If you are an artist and you're trying to make money you have to at least understand copyright. You don't necessarily have to do anything about it but you should know it.
I'm a photographer so I'm only going to say my opinions on copyright as it pertains to photography and social media. I could go on for days about this subject as it's a complicated one but I'll try to keep it to one post (albiet a long one). Pull up a chair, grab a glass of water, and be prepared for my opinion.
First off, we live in different times. The internet has changed everything. Before it exploded, the internet was thought to be a flash in the pan. I remember listening to Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor for The New York Times, state that when the Times first published its paper online in 1996 (for free, mind you) everyone thought it would be over and fail fairly quickly. In everyones eyes the interwebs (as my dad calls it) wasn't supposed to last so why charge for anything. This set a president. Since everything in the beginning was free people thought it should be free forever (wether you like it or not isn't the point, this is just how it is). In my opinion, this is what brought on Napster, bit torent, and many other "sharing" sites. Keep this in mind as you continue reading.
Nowadays there is a lot of commotion regarding copyright with sites like Facebook, Google+, Twitpic, Pinterest, Tumblr, and yadda yadda yadda. The biggest thing I don't like, and many artists would agree with me, is the rights grab you agree to when you sign up for these services. What do I mean by "rights grab?" When you sign up many of them they say in the fine print that you agree to give them the full rights to use your content (in this case photos) for any reason they desire (like making money) till the end of time throughout the known universe...seriously. So anything you upload to Facebook can be used by them in any way they see fit and you won't make a dime. Not cool, right?
So how do you get around this? You can either join and not post anything (which is pointless) or take the risk and hope they don't use your content, relying on good faith. I have posted many of my professional photos to my Facebook fan page (or whatever they call it now). I do this because the likelihood of Facebook taking my photos is slim and the reward of being on Facebook is high. This goes for all of the social media sites. If I was a big time photographer and didn't need these services to market myself I probably wouldn't be on them.
Now that we have lightly covered copyright & social media let's move onto the idea of sharing. My mother always taught me to share and hopefully your mother did too. (My dad did as well but it just sounds better when you say your mom taught you, sorry dad). Before the internet people used to sit around the dining room table with their family photo albums spread open, sharing those beautifully toned prints made from negatives shot inside cameras suffering from light leaks (no kids, not Instagram). I remember when people would go to the store to get 4x6 prints made and they'd order duplicates to give to all the family. This is sharing and it should bring a warm and fuzzy feeling to your heart. Today, this is done through social media. It's a lot more convenient (if you know how to operate a computer...ZING at you old people! I kid.) and wastes a lot less. The downfall is stated in the above paragraph. I like to share my work. It's one of the biggest reasons I do it. If people want to share my work I am all for it (especially when they give me credit). In my opinion it only benefits me. The more eyes that see my work the more work I get. The more work I get the less I am at home yelling to my wife, "WHERE DID I PUT MY KEYS!" which makes her happy. It's a win win for everyone.
Now my mother also taught me not to steal (my dad actually taught me to steal so I can't co-credit him for this one). For me stealing is when you take my image and intend to make money off it (like putting it on a products packaging, using it to sell an item, etc.). Thankfully we live in a place where I can track you down and serve you some papers (so watch yo back fool!). Some people would say, "Well smarty pants, if someone runs a blog and makes money off their blog through advertising isn't that stealing?" To that I would say, "First off I prefer Mr. Smarty Pants, and no, I don't believe it is stealing. The job of many blogs is to spread information. If you have enough readers that you have paid advertisers then I see it as a good thing. There are more eyes on my images, thus driving more work to me." I say this with the assumption that the blogger has clearly credited me and asked for my permission. I could see how someone could argue against my opinion and I get their point but I just see it differently (which is fine, we can disagree, let's not get all crazy rabid about this stuff. Who knows, I may change my opinion in the future).
Going back to what I said earlier (because I am running out of stuff to say), we live in different times. If you don't want to change with the times and see that things are different you'll probably end up like the dinosaurs (no, not the cool TV show from the mid 90s). Remember, back when the printing press was coming around people were freaking out about that too.
Thoughts, opinions, comments? I'd love to hear them.