A Unique Way To Fight Photo Theft By Corporations

- - Social Media

Aspiring Pro Photographer Gustav Hoiland discovered that one of his images was being used without his permission by Saint Gobain Marine on their website. Since most corporations now monitor social media he decided to document the infringement in a video and throw it up on YouTube. He figures this is a unique piece of leverage photographers can use to fight corporations.

While I know there have been some infringements on Flickr and the photographers successfully used social media to shame the companies into doing something about it, I’m not so sure this is an effective way for a photographer who wishes to pursue a career shooting for corporations to resolve infringement. Social media works both ways and google never forgets. This kind of thing will show up when corporations are looking for photographers and it will have an effect on the hiring decision. Of course if the infringement is substantial it doesn’t really matter but in the smaller cases it seems like a long way to go for a little payoff.

There Are 44 Comments On This Article.

  1. Agreed that this could return to haunt him in the long run, but at least it is presented professionally (it’s clearly not a rant), and he seems to be taking a reasonable approach. Which begets the question, what is/how does he, really hope to benefit here?

    I’ve never heard of this company, but it’s not like Coke stole an image for Times Square and “internet shame” will correct that, though I could be wrong.

  2. scott Rex Ely

    Yeah, can you imagine a photographer actually insisting that a corporation behave professionally and another corporation who has the potential to be a client know might know how the little guy rolls?

    We don’t want to offend the big bad corporations with little nuisances like familiarity with infringement laws do we?

    Seems pretty calculated and leveraged on behalf of the corporations to me. Good for Gustav.

  3. Respectfully, I couldn’t disagree more Rob.

    This is AWESOME! While I would have hoped he would have waited a bit for a resolution to put it out there (because as you say google never forgets and if an amicable resolution is reached, the video could “haunt” him). He came off very professional. I would have left the name of the agency out…really doesn’t matter who he originally licensed images to…no reason to drag their name into it.

    I have to say though, I wish I thought of it first. I just had this happen in Oct with a bank of images from a proof gallery! After two months of run around the images are finally down…but it was a very hostile discussion to get them to do so. In the end it left me feeling pretty defeated and even guilty. Imagine that, I should feel guilty for standing up for the ownership of my property!

    Anyhow, I hope this approach serves him well.

    Cheers,
    Rick

  4. Interesting method,
    and a perfect example of why photographers need to learn to become less reactionary and let the lawyers take action.

  5. I agree with the rights and wishes of Gustav however, he probably should have taken a less public approach. It’s clear that this corporation violated copyright law and have stolen his images however, other companies might not want to get involved with a photographer who wishes to make public, disputes that are eventually resolved in court. I personally would have called a lawyer and solved the matter that way. Large corporations understand ONE thing and that is LITIGATION. Once a lawyer is involved Gustav will definitely get paid. This company is clearly wrong and it’s only a matter of how much his lawyer can collect on his behalf.

    Gustav is 100% correct in his dispute however, it could be solved in a more discrete manner.

    Good luck

    Garon

    • From my experience, photographers don’t make that much money and engaging a lawyer will only cost you a hefty fee with no guarantee of a sucessful outcome. Gustave did the right thing.

  6. Gustav has done us a service. Even if we don’t have the guts or temerity to do what he has, we can mention his name to clients who we think might just upload the images anyway even if a deal hasn’t been reached.

    If I were him, I would have made a slightly different message, not mentioning the agency’s name, and I’d say something about how I gave the company the benefit of the doubt about designers not knowing what the image rights negotiators were up to, but that I’d called alot and finally gotten a distinct impression that they knew they hadn’t paid and were using the images anyway….

    If more photographers would do things like this, it would be good for the industry, even if they themselves may be taking a risk…

  7. Good for Gustav! I have two online magazines and two prominent photo agencies that used my images, are currently infringing on my photo rights and owe me money. I’ve been a photo editor and a photographer for over 13 years and have seen this done to so many other photographers, and it all adds up. Probably millions of dollars worth of infringements and unreported usage. In the past, when I had issues like this as a photographer, I handled it with a lawyer and still never heard from that corporation again. Using a lawyer may or may not work but, the outcome is the same. You won’t get asked to shoot again. Word gets around either way. The way I see it, these corporations or their inexperienced photo editors, creative directors, etc.. often choose to take chances like this, hoping the photographer won’t notice or will just go away. How else are they going save money in order to afford the industry’s most well known photographers? Especially when you consider the cost associated with the top “name” photographers in each genre of the industry.

