I enjoy the dubious distinction of being the most infringed photographer I know. Every week I send at least a dozen takedown notices to commercial entities using my photographs without permission. I’ve sent one this morning already. My photos end up in youtube commercials, on coupons for pest services, in website banners, in company blog entries, on product labels. If every commercial infringer paid my usual commercial rates, I calculated once, I’d be making a comfortable 6-figure annual salary.
Of course, not every infringer has the budget for my standard rates, and that might explain why they take without paying.
The trouble is that the photography market isn’t a single market. It is several distinct markets- an art market, an editorial market, a microstock web market, and others- each with its own culture and pricing structure. I sell primarily to magazines & textbooks, I sell at market rates (typically $60-$400/image), and I have few if any infringement problems in that market.
My pest images could also be sold in the cheap and fast microstock market. This new arena includes the folks who create local exterminator websites and who are used to paying a few cents to a few dollars for an image. Web designers think $100 for an image is insane, even though publishers routinely pay more than that. I’m not going to price my regular photos down out of the market that sustains me just because web designers trained on microstock think I’m nuts. That’d be professional suicide.
I can, however, run an experiment. What if I take a pile of forgotten, unused photographs and offer web-resolution versions at microstock prices? After all, the images aren’t doing any good gathering dust on my hard drives.
The graphic at the top shows 21 of the most common pest ants in North America, covering the bulk of my infringement headaches at the species level. None of the images appear in my regular galleries. For a variety of reasons they did not make the cut for my high-res work, but as small 400-pixel pictures they’re great for display in a blog post. The whole pest ant composite can be downloaded as a royalty-free stock image for $34.95. This works out to under $2 per ant.
Will anyone license this graphic? Beats me. But it’ll provide insight as to whether infringers take my images because they can’t afford them, or because they’re just very, very bad people*.
Individual ants in the graphic appear at this resolution.
*Kidding! I’m just kidding! Many infringements stem from a widespread misperception that anything on Google is public domain.
Planning to buy Fire Ants? You're not in luck today. The World of Ants is sold out. Until the next shipment arrives.
You wouldn’t think it safe to mail live Malaria mosquitoes around the world. You wouldn’t, I hope, market MedFly as a fun pet. So why would anyone in their right mind do this?
Here is a list of known pest ants for sale by the World of Ants store, based in Germany:
Say what you will about Gerhard Kalytta, the ant smuggler caught earlier this year leaving Australia. Mr. Kalytta at least has sufficient conscience to refrain from selling known high-risk pests. The World of Ants? Not even a shred of responsibility. This store needs to be shut down NOW.
Buy yourself some ants known to be a factor in several bird extinctions.
Note: I believe my reproduction of the screen captures of the World of Ants website fall under the Fair Use provision of U.S. Copyright Law.
Tapinoma sessile, the odorous house ant, with larvae
Last summer I replaced the old covering on our porch roof. When I peeled back the rotting shingles, I was greeted by a frenzy of frenetic brown ants- thousands of them- running about every which way. Dozens of fat queens scurried for cover. It was an impressive display of formicid infestation, reminiscent of the swarms of invasive Argentine ants in California.
But these weren’t exotic pests. This was a native species, Tapinoma sessile, whose pleasant blue-cheese odor lends it the name “odorous house ant”.
Tapinoma sessile is found nearly everywhere in North America. I’ve seen it in alpine meadows near Lake Tahoe, in parking lots in rural Missouri, in desert canyons in Arizona, and along sidewalks in suburban New York. Native meadows and urban jungles alike host populations- it’s perhaps the most consistently present ant in North American ecosystems.
In spite of its ubiquity, little is known about the origins of Tapinoma sessile. There are two likely hypotheses for the source of persistently pesty urban populations, though. One is that T. sessile is like many invasive ants- a single lineage particularly well-suited to urban conditions could have spread with human commerce across the continent. If this is true, genetic analyses should show a single clade of urban ants. The second is that T. sessile is naturally pesty and the pest populations are simply local ants thriving in the human landscape. In this case, urban populations should be intermingled among their local counterparts.
Fortunately, we don’t have to wait to solve this question. A paper out today in PLoS One by Sean Menke and colleagues provides an answer:
relationships of mtDNA from Tapinoma sessile collected across North America, based on the gene COI (from Figure 3 of Menke et al)
Urban T. sessile is overwhelmingly local, insofar as its mtDNA is concerned. The urban populations are not a single pesty lineage tramping around with trade but are natives doing well in the human-modified landscape. Furthermore, the authors found that the colony structure of urban and rural populations were similar. So the pest colonies may not actually be behaving differently than their rural counterparts. They just live in places where people take notice. Like porch roofs, for instance.
One caveat, though (and there’s always a caveat!). This study looked at a single genetic locus, and it’s possible that the phylogenetic pattern seen here is a result of repeated introgression of local mitochondria into invasive pest lineages as a result of interbreeding. I don’t think it likely, though, considering the persistence of the pattern.
source: Menke SB, Booth W, Dunn RR, Schal C, Vargo EL, et al. (2010) Is It Easy to Be Urban? Convergent Success in Urban Habitats among Lineages of a Widespread Native Ant. PLoS ONE 5(2): e9194. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009194