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Don't be a Lars, Be a Surfer

I'll start this by saying that action sports photographers are one of the major reasons that sports like mountain biking are able to reach the public. The sports themselves, often by definition, are in remote locations, not conducive to spectators. For many athletes, the remoteness is part of the joy they derive from their sport. Photographers coupled with various media like Facebook, Instagram, and printed publications, are able to keep these backwoods activities in the forefronts of people's minds. Inherent to this ability to reach people is the concept of sharing on a large scale.

We're all living through an enormous change in the way people communicate; the way content is consumed; the way art is discovered; the way products are advertised. It's all part of this concept of sharing on a large scale, and the technology grows quicker than many are able to socially adjust.

This was evident in a recent exchange I had on Instagram. As some of you know, I try to take the edge off Mondays with a little thing I like to call #MTBmemeMonday. And as probably most of you know, memes (like them or not) are those photos that are already all over the internet, but then get fitted with some sort of clever comment for either the amusement or education (or misinformation) of the general public.

Technologically speaking, anyone can make them.

Ethically speaking, should they?

Realistically speaking: this behavior will continue until something more interesting replaces it.

Our social platforms and behavior have grown into an ocean. Someone once said "you can't stop the waves from coming, but you can learn to surf." This is where we are right now. In the Instagram exchange I mentioned, I had created a meme from a photo of a skier carrying a sheep. Have you seen that one? I won't post that photo here for reasons I'll go on to explain, but here's an artistic paraphrasing of that photo...

I tagged the skier in the photo, at first thinking that he was the photographer. He, in turn, tagged the photographer. Great - I edited my post to tag the skier as the skier, and tag the photographer as the photographer. Credit for everyone! I awoke the next morning to an Instagram notification that I had been reported for infringement, and a post of mine had been removed.


I wasn't surprised to find that it was the ol' alpine sheep crew. I was surprised, however, about how they decided to handle it. As I immediately posted to the photographer's profile, I would've removed it if they'd simply asked. And the same goes for you, reader. If I've posted something of yours, or something you find offensive for some reason, please talk to me about it. I'm pretty reasonable.

But recognize this: you are trying to stop a wave when you ought to be surfing. In the late 90's and early 2000's, when Lars from Metallica was famously outspoken against Napster's file sharing, the courts agreed with Lars and Metallica, but behind that was a bigger point that some guys got, while others missed. Metallica saw their music "getting stolen", but some saw a new generation of technology with a new generation of potential fans. Here was some free advertising - right or wrong in its execution - that could plant the seed in young minds .. (and here's a hugely important part) .. simply by reaching said young minds in the places that already have their attention. If I'm a 10 year old in the year 2000, and I didn't even exist when Master of Puppets and Ride the Lightning melted faces in the 80's, suddenly I can get myself up to speed, maybe even let myself overlook those Load/Reload albums, and become a rabid fan who attends Metallica concerts.

Let's swing back to the sheep guys. I didn't know who [I'm not even gonna say his name] was before I found that pic. By putting my own spin on it, crediting him, and posting it on my Instagram account, he had the opportunity to appear in front of a mountain bike audience that may not have come across his body of work otherwise. They might've liked my spin enough to find it relevant in the context of their own interests and hobbies, and may have shared it with their friends. And so on.

On the other hand, if I posted that picture without credit, and perhaps suggested that I was the skier, my buddy was the photographer, and that I reverse-engineered that sheep out of a goofy ski sweater that I was wearing... well, OK. I'm stealing your shit at that point. I'm misrepresenting. But sharing without falsely taking credit, or better still, giving credit where it is due .. THAT is how people are communicating right now. What would your Facebook feed look like if all the 'shares' got policed away? You'd be pretty well informed about your friends babies, that's for sure, but you probably wouldn't go on there very often unless you were said baby's grandmother.

I'll say again that I believe photographers are instrumental in upholding and growing the popularity of mountain biking. On Instagram, I like to make it a practice to "follow the shooter, not just the rider" when I see an amazing shot. People like Margus Riga, Ale DiLullo, and Paris Gore are taking incredible photos that let us live vicariously through the best riders in the world.

But hang on - do you know why I even know who those people are? Because someone shared their photos. I'm not a photography buff, I'm a mountain biker. Because some other mountain biker posted one of their pictures with a photo credit, I now follow the work of these photographers.

So whether you choose to be a Lars or a Surfer, I support what you do and appreciate your work. If you feel I've unfairly roosted your trail, just talk to me before the internet police. After all, I don't want credit for your work, I want to entertain an audience with humor consistent with my brand, and ultimately sell t-shirts to raise money for injured mountain bikers. I'm not here to cause a stir. If, on the other hand, you hadn't thought of this perspective on expanding your audience and promoting our sport, I hope you find this useful.

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