    I personally hope to see more photographers use Gustav’s approach. Maybe then our industry will be forced to return to hiring experienced and credible editors/directors again.

  8. A few words on the issues raised and my motivation.

    I made the video on a somewhat calculated whim, figuring it would give me a solid piece of leverage to bring to the table. It was easy to make – perhaps three hours’ time to lay out, shoot, edit, and upload – and entirely free.

    The intended audience is the infringing company, not the masses. If they brush it off, it’s a lost cause on my part and I’ve wasted three hours. If someone in their PR department (Saint Gobain is a multinational behemoth with a market cap of $21b) doesn’t want it lingering on the internet, they have my contact info and we can talk. For the first couple weeks it was kept “unlisted” on YouTube (unsearchable), and it would have been easy to take down as part of a settlement. During this time my emails to the company went unanswered, despite having great professional communication during our previous negotiations.

    Lawyers? Over a measly stock image on a contact page buried in a corporate website? Sounds like a serious waste of my time, the lawyers’ time, and my wallet for their time, just to hopefully (but not assuredly) wring a couple of bucks out of a company on a different continent. Lawyers would make it purely about money (under the guise of fairness), when I probably would have dropped the entire thing if given a prompt, sincere apology from my contact.

    The ad agency is mentioned verbally only – their Google’d name will not point to this snafu. They’re included mostly because they’re a significant player in this business relationship and may potentially help in its resolution. Nothing bad is said of them.

    All in all, it’s an experiment. A simple attention-getter that all of us DSLR-toting primates can easily create.

    • Good for you, Gustav. I hope you get both an apology and a licensing fee from Saint Gobain Marine. And I agree with you about hiring a lawyer: not everyone can afford to just “hire a lawyer” for an isolated copyright infringement. (Hell, not everyone can just “hire a lawyer” for a lot of things…; last time I checked, lawyers were/are quite expensive! Very likely more expensive than the expected licensing fee.)

    • @Gustav Hoiland,

      I’m glad you mentioned that about the use of lawyers. I forgot to in my response. nice post.

    • @Gustav Hoiland, You say this is a “measly stock image on a contact page buried in a corporate website”. Under the law, any infringement is a violation of copyright. If you register your images with the US Copyright Office within 90 days of their being published, this “measly” infringement carries a penalty of $150,000 per infringement plus court costs and atty. fees. Armed with this knowledge, IF you have have the paperwork for your registration properly handled, almost any attorney can make a simple call or write a simple letter for a tiny fee on your behalf and there will likely be swift resolution of some kind. Probably less time involved for you than making the video, as in a couple of phone calls and a fax or two. If you haven’t registered the copyright, you can likely still have most infringements of this type handled with a simple letter from an attorney. I cringe a bit that you mention the word “steals photographs” in your video. By saying this specifically and writing it specifically you do put yourself at risk for liable. If they decide to put their attorneys on you, it won’t be pretty. It’s one thing to state that you are infringed, but another to state that x company stole from you, which implies that this was completely willful. Perhaps it is, but are you certain that there was not some confusion on the part of the agency in conjunction with the company? If so fine, but even with that there are only enemies to be gained by stating “steals photographs”. Please understand that I respect that you have taken a stand. I respect that you were creative in your approach. But other agencies or companies that catch wind of this might well hesitate to hire you. One of the best things to do when infringed in this fashion is to simply respectfully send them an invoice for the use, giving them the benefit of the doubt about when the images were posted unless you can prove when they were posted. Sending the invoice usually means the employee’s superiors have to catch wind of the issue. Eventually they sort of have to respond to an invoice. If they don’t respond, then a simple letter from an attorney will usually get you paid or get the problem resolved, or at minimum a stop and decease sent and your images reviewed. Again, you had guts and I salute that, but I just think there’s a safer way to resolve it, and the company might actually learn how to handle things better in the future rather than semi-successfully painting you as a hostile bad guy.

    • @Dean Buscher, I received a “happy holidays” email from the company, which alerted me to their use of the original images that I licensed (so much for them providing tear sheets). I stumbled upon the third unlicensed image when browsing around on their website to learn more about what they did. Funny how that happens.

    • @Dean Buscher, also check out tineye.com if you haven’t already…you can upload a photo and the site will search the web for it. Also you can do a Google image search with keywords relating to your photos. But of course you’ll never be able to find every unauthorized photo.

