Judging by how often you see them in the course of a day, cosplay photos must be some of the most valuable items on the internet. It’s a shame, then, that the people actually responsible for them get so little credit (or reward) for taking and starring in them.
Whether it’s Twitter accounts posting “Sexy Cosplay”, Imgur galleries sharing an endless stream of anonymous photos or some list of “117 Gorgeous Cosplay Outfits You MUST See” from a site you only see as Facebook spam, you don’t need to go far on the internet to see people trying to take credit (and sometimes make a fast buck ) for the consumption and sharing of cosplay images.
The problem is, many of these stories are made using stolen goods.
When a cosplay photographer or cosplayer posts an image they’ve made online, there’s the expectation that it’s going to be shared. That’s...usually why it’s uploaded in the first place. But there’s a big difference between sharing someone’s work (where you clearly credit and link towards the origin) and stealing it.
The former is a key component of the cosplay community in the online space. The latter is when a site or individual takes cosplay photos and removes (or obscures) the source, in effect (if not always in intent) passing the images off as their own work or collection.
This kind of stuff isn’t restricted to the internet. From t-shirts to album covers to posters, individuals and businesses the world over seem to think it’s totally fine to take someone else’s cosplay photo, claim it as their own and use it to make money.
Well, the photographers (and cosplayers) involved are sick of it.
To try and improve matters, photographer Martin Wong has teamed up with some friends to start a campaign called #NotJustPixels.
“We are currently seeing a trend that not only discourages us from producing more cosplay photography, but also intimidates other photographers from joining the community.” he says. “Our concern is the misuse of our photography that endangers our creative freedom and artistic rights. Much like cosplayers getting their designs and patterns stolen, or being used without their consent, photographers have been facing this issues for years.”
“We are tired of seeing others reaping the recognition of our creations and being unable to proudly claim our work. There is a growing number of misuse of our photography, mainly by aggregator accounts and websites. Often times we see people that are stealing our photos and are using them to falsely promote their own accounts/websites or products.”
“I’m sure we have all seen many accounts with the similar names like ‘Hot Sexy Cosplayers’ or ‘Geek Gamer Hotties’ that steal photos to promote their own agendas. They are cropping out photographers’ watermarks, sometimes adding their own, using inappropriate hashtags, all while asking for shares.”
While some of these accounts are no doubt looking to bolster their follower counts and social presence in the name of advertising bucks (or a sale price), some are simply run by fans. Regardless, there’s a big difference between showcasing the work of cosplayers by sharing their images but also crediting them (like many sites, including this one, do often) and simply ripping images and re-posting them without any attempt to acknowledge the artists actually involved in creating the photograph.
Wong’s call has been answered by many of the world’s best-known cosplay photographers, one of which is Anna Fischer. “I think everyone’s going to go soft on this issue”, she says. “Everyone’s always playing nice, saying the smart thing. But like, fuck content aggregators. Those guys who like look up #funnycat on vine and then stick together five minutes’ worth of 15-second videos and put it on YouTube with an ad bump are contributing nothing.”
“It doesn’t help me when my photos are reposted on sexycosplaygirls, it doesn’t help the cosplayers either. But the small-time slimeballs are easy to spot.”
“Bigger sites are a lot harder to fight. Buzzfeed backlinks are notoriously hard to spot, but no small content creator wants to upset an editor. But I bet they’d get a lot fewer take downs if they just took the time to talk to creators about how and where their content is being used.”
So what, you might ask, they’re just cosplay photos. Nobody is making a living doing this, right? Wrong. Cosplay has become such big business in recent years that some photographers do make a living shooting cosplayers and cons, and even for those who don’t, selling prints and photos (whether to cosplayers or their fans) is a source of income for both photographers and cosplayers.
The cosplay images you see online weren’t made for free. The best cosplay photos on the internet are taken by professionals, using professional equipment at cons they’ve had to travel across the country (or even across continents) to get to.
Aside from the money, there’s also concern over the optics of their images appearing on sites and accounts with names like “Incredibly Sexy and Hot Cosplay Girls”. Cosplay—once seen as one of the dorkiest pursuits on the planet—has undergone a massive transformation over the past decade, as the rise of nerd culture and social media connectivity has turned it into a global phenomenon.
From the world’s best to kids just starting out, there’s a common desire to see the cosplay scene shown as a welcoming, fun community of people who just want to get together, dress up and share stories. Having images lifted from an artist’s portfolio and shared in a way that’s more in line with softcore porn is not the kind of tone those involved in actually making the images were after.
“This affects both photographers and cosplayers. Not only does it affect our social reach, it could potentially give the wrong impression that we would like to avoid. So that’s why we definitely see the need for us to work together to promote better content creation practices”, Fischer says.
While it’s easy to act defensively and to simply go after offending sites, Wong, Fischer and others involved know that while half the battle is in asking these outlets to take down or properly credit their images (to the point where they’ve drawn up some guidelines), the other half is in educating the wider internet about what’s going down.
“I hope that we, not just content creators but the community as a whole, can work together to put in place better content creation practices”, Dave Yang, another photographer pushing the #NotJustPixels message, says.
“Content creators should feel proud and safe not only to put their creations out in to the world but also when it comes time to protect that work when misuse occurs. We shouldn’t be afraid or reluctant to call out those who perpetuate poor behaviors and should look out for one another by speaking out against and reporting those behaviors.”
That’s a final goal Wong shares. “While we are giving a lot of information about how to report photo misuse, our intention is to educate the public and the community for future prevention rather than trying to rely on reporting afterward”, he says. “We want to promote social awareness so we can help this community to grow by helping each other. If photographers feel safer posting photos, and that their works are protected, then we would able encourage more people to engage in cosplay photography.”
Of course, there is no such thing as Cosplay Law, Cosplay Police or Cosplay Judges. The internet is a wild, untamed place, and no guidelines the cosplay community comes up with, regardless of their scope or intent, are going to be binding to the shady sites of the world.
But if #NotJustPixels can at least raise awareness among cosplay fans that they should be expecting so see acknowledgement for the creators of an image along with the image itself, then it will have achieved something.
Top image by Evgeny Bornyakov.