simply copy the link from our catalogue record and paste it into the Facebook post. Perhaps even tag us “@elthamhistory” in a comment. It could not be easier. Facebook automatically posts a thumbnail image for people to view and clicking on it will take you directly to the catalogue entry in Victorian Collections where more information may be found. It also helps facilitate our engagement with group members who may be interested in the image and have requests for further information.

Unfortunately, instances of this type of identity theft are still occurring. Have you witnessed examples? Have you seen posts on social media and wondered where did that image come from? Call it out and ask the person who posted it to provide the actual source of the image and the name of the photographer where possible. If you are an administrator to one of these social media groups, perhaps consider adding a group rule, pinned to the top of your page, requesting all images to have appropriate accreditation attached; source (with link where possible) and name of photographer. Many Facebook groups already have these rules in place and some even restrict images from being made public until the required information is provided.

As such, we feel that if we wish to continue sharing our collection, we have no choice but to watermark every image in future. A classic case of a few individuals spoiling it for everyone.

Please don’t steal our identity; share the link instead, and in doing so, share the love for our shared local history.


5 thoughts on “Editorial: Identity Theft; Are You A Witness To It?”

  1. Sadly, this is rampant. Some admins of Facebook groups do not take their legal responsibilities seriously and merely block anyone who brings this behaviour to their attention. I have witnessed one serial offender Admin on a Victorian based Facebook group post a recent photo by a professional photographer and then proceed to respond to people asking where it was taken as if the image was taken by her. In most of these cases I think ego and a need to big note oneself is at the root of such bad behaviour.


    1. Not sure about the last point as we have not experienced that for ourselves. In our experience we feel the posters and administrators have good intentions. As we stated, we applaud that the individual in this recent situation has an interest in local history. In general we suspect it is more an issue of ignorance and complacency with a lack of consideration and courtesy for the efforts of the people who have created and provided the data in the first instance.


    2. How true, only 2 weeks ago I asked a group I was a member of what the legalities were around all the school photos that had been posted. I was subjected to name calling, bullying and abuse until I left the group. Most don’t seem to be aware or even care about copyright and are more than happy to use whatever they come across, however and wherever they like, I’m sure believing if it’s on the net it’s open slather.


      1. Ann, it is appalling the types of comments we see on social media; there is no place for abuse and administrators should jump on it. If it is Facebook then report the abuse to Facebook if the administrator does not act. School photos are an interesting subject; where does one draw the line? There are site specifically for sharing and reconnecting but Facebook is the most powerful medium for this. We do have school photos in our collection, catalogued on Victorian Collections. Generally they are older ones but even for more recent ones it could be argued that there is no real expectation of privacy as they are taken in a public space. Nevertheless, we try to keep more recent ones private. We do have photos from the 1980s in the collection that are public and recently we were asked by one individual to remove their name as they did not want to be associated with the school. Rather than do that as it is part of our catalogue record and the history of the district, we made the photo and catalogue record private so that it is not visible to the public.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s