  9. This seems like a hard choice, while public shaming might not be a good idea as a first resort, it can get things done. Selective application of this seems like the best use. Companies care about their public image and it’s a playing field that the little guy can actually win on.

    If anything this does remind companies that the world is changing, artists aren’t as interested in holding their tongue to appease the large corporations that steal their work. Maybe it’s time they are held accountable for their actions.

  10. I have to jump in on this one since I have been around the block a few times. Somewhere back in the dark ages of modern business, as we know it, was a rule about making sure that any negative issue was handled quietly. The reason is the primary branding remained in the forefront of the consumers mind. Negative issues that were not handled quietly have deftly been spun to positive marketing reinforcing the brand.

    I think that after many avenues have been exhausted the social pressure can be applied, however that would be after an adept copyright lawyer has established a solid position for the eventual enema violating their fat pocket book.

    Mr. Hoiland has established a negative image of himself even though it is not what he intended. Professional and all, he still leaves me with this impression that he is going to put my business out there in a way that might impact future clients. Not gonna hire the guy no matter how adept he may be with the shutter release, it’s a big pond and he’s just a little skiff at this point in time.

    I think they are better avenues in resolving the issue of image theft. Fortunately I haven’t has such problems with people not making the proper arrangements to use my images. I wish him well and hope he can take this out of the lime light.

    • @Ed, “…was a rule about making sure that any negative issue was handled quietly.”
      This was my first avenue – the video was shared only with my contact along with an email expressing my disappointment and desire to talk it out. My messages to them have gone entirely unanswered, so this “unveiling”(along with Rob’s help in starting the conversation by posting about it), is the second act.

      “I think they are better avenues in resolving the issue of image theft.” I believe the best avenue is open, honest communication between the involved parties. As I mentioned in a different comment, previous communication with my contact was prompt, professional, and entirely courteous. I expected the same this time around.

  11. Gustav,

    Kudos to you for your approach to this situation. Corporations have been chipping into our rights relentlessly especially since the dawn of the Internet. Your video is straight up, matter of fact, and professional. Hopefully it will be effective for you. Please keep us posted on developments in this matter.

  12. I think Gustav did the right thing after reading his response, responses.

    Rob, on the other hand, has lost credibility with me as a representative
    of photographers as this blog seems to be. If photographers where the
    movie or music industry we’d be well protected but we’re not. Does anyone
    working as a photographer want to work with such corporations?
    Does anyone who wants a career in photography want to undermine
    professionals rights and ignore this behavior? What is needed is a list of
    companies who do this so the professionals can stay away. To me that is
    how change comes about.

    I could go back to the ’80s with my experience in digital and these issues as
    rules where tried to be made regarding this. I could tell you about Stohlquist
    water wear copying my entire submission of slides to digital. I found out
    when one of my models called and told me about the great shots in the ‘new’
    catalog. The year I spent more on lawyers than income.

    Tags, invisible watermarks or what ever you do is useless to a screen grab.
    Recently I sent nearly full screen grabs to a website for photogs company and
    ask why they don’t disable the keyboard. The response was because it’s easy
    to use image caches and other methods to get the images. Plus creatives want
    to be able to use the images in a layout for editors and photogs are seemingly
    OK with that. Want to know how people get your images for internal websites, websites, powerpoint slide shows, screen savers, prints for the
    office desk? That’s how. So if you want easy because well, it’s easy then
    expect to keep losing images.

    Establishing working relationship rules are important. Where are the
    attorneys representing photographers and going after software that allows
    illegal copy? Why aren’t we standing up and saying enough? Easy?

    • @Kevin, I personally don’t feel that Rob has lost credibility here with this at all. Rob’s role is to raise questions that will garner discussion and I think he’s quite deft at that. We SHOULD be standing up, but collectively. But honestly, as photographers we don’t do that as well as we should. How many photographers won’t join a trade org and get involved in the issues? Tens of thousands. Posting a video accusing another party of “Stealing” is not necessarily the wisest solution. In this kind of a case, I’ve usually just invoiced the company straight out and waited for a response. Sometimes I just get a check. If it’s not a reasonable response of some kind then I have an attorney draft a letter for $50. Sometimes the company has explained how it happened and apologized and removed the images from their site immediately and said it won’t happen again. Sometimes they just say, “Hey, we want to use the images more and we do owe you money.” But I have heard for years people who say that we should “stand up” and do something about it, while they refuse for one lame reason or another to join a trade association like APA and help support advocacy. We are indeed an independent lot. Again, I like the boldness of this. I just don’t think I could advise new photographers that I help along to take this course.

