by Furry Girl

07.28.11

Unlike some other people in the sex blogger world, I am totally appalled by No Man's Land, a self-published book of photos of supposed sex workers taken from Google's Street View.  The seller of this self-published book has no way of knowing whether or not the women in the photos are actual sex workers or not, although some of them do look more "hooker-y" than others.  The point is, none of the subjects of this photo book gave their permission to have photos of them appear in a book of "women soliciting sex."  If these women are not sex workers, they would probably be horribly offended at having their photos in a book about rural and urban prostitutes.  If these women are sex workers, they probably don't want to be outed as such by a British hipster artist who wants to make money off of them.

Violet Blue is one of the people defending and promoting this book, and rather than rehash what I already posted in her comments, I'll just repost both sides of our disagreement, and you can decide for yourself whether No Man's Land is in the right for selling these images.

Furry Girl:

I hope that if any of the women unwillingly appearing in this book find out about it, they sue the shit out of the guy selling it. While some of the images do look more “hookery” than others, I imagine that many of the women in these photos merely happen to be outdoors when the Google car was passing. This is no different than when police publish mugshots of sex workers against their will. Both involve outsiders sensationalizing and preying upon vulnerable and unwilling photo subjects. There’s nothing hip or arty about some dude selling an expensive collection of photos (which he didn’t even take) where he accuses the subjects (whom he has never met) of being sex workers. It’s a collection of stolen material where the author tries to out women as whores. Barf.

Violet Blue:

I see it very differently, but thanks for your constructive criticism. I find all the cultural dilemmas interesting – in addition to seeing it as raising awareness, however you slice it. I’m sure Google isn’t pleased. I think it’s very different than mug shot publishing for a lot of reasons – Smoking Gun, for example. But were they unwilling? I don’t feel comfortable in assuming how these women would feel about anything, let alone their blurred images in this book – fwiw Google did not ask them, either, and these images are globally publicly available. I don’t see labeling someone as a sex worker as being an ‘accusation’ but I am not a sex worker, nor do I see it as a bad thing. I do agree it’s expensive.

Furry Girl:

I personally know no sex workers from Eastern Europe, where these images originated. You are right in that I cannot know for certain that these women would not want their images put in a hipster art book about rural prostitutes. But is it better to assume that all women *would* want to be featured in the book, whether or not they are prostitutes? When faced with a decision about how to err when you don’t know a person’s wishes, I think it’s best to err on the side of not exploiting them or labeling them as prostitutes. It’s an issue of consent. Lack of saying “no” does not mean “yes.” While Google Streetview also did not ask these women for their permission to photograph them, Google isn’t the one saying that they are probably hookers, either.

What do you think?  Is it best to err on the side of collecting photos of women you find online, labeling them as hookers, and selling those photos in an "art" book?  Or am I the one being paternalistic and oppressing the women in this book by assuming that they don't want some strange guy calling them hookers and profiting off of their images?

Since no real book publisher is going to publish a book of images lifted from Google's copyrighted Street View collection, No Man's Land is for sale on a print-on-demand web site called Blurb.com.  I've already sent a complaint, but I hope more people will join me.  Please email Blurb here and ask for them to cease production and hosting of No Man's Land.  (The "book" is also hosted by Blurb and available for free online in its entirety.)  I imagine Blurb cares more about someone publishing copyrighted images that belong to Google than they do about sex workers' right to privacy or civilian women's right to not be called hookers by some hipster "artist," so take which argument angle you think works best.  Here's an update, an email from Blurb:

Thank you for your message and for raising your concern about potential copyright issues with the book titled 'No Man's Land".  As you know, Blurb takes copyright issues very seriously. Being in the business of user-generated content, we rely on our community to spot potential copyright violations (we do not edit, monitor or review the content of our authors, as we are not a publisher). 

We have initiated an investigation as to whether the book you reference violates Blurb's End User License Agreement. Since the copyright in question is not yours, we will not follow up with you with regard to the outcome of the investigation -- but we do sincerely appreciate you flagging the potential issue.

Also, there's a hosting platform called Issuu that is providing free hosting for this photo collection as well.  Since they have a convoluted help ticket system, the easiest way to reach them might be on Twitter.  Tweet @issuu and ask them why they're hosting a collection of stolen photos that could be considered libel.

We can't stop people from creating offensive and exploitative representations of sex workers, or of women in general.  But we can make complaints to companies that provide free hosting services for such materials.

Update: I am no longer going to be publishing comments from people who want to smugly pontificate about whether this counts as "art."  That's utterly irrelevant, and I'm tired of men telling me that the issue here is that I "just don't understand art."