A few weeks ago Mark Peter Drolet’s tumblr disappeared. MPD puts up a lot of photography from the web and provides a lot of material for serious photo discussion and sharing on tumblr. MPD was taken down for violating tumblr’s three strikes DCMA notice policy. It was quickly restored, and with that came the revelation of identity theft as part of the story.
Photographer Wayne Bremser as far as I know first blogged about it on 9 January, followed by Brian Formhals on Photographs on the Brain. Blake Andrews articulates really nicely the value that Drolet has in online discoveries of new photo work and prompting discussion and energy around all that online: “MPD was the friend with the crazy record collection who turned you on to good stuff every visit.” Andrews post links to some other interesting writing on the issue, and in 2012 did a Q & A with him, which is where I first heard of MPD. This is one tumblr I like to go visit directly in its own page rather than have it be part of the stream of posts in my dashboard. The sequencing of the posts creates a carefully considered and graphically engaging flow of images. (Wayne Bremser does this quite nicely too.)
All these writers are serious photo makers and commentators, ie not a bunch of photo anarchists seeking to set fire to the idea of intellectual property. Formhals runs the LVP photo podcast and has just edited and published Photographers’ Sketchbooks. It had looked at first like enough angry photographers had tapped Drolet with copyright notices for Tumblr to close his blog. Then it turned out that one of the photographers in question was the victim of identity fraud and someone else was posting takedown notices in his name (someone who’d been systematically trying to undermine the work of this photographer across the internet). Eventually order was restored. Drolet himself wrote on the issue and Blake Andrews did a follow-up post.
The first issue here is one of digital identity theft that the photographer Massimiliano Rossetto suffered, having an effect not just on him. This is not quite the same as having your passwords compromised, but it is a reminder about the circumspection we should treat all claims to identity with.
The other issue of intellectual property gets a good workout in the facebook discussions on Bryan Formhals‘ and Flak Photo‘s pages that Blake Andrews refers to. Drolet is not someone who posted work and claimed it as his, nor did he just reblog random pretty unattributed stuff on tumblr. Is his project fair use or copyright infringement? The murkiness of where exactly these two principles meet was apparent in these discussions during the few days of MPD’s disappearance.
The kind of picture-editing that Drolet does is valuable in a culture soaked in images. But the ambiguities of copyright and the competing interests of artists, corporations and viewers mean that the foundation of a photo blog that many consider to be essential reading is pretty fragile.