It was only a few days ago that we wrote about Nikon’s latest viral campaign, giving voice to our very legitimate concerns about it and the images it showcased. After all, while the Nikon Anti-AI Campaign had an astounding concept behind it, it also seemed to show an astounding lack of respect for the creators whose images form the basis for the ad. The word seemed, is used specifically in the past tense, because we uncovered quite a fascinating side of this story.
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Finding the Photographers
We managed to get in touch with the photographers showcased in this Nikon AI campaign, and we asked them the following questions. Did they get any notice from either Nikon or Grey Peru? Did they get any compensation? Did they notice any effect on downloads, sales, or following?
The answers we managed to get, while not surprising in the least, were more than a bit disappointing.
What they said
None of the photographers who wrote back to us had the smallest inkling beforehand that their photos were used in such a viral campaign, and the ones who found out about it found out through social media. One of the authors, John Fowler, didn’t even know about it until we messaged him.
Of course, the fact that they had no notice at all should give you an idea of whether they received compensation or not. I don’t need to elaborate, do I?
While some photographers say that exposure helps, none of the photographers interviewed reported an uptick in their statistics, their followers, or their downloads, which makes for another interesting observation; does anybody care about the person behind the photo? Or do they think the camera does it all by itself? Further, campaigns like this have been known to not have credible statistical payoffs — which is a major contrast to the interviews that we’ve done here on the site with photographers. Several have told us over the years all the different ways that being featured on our site has helped them.
And the photographers spoke for themselves
Here are quotes from the photographers to The Phoblographer.
John seemed to be okay with his photos being used.
Thanks for writing. I haven’t heard from anybody recently about my photos being used. And I haven’t noticed any increase in my download stats, but I hardly ever check. In addition to Flickr, I have photos at Unsplash. All my stuff is free, with attribution, and I am happy to let Nikon or anybody else use them. I encourage it.
Andrew was a bit sad about it but accepting of it.
Hello, sure, I will gladly answer your questions. Nope, and this was a bit sad that Nikon didn’t send me any notice, I randomly found out about it on Twitter. No compensation either, but it is fine, I do not make money from photography, and images on Unsplash are free with a commercial license. I don’t see much change in engagement, despite a few journalists, including you, have contacted me with some questions.
Marco was also surprised by it, but didn’t mind.
Hello, thank you so much for your message!
In fact, Nikon did not contact me in any way before using my image. So there is also no compensation. But that‘s ok, I published the image under Creative Commons license. I did not notice any effects on likes etc.
A friend of mine found a article about this campaign on a german tech website by chance and called me yesterday. I was really surprised! I really can not imagine how Nikon chose my pic out of millions of others.
I did not upload any images on Flickr for a long time. My 5 year old son brought me away from landscape photography 😉
The image itself was taken in summer of 2016. Definitely not during winter season like the underline suggests 😉
Best regards, Marco.
The Problems with The Nikon Anti-AI Campaign
Nikon is a company that works to support professional photographers, and by not paying or compensating photographers for the work provided, they’ve undercut the people they’ve worked to support the most. More importantly, the company has released the new Nikon z8 to aid these photographers. It’s a camera that should’ve come out a long time ago.
This isn’t the only time that Nikon has made questionable decisions. Back in 2017, they took center stage for sexism when they didn’t choose a single woman to promote their products. Before then, they made a questionable decision about a photo choice being manipulated by Photoshop. On top of all this, consider problems around their products like the D600 and the class action lawsuits over the cameras.
This is all just the beginning, though. The Nikon Anti-AI Campaign apparently came from Nikon Peru. Immediately, anyone that didn’t know any better would paint a blanket across all of Nikon. This is important to note, as the actions of one division can affect an entire company, and it did with Canon’s sexism issues previously. As a journalist, I know that the actions of Nikon Peru wouldn’t necessarily come from America. However, they’d be approved by Japan.
After giving them a week to fully answer, Nikon USA wouldn’t provide answers to our questions on the record. The only thing that we were able to get was “…there is no Nikon Peru, there is only individual retailers and distributors in the Latin America market.” We did some research to verify this.
Nikon Peru’s website is indeed real. And if you search Nikon’s website, it states that Nikon Peru is part of their larger global network. They are not listed as a Group Company on either Nikon’s website or in PDF files.
The way that Japanese camera companies work often requires them to have their subsidiaries report back to them, ask for permission on things, etc. It makes it a very difficult process to get things done — especially when talking to the press. In a situation like this, Nikon Peru is a distributor and should’ve reported to Nikon in some way or another.
So why does Nikon not have an official presence in South America? Well, it’s often very difficult to import products there. It’s exactly why B&H Photo has a specific department dedicated to Brazil.
For the record, Nikon’s lack of answering tough questions isn’t uncommon. As the years have gone on, Japanese manufacturers have been doing this more and more. With fewer publications around, not many of us are really trained to keep the industry in check or verify statements. So instead, YouTubers tend to amplify exactly what they’re told.
The weapon of the enemy
We’ve written in-depth —and we will continue to do so— about the problems posed by Artificial Intelligence and Large Language Models such as Midjourney and others, the main ones being its dependency on stolen images and the fact that it could mean a lack of work and income for human photographers.
We know that, by uploading pictures to Unsplash, you’re giving away the rights to your work. Maybe you knew about it, the way John Fowler did. Maybe you didn’t, because you were roped in a contest and couldn’t be bothered to go through the legalese. In that case, maybe it got you into legal trouble.
We also know that a small business owner using one of your free pictures as a hero image for their very local store is not at all comparable to a company such as Nikon using your picture in a campaign designed to go viral, which would undoubtedly give them not only a sizable rise in sales but also the goodwill of amateur and professional photographers needing support on their fight against generative AIs.
The photographers should’ve been, if not compensated, at least noticed before the Nikon Anti-AI Campaign was released. It’s only ethical.
There’s a comic doing the rounds on the Internet, a comic you might have seen. It shows Batman breaking a shotgun over his knee, yelling, “This is the weapon of the enemy. We don’t use it. We don’t need it.”
You don’t fight unethically sourced images by sourcing images unethically, Nikon. You just don’t.
Editor in Chief Chris Gampat provided extra reporting on this.