The more I learn about copyrights, social media, and unorthodox business practices, the more I learn how scummy BuzzFeed’s business model is. They occasionally put together interesting, time-killing lists that many people share and talk about, but it turns out that’s often at the expense of copyright holders. I discovered a couple weeks ago that BuzzFeed lifted one of my pictures from Flickr – a place where none of my photos are downloadable, which means they had to screen grab the picture, then upload it to BuzzFeed’s server and to their Twitter page. I already have a decent concept of intellectual property/copyright laws and decided to dig a little deeper into the company’s business practices. What I discovered is that multiple copyright infringement lawsuits have been filed against BuzzFeed.

That company’s stance has generally been that they can grab photos from any source and, by creating a list of “Home Organization Hacks” (or whatever list it may be), the use of the lifted photo as part of a group of lifted photos is “transformative.” By that, they seem to be convincing themselves they are creating a new, unique work that serves the greater good of the world. But would people even be as interested without images that supplement the text? Sometimes it’s not even about the text. How about all of those collections of “12 Amazing Images You Have to See” or “The 10 Best Album Covers”? In those cases, the posts couldn’t even exist based on descriptions alone. That’s because all of those images, even the supplemental ones, are essential in achieving the goal – providing a visual experience that leads to more page clicks.

BuzzFeed’s CEO has even said, “I would love if every image contained some secret metadata and a way to license that image…” Well, my files on Flickr DO include metadata, and that information isn’t retained when you screenshot one of my images because you don’t see a download link. There is no download link as a deterrent. I fully know it doesn’t stop theft, but you also aren’t going to come away with the full-res photo. I’ll provide that to you for a fee. And I obviously have the resources to track down unauthorized use, .

While on the topic, I license photos all the time for work. Once you establish a relationship with a photo provider, it’s an easy process. Depending on the photo, a single one is usually hundreds of dollars for worldwide use but can sometimes cost thousands. In using any photo, I have to get approval from lawyers and a license agreement has to get signed. We don’t even think about pulling any random images from who-knows-where and using them without permission because we would get sued… rightly so because we respect the rights of those who create intellectual property.

So alas, believing in the adage “You use it, you bought it,” I’ve sent an invoice to BuzzFeed. This is me being nice – seeking rightful compensation, rather than going to court. I’m hoping the result is simple enough because I can be a real pain in the ass when the boxing gloves come off.

Bottom line – Don’t enable BuzzFeed. Aside from the deals they officially broker with content providers that have armies of lawyers (i.e. Reuters, Getty, AP), evidence suggests the other part of their business model comes from snagging whatever photos they can quickly/conveniently find and pretend they are in the public domain. They aren’t, and such a business model can’t and shouldn’t be sustainable.