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Seattle photographer fights Pinterest, others to protect his art

Christopher Boffoli's popular Big Appetite series has been posted repeatedly on the Internet, but when sites like Pinterest refuse to take his copyrighted work down, he's taken them to court. (Christopher Boffoli photo)

If you were a baker and someone stole your bread every day after you put it on a store shelf, they’d be arrested. So shouldn’t websites that allow the unlimited posting of photos, music and other art without the creator’s permission be held liable as well?

That’s the argument of Seattle-based photographer Christopher Boffoli, who has taken Twitter, Google and some of the other largest websites to court for copyright violation.

Boffoli just recently filed legal action against Pinterest for failing to remove dozens of his photos posted by users.

“They have a $5 billion valuation. They pretend as if the photographs on their website don’t create value for them. They do,” says Boffoli.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed in 1998, exempts websites like Pinterest from liability for what others post, as long as they remove copyrighted work when asked by the copyright holder. But Boffoli says he’s had to file numerous claims and seek damages against the big sites that have refused to remove his work.

So what’s the big deal if some people post pictures of his work online?

“When that happens, that means the people aren’t going to my website because they can go to Pinteerst and see these images, out of context, a lot of times without attribution. It doesn’t help me the least if people don’t know who created the image,” he says.

“I worked 30 years to hone my craft. I spend a lot of time working on these images. I use a lot of expensive equipment. Why should anybody else profit from my work?”

Boffoli says he never intended to become a crusader for copyright protection, but he didn’t want to just roll over as more and more of his work got spread around the Internet.

“If somebody likes my photographs and puts a couple on their Facebook feed and says listen I like this guy’s photographs and please go look at his website, I’m genuinely humbled and grateful for that,” he says. “But I feel like I’m standing up for myself. Listen, I’d much rather spend my time doing creative things.”

Boffoli’s efforts haven’t sat well with a number of people who’ve targeted him for standing up against piracy. He receives harassing notes, and some pirates posted scores of pictures from his Flickr feed on a notorious pirate site in response.

“It’s definitely a demographic of people that like that there’s other people like them that like to steal content,” he says. “They think not only can they take things, they’re entitled to them.”

Countless artists have spoken out about the costs of piracy. While it’s understandable many have little sympathy for a major artist or star, Boffoli says far too many people still fail to grasp the true impact of piracy.

“It’s easy to say who cares if someone steals a Brad Pitt movie. He makes $20 million a movie,” says Boffoli. “The fact of the matter is there are all kinds of guilds, there are writers, there are painters, there are set decorators, designers, there are armies of people that make their living from something like a film. I don’t think these people ever think that when you’re downloading, pirating that film, you’re stealing from a lot of people that depend on this for their livelihood.”

Boffoli has gained international acclaim for his work, most notably his whimsical “Big Appetites” series that marries food with miniature toys. But although he’s built a successful career, he worries about the future of his industry, and others.

“Film, music, photography, a lot of artists are really struggling. There are definitely some conversations to be had about copyright protection in the digital age,” he says. ” You wouldn’t expect a doctor to give away free surgery.”

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