      • @Geo,

        I was standing up in the ’80s, still their in the ’90s and agree
        that everyone should be part of the trade organizations.
        FYI: Pre internet image transmission systems, beta testing
        photoshop when it was a small community, Kodak Q management system testing, digital standards and ethics in
        journalism are but a small few of the worlds I’ve been in.

        I also agree that the phrase “stealing” could have it’s ramifications and now many have learned. Photography is art but also business
        which our clients treat as a business with attorneys.

        I handle things just like you with a personal call followed by
        a letter not email. IF that doesn’t work I’ll call my attorney
        in NY and let her send them a letter. Many, especially new
        photographers don’t use legal resources because it’s over
        whelming and appears costly.

        As a businessman I want people to know that I will not
        tolerate copyright infringement, breaking the law. I want my
        clients to respect that I handled myself as professionally as
        they do. A stock shoot done properly with releases, paying models,
        setting up, shooting, computer time, travel costs, image submission is
        costly unless you consider your time is free. Insurance, health care,
        equipment, computer and camera costs all are costly.

        I’m happy to not have High Maintenance clients that will
        take advantage of me calling and wasting my time. I want those
        who are as passionate, professional and as respectful as I am of them. Practicing professionalism and requiring it
        from the newest kid on the block even it’s a creative who
        thinks the world is free and can do what they want is part of the education senior members of the community need to
        impart on those coming up. This itself is an old story.

        • @Kevin, I guess I have to admit I’m also member of the 80’s club, and you are indeed right that this is a sad old story. I hope it didn’t seem like I was suggesting that you didn’t stand up. I can tell you have paid your dues and done just that.

          I am referring to photographers in general though that tend to want to stand up like lone prarie dogs in their own unique way and tend to shy from collectively walking with trade organizations that have helped pave the way to many a great remedy for us as a whole all as well as for us individually.

          And I’d like to put one last thing out there – again, not directing this at you…

          Folks, REGISTER YOUR COPYRIGHT.

          Keep it simple. Every month, or every other month at most, put a jpeg of everything you shot for that period onto a CD and fed-x it, signature requested, to the US Copyright Office registering it under ‘group’ filing. Won’t cost that much. (The key is to fed-x it within 90 days of first publication.)

          This action alone will empower photographers to defend infringement in a serious way. It’s a HUGE stick, and armed with the registration paperwork an attorney can usually make short work of restitution. I’ve spoken as an expert witness for photographers in cases like this and I can tell you that more often than not, the registered infringements usually get settled before going to court.

          • Geo,

            I take nothing personal especially in a digital world.

            I think this back and forth between us has been good and shown
            the business side of photography. Mentors are important.

            Continuing to remind photographers of the importance of
            copyright can never be said enough. It’s one of those things
            “artists” hate to bother with because it’s too serious, requires paperwork.
            The trail of long gone photographers who were great shooters,
            visionaries who suffered bankruptcy as a result of a simple
            task is a well worn path.

            Be a great artist/photographer but also remember to be a
            good business person. Being a just a good person goes a
            long way also.

      • @A Photo Editor,

        Rob, I get where you’re coming from. I also think that their
        is a time when standing up for such things is required and
        should be done more often. IF anything this new photog
        has learned a lot from this episode. Perhaps offering how
        this should have been handled would be better than saying maybe it shouldn’t have been handled the way it was. It’s a method of speaking without putting yourself on the line.

  13. It may be useful but not sufficient. The negative publicity requires widespread and significant impact. In this particular case I would not bet on a voice conversation and more on images and text. What matters is the widest possible circulation when it comes to global companies. But the lawsuit remains the biggest.

    • @Daniel, As noted previously, the video is primarily intended to be used as a bargaining chip when settling with the company. It is not sensational or otherwise worth watching for the general public.

      I want to be fairly compensated for my work. They would probably prefer this potentially embarrassing video to not be online. It may not damage the global company, but it may hurt the reputation of the marketing director and/or department within the subsidiary (marine).

      This is not ten-thousand-dollar-plus problem. I believe it doesn’t need, and can’t afford, a lawsuit.

