WHOA! Without my knowledge, I have become the face of a restaurant advertisement in West Africa?!
Late last night I received a shocking message from my friend Alicia, who had been traveling in Africa. “Lillie!” the message read, “Flying down the street in the car on my way to Bojo Beach in Ghana, we passed this sign. I screamed out loud, ‘I KNOW THAT GIRL!’ Are you aware that you are the face of the Synagogue Restaurant in Accra, Ghana?!”
I gasped and clicked open the photo. Sure enough, there I was:
Ahhh! Whoever was behind this restaurant (maybe someone who knows my coworkers during the months I taught in Ghana, or maybe someone who randomly Googled something like “Jewish girl in Ghana”) got their mitts on the lead photo from this article that I wrote in 2010 about how much I adore Ghanaian food, modified it, and put me as the unknowing model on a highway billboard. Zowie!
So what to do? How to react? My emotions have swirled from aghast, to flattered, to weirded out, to giggly. I mean, who opens a restaurant called “Synagogue” in Ghana?? There are more icicles in Ghana than there are Jews! Now, however, I’ve come to the following conclusions:
1. Yes, I will investigate. I have some theories about how this came to be, and have deployed my chums in West Africa to investigate. I shall keep you posted on what I find! That said…
2. Face it: Things like this happen in 2014. This is a wake-up call– isn’t it?– to all folks who use the internet: Try as you might, your images are not always under your control. Hence my constant warning to my students to never post anything inappropriate.
Unauthorized use of images is far more rampant than we think, given how widely people (not just bloggers) share photos, and how powerful internet image searches and photo manipulation tools are. Sure, one can try to guard photos through watermarking, but it would hardly have helped in this instance due to cropping. Yet, at the end of the day…
3. Don’t kill the beauty of the internet and our connected world due to paranoia. I COULD react to this episode by shutting down my whole website and vast social media empire, erasing any image of myself I could find online, and running screaming into my son’s whale-shaped bathtub to never come out again, but… no thanks.
I will continue to use my best judgment about what and how I post photos and facts online, and I will continue to do my best to stop anyone pirating or plagiarizing my work, but I refuse to be squashed by paranoia. In this case, the offender appears to be a small Mom-and-Pop restaurant in West Africa that is likely not making big bucks off my lovely grin. Moreover…
4. Let’s not be hypocrites. The issue is not just that a photo that is my property was used without permission, but that my FACE has been gazed at in a commercial context, without my knowledge, by many folks across the ocean.
However, let’s put this into perspective. Look at the website of any travel blogger or social media user (myself included) and you’ll find images of local people who have no idea they’re being seen by thousands around the world. These female manual laborers in India haven’t a clue that my article about them has been seen by over 3,000 readers, globally.
Even the fanciest newspapers practice this voyeurism. We humans are fascinated by people who don’t look like us, and we love using the images of others (the “Other,” as defined by Edward Said, for you fellow literary theory geeks out there) to produce an exotic international effect. Synagogue Restaurant in Ghana simply wanted to show that exotic foreigners delight in their food. And given my obsession with fufu, I likely would!
5. Celebrity solidarity. Suddenly I get a tiny slice of how actual celebrities must feel to see their image splashed hither and thither, completely unauthorized. How many instances of it can they actually fight? What is the emotional impact on one’s face essentially becoming public property, as has happened with so many celebs?
Heck– when I wrote this article while in Ghana in 2010 about how fun it was to see Obama‘s picture on school notebooks and cafe signs, I didn’t think twice about the legal or personal repercussions!
6. If you’re doing something naughty, you will likely be caught. I always tell my students that plagiarizers always get caught eventually. It may not be until they’ve been up to their evil tricks for decades, but the truth always seems to come out.
Thus I am both flabbergasted by and embracing of the ridiculous coincidence that a friend I met in Philadelphia happened to stumble across a violation of my website’s copyright rules from the window of a speeding car over 5,000 miles away in West Africa!
Bottom line: This is one of the most bizarre instances to happen as a result of my blog, ever, and it raises some intense questions… but it’s also kind of funny. What’s YOUR take on this whole issue?