Samples Career Photography Ethics

Photography Ethics

958 words 4 page(s)

In a series of controversial photographs by Alison Jackson (Appendix A), President Trump is depicted in realistic photos showing him indulging in lewd and unethical behaviors. This collection poses an ethical copyright issue because President Trump’s iconic character and image is his “product.” Because Jackson uses his image ruthlessly, without permission, and in a derogatory fashion, it seems that the President may have legal grounds for character defamation through these photos and could be based upon copyright infringement. The photos are so realistic that many people cannot tell if they are plagiarized or photoshopped. Jackson has self-published these collections despite threats of being sued by President Trump. According to the United States Library of Congress’ definition of copyright, these pictures are more than likely protected by law, and the President will not have any legal grounds for action.

It is arguable that Jackson’s photos are a form of image theft—even though the pictures are not real. The problem is that the line between real and unreal is blurred. The viewer does not know if the pictures are actually from President Trump’s social media or if the images are fakes. Therefore, some viewers will believe the images, and therefore, the effect of image theft occurs. Because there is the effect of image theft, it seems that there could be a good legal argument that Jackson’s photos cross the line when it comes to image theft. The images are convincing and their purpose is to fool the viewer into thinking that the image is real. The fact is that the pictures do look real, and because of this reality confusion the pictures impose upon Trump’s self-image.

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The photograph collection has not been well-received. There was no publisher willing to publish the collection out of fear of being sued (Martinson). The President has responded and threatened to sue Jackson (Martinson). In fact, only a few of the photographs have been published: “Vanity Fair and the Mail Online have published some of the images. However, no publisher has shown… a Trump character [who] is depicted with members of the Ku Klux Klan and another where he is shown holding a rifle” (Martinson). It seems that the photos are too controversial for any publisher, and the public has not responded eagerly. Jackson defends the collection in the name of artists’ rights.

The ethical issues surrounding these photos, according to the Copyright Registration for Pictorial, Graphic, and Sculptural Works, are not many. Jackson’s photos to not infringe upon any regulations for the registration of her pictorial works. Furthermore, registration is not necessary for copyright protection (Library of Congress). Jackson’s photo collection qualifies for a group registration of published photographs based on the fact that she published them in the same year, she was the photographer for all of them, and she is the copyright claimant (Library of Congress). The Copyright Registration for Pictorial, Graphic, and Sculptural Works does not address the subject matter of the photographs. The subject matter of the photographs is where the ethical problem exists. The subject, i.e., Trump, is a borrowed persona, and the activities which the photographs depict convince viewers that the borrowed persona has actually performed the acts in the photos.

My feelings surrounding the collection are mixed. I do feel that Jackson should be able to create whatever art she wants to create; however, I also feel that her art relies heavily on the reputation and image of someone who does not approve of her pictures. I feel that the images qualify for image theft, not because the photo existed in any other places, but because it makes the viewer believe that the phot exists. The images seem to be private photos that could be a part of the president’s personal collection. The images are not “obviously” fake. Because of the blurred lines between what is real and what is unreal, the effect of image theft is achieved.

I also feel that the photography exacerbates the ethical issues of being able to trust and affirm the authenticity of images. Therefore, the photography ethics that are at stake include authenticity. Jackson’s photos violate the ethics of authenticity. In fact, the purpose of these photos is to violate authenticity. These photos seem to fly in the face of artistic integrity since it is an artist’s prerogative to preserve the integrity of their craft—Jackson exploits the integrity of photography to fool the viewer. Furthermore, the subject matter itself is ethically problematic.

Because the President is a known public figure, it is as though he has a copyright over his character and image. To me, this seems to be a logical argument; Jackson’s photos would not have the same effect if they featured an unknown person behaving like this. Therefore, the significance of the photos rest on Trump’s reputation and character—both of which are his creations and his “property.” For these reasons, I feel that Jackson’s photos are liable for a lawsuit. However, I also feel that artistic freedom of expression should be preserved, despite the nature of the photos. Therefore, my feelings on these essays are mixed: I am impressed with Jackson’s courage to publish these photos with threats of being sued. However, I feel that she plagiarized Trump’s character and image for her own benefit as an artist. Therefore, the subject matter is borrowed, and the activities in the phots are gratuitously shocking.

  • Library of Congress. “Copyright Registration for Pictorial, Graphic, and Sculptural Works.” United States Copyright Office, 2015, Accessed 8 May 2018.
  • Martinson, Jane. “Artist Publishes Spoof Photos Despite Fear of Being Sued by Trump.” The Guardian, 2016, Accessed 8 May 2018.