In April 2021, the photographer who goes by the name Ostdrossel received a notification on Twitter informing her that one of her followers had tagged her in a comment. The fan had noticed that Bette Midler – actress, comedian, mandarin duck enthusiast – had tweeted one of Ostdrossel’s photos, of an oriole perched on a slice of orange, without crediting her. Soon a few more followers alert the photographer, who tweeted a answer: “Oh my god, I’m honored to be tweeted by you, @BetteMidler … You can find many more photos and videos of birds on my pages and on ostdrossel.com. Behold the beauty of nature. Have a fabulous weekend!”
Midler did not respond and, roughly a month later, replaced his Twitter avatar with another of Ostdrossel’s bird photographs: this time, a starling with a puffy chest, wings folded behind the body. And then she also changed her Instagram avatar to a starling. It wasn’t the first time someone had used one of his photos without permission, but Midler was definitely the most high-profile person who had done it. (A spokesperson for Midler did not respond to Bustle’s request for comment. Midler, who has recently faced further online hubbub, removed the starling from Instagram last week.)
“People just take [the photos] and it doesn’t matter where they come from,” says Ostdrossel, who uses the mononym professionally. “They’re just reposting it because it’s a ‘viral post’.” She says a company added her images to their Amazon product page. “They claimed their camera took pictures that I took,” she says. “I had never even heard of this camera.” And recently, she noticed that “someone was using several of my photos for their own portfolio”.
When she finds her photos elsewhere on the web, she leaves a comment with her information, and her followers do the same. If a photo is used for commercial purposes, she reaches out for explicit credit. Sometimes the attackers “feel attacked,” she says, “which is kind of funny because they apparently didn’t feel like they were doing anything similar to me when they took my pictures.”
While she has no hard feelings for Midler – and says she’s “a bit” flattered that the actor used his photos – “it would be even better if [she] wrote, ‘Photo by @Ostdrossel.’ Why is it so difficult?
Ostdrossel, 44, moved to Michigan from Germany a decade ago. She noticed the birds were generally more “vibrant” in the United States and wanted to share photos with her mother, who lives in Germany. So she set up a feeder in her garden, where she photographed the species that visited her, such as house finches, goldfinches and blue jays. The eastern bluebird was his favorite and the inspiration for the name “Ostdrossel”. While trying to describe the eastern bluebird to its mother, who doesn’t speak English, machine translation software mistakenly created the word. “I thought it was interesting to be a translator myself,” says the photographer, who writes German subtitles for American films on Netflix and other streaming platforms as part of her daily job. . “Machine translation is not always perfect.” (The bird’s correct German name is Rotkehl-Hüttensänger, or red-throated cave-singer.)
To create the photos, she set up an elaborate setup near her feeder, including a box with a macro lens and an action camera with a motion sensor. “It’s just a different kind of thing when you suddenly see all the textures and the eyes in detail,” says Ostdrossel. She’s currently switching between two live-streaming locations: one at the feeder and one inside a “birdhouse” where local mother birds “lay eggs and raise their babies,” she says. “I have a camera in there that sees everything.”
When a local group of birders responded “with great enthusiasm” to the candid photos, she decided to create a Tumblr to share the photos with a wider audience. Then, in 2016, his first images went viral on Tumblr. — photos of the cardinal, grackle, mourning dove, blue jay and tufted titmouse — and she decided to migrate her content to her own website.
Ostdrossel does not systematically search for his images on the web. “That would probably make me really angry, because they’re popping up everywhere,” she says. “My followers sometimes send me a link or they say, ‘You might want to look into this’ or ‘There’s someone using this. “”And she knows right away when one of her birds appears where it shouldn’t. “My photos are like my babies. I know the little details and I know almost every photo I’ve posted.
According to the US Copyright Office, copyright exists “from the moment the work is created”, but ultimately there is little Ostdrossel can do to defend against copyright infringement. She is not in a financial position to hire a lawyer, she says, or send a cease-and-desist letter every time someone uses an image without crediting her. “All you have is the court of public opinion,” she says. “Part of the reason I decided to have a huge presence on all social media platforms was also to fight against people who were taking my photos.”
In 2019, she started a business to sell stickers on Redbubble, but she hasn’t monetized beyond that online marketplace, where she currently raises money for humanitarian efforts in the aftermath of the flood. Kentucky. In 2020, she raised over $1,000 for Feeding America by selling fabric face masks printed with the birds. But aside from fundraisers, his merchandise isn’t exactly lucrative.
“I just got my payment from last month,” she says. “It’s like $24.”