At first, The Atlantic‘s profile of the duo behind the mega-popular @HistoryInPics Twitter feed reads like your standard “young geniuses find lucrative economic niche in this crazy new media world” piece.
Run by two teenagers who pull in close to $44,000 a month from various YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other media properties, @HistoryInPics has amassed close to 900,000 followers since it went online in July 2013. And they’ve done it with a pretty simple idea: dig up interesting images from the past and post them with just enough caption information so followers feel they learned something.
Where it gets interesting is when The Atlantic asks about sourcing. Xavier Di Petta, one of the entrepreneurial teens behind the account, says all the images they use are public domain, but even a cursory Google image search turns up some copyrighted images. (Including, quite possibly, their cover image of JFK, a pretty terrible crop of a well-known work by celebrated portrait photographer Arnold Newman.)
Albert Einstein in fuzzy slippers, c. 1950s pic.twitter.com/aXarsMBr3M
— History In Pictures (@HistoryInPics) January 23, 2014
Di Petta response to the Atlantic: “Photographers are welcome to file a complaint with Twitter, as long as they provide proof. Twitter contacts me and I’d be happy to remove it,” he said. “I’m sure the majority of photographers would be glad to have their work seen by the masses.”
Even for images that are public domain or Creative Commons, @HistoryInPics almost never credits the photographer, which even supporters such as BoingBoing have found ethically squishy.
To Di Petta, photo credits apparently sound too much like work: “It would not be practical,” he said. “The majority of the photographers are deceased. Or hard to find who took the images.” (For the record, we spent about four minutes to source the JFK photo and the Einstein pose above — shot by Princeton pal Gillett Griffin, copyright status unclear.)
Then it’s on to the everybody-else-is-doing-it justification: “Look at Buzzfeed. Their business model is more or less using copyright images.” Di Petta does eventually concede that defenders of image creators “do have a point,” at which point he presumably skulks off to tally the day’s profits.
(via The Atlantic)