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Let me start by saying that I freely post my images online with full knowledge of how the Internet works and what may happen with those images. I post them here, on FetLife, and often on Instagram or Twitter.

I post them under a Creative Commons “Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives” license (CC BY-NC-ND) … which basically means I’m giving legal permission for anyone to share them wherever they’d like, as long as they give me credit, don’t try to make money from them, and don’t alter them in any way. But I’m not naive enough to think that will stop people from doing other things with them.

And for the most part, the things people do when they share my images don’t really bug me, and not much would surprise me. When someone on Fetlife recently posted an image of mine, replacing my watermark with theirs, I left a comment pointing that out and notified those I know who had loved the image (because I’d want to know if I was sending love to a stolen image … see below) … but really, I wasn’t all that upset or surprised by the act itself. Like I said, given the nature of online, I sorta expect that kind of thing to happen to most people who post images online, and I take it as one of the minor annoyances that come with all the many privileges of the Internet and online image sharing.

I’m glad someone noticed it, and it was nice to see friends and strangers reporting the theft, leaving supportive/corrective comments, and sending more love to the original images. For that, I’m grateful. But in the larger scheme of things, it ain’t so bad … and I’ll take compliments where I get them, even the back-handed ones.

But there is an aspect to that kind of thing that really does bother me: the misrepresentation of the abilities of the person posting the image, particularly when the image involves dangerous activities that require solid skills (like rope suspensions).

The danger is that others will be given a false sense of the abilities, competencies, and safety of that person, and then make themselves available for images and potentially dangerous interactions. And not only are they doing so with someone who may not be qualified in the ways they’re claiming to be, but they’re doing so with someone unscrupulous enough to steal the work of others and present it as their own.

So, I’m not at all upset when someone shares my pics (BY-NC-ND). And while it’s annoying when someone posts my work as their own, what concerns me more is that they’re using my work to lay claim to skills they may not possess and to lie to others in an attempt to lure them into potentially compromising and dangerous situations.

And that’s why I think we should be vigilant about verifying the things we “like” online and the people we praise and support, online and off. I’m sure that I’ve been guilty of clicking the like button on some stolen images … it can be hard to tell sometimes, and I don’t always want to take the extra time needed to try to verify before clicking that button on a nice image. So, I’m not trying to shame anyone for that.

But really, this concern is a (much) smaller version of verifying the people we choose to play with or support in the offline community, too. By clicking “like” online, by praising someone (online or off), or by choosing to play with someone, we’re showing our support and potentially leading others to get involved with that person … so we should do our best to verify their claims and make sure that person is trustworthy and safe.

If you’ve ever asked me for a reference on someone, you’ve probably noticed that I’m very careful to never overstate what I know or don’t know about the person and their abilities, and to distinguish first-hand knowledge versus hearsay. I’m not trying to be stingy with my praise, I just believe that accuracy and safety are more important than ego-boosting. However, when I do praise someone, you can trust that the praise is genuine and coming from first-hand experience.

And sure, we’re all ultimately responsible for our choices, but on the other hand, what’s the point of community if it doesn’t try to look out for its members?

So, thanks for looking out, community. And thanks for letting me clarify my actual concerns about stolen photos.

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