      • @Gustav Hoiland, Hmm.. I missed your comment some how. What you wrote provided some background as how this was presented or maybe I missed it in the video or Robs accompaning text.

        My point was that you don’t need any negative branding asscoiated with your name. Heck even my comment here can potentially have negative ramifications.

        If your efforts are about infringement keep at it, if you want to get paid, it doesn’t matter where they used it, (at this point I would want a bit more, since it is not a simple over sight).

        The legal aspect is another debate, maybe a letter could give a bit of an edge without going the full legal course. JMHO

        Keep at it and Happy New Year.

      • @Gustav Hoiland, (I finally realized I may actually be able to create paragraphs in replies! So often in comment sections if all runs into one line of text. Let me try here)…

        Gustav, you say that the video is to be used as a “bargaining chip”. But your video is addressed to the viewer at large with the company being mentioned in the third person and specifically states that the company unequivocably stole from you. To me, this could easily be construed as extortionary as though this video was intended to become public IF…

        I couldn’t recommend this to other photographers who come to me asking me for advice about what they should do. I’ve replied a couple times on some alternatives I’d consider, but the main point is that there’s a lot of legal exposure here for you, in my eyes.

        On the other hand it does show some courage and I hope you’ll follow up and let us know how this resolves.

  14. Simply, legal issues must be resolved in a a legal forum by legal experts. Full stop.

    As a one-man-dog-and-pony-show, your job is to be the warm and fuzzy face of the operation. Let the lawyers be the designated assholes with a settlement agreement in one hand and Respondents testicles in the other.

  15. honestly everyone is making good points vs the pros and cons of calling out the company on this

    but in the end theft is theft
    just because the company has no morals (or whatever you want to call it) doesnt mean he should lie down about it. Its the equivalent of not taking cheap projects so you dont get labelled a cheap photog. Hes taking the initiative to call out the people responsible on this bullshit. True the company is small but it comes with the territory of doing business in social mediascape where everything can be commented on.

  16. I am interested to see how this ultimately plays out. Not just in regards to the current situation, but in terms of overall brand impact, especially now that respected sites like APE are reporting on it. I hope it resolves Gustav’s problems, but only time will tell if there will be long term ramifications. I completely understand the cathartic action taken here. In many ways it makes emotional sense – though, it runs counter to how I would have handled it business wise. Still, I respect the steps taken by Gustav, perhaps actions like this, while not sound from a legal standpoint, will someday act as a catalyst to change the culture of toxic clients.

  17. I’ve read Rob’s post, watched the video more than once, and now read through all the comments.

    Here are my thoughts:

    1.) Gustav’s approach in first trying to resolve his issue with this company makes sense, seemed professional, was clear, and reasonable.

    2.) Hiring a lawyer is expensive and can be effective, but still might not get the results Gustav was looking for. Although this is most certainly a business issue it is also an issue of respect for him as an artist/person.

    Issues like this are particularly interesting to me at the moment because I’m currently in the middle of a very intense lawsuit with an ad agency now (read the press release here):
    http://rahlberg.wordpress.com/2010/06/11/clark-patrick-photography-has-sued-minneapolis-based-advertising-agency-colle-mcvoy-for-alleged-fraudulent-use-of-imagery/

    3.) Creating this video in my opinion was an excellent thing to do for the following reasons:

    Given the fact that Gustav likely couldn’t afford expensive legal fees to defend himself and his imagery – (beyond the first steps he already took) what else could he do to get the outcome he desired? Like it or not we live in a new media space that both works against individual artists (like companies getting/using images without permission), and also works for them by creating a more level playing field on-line (like making a video to call them out). This video can/might be a very valuable tool for Gustav because his image has value, but bad PR for the company also has value. It gives him power in the dispute. Companies pay millions of dollars to generate positive PR or fight against negative PR everyday. His video shows how easy it can be for a single person to stand up to a much larger entity and force them to deal with you. It’s a new kind of power for the smaller entity because it changes the rules of engagement.

    The US won it’s independence from Britain by changing the rules of engagement. The British complained… “Hey, it’s no fair that you guys are standing in a line in an open field wearing red coats and letting us shoot you and win because there are more of us…” When you’re the smaller force sometimes you need to not stand in line with a red coat and get shoot at… be smart, sneak attack, and shoot the fools in the back. And guess what – you’ll win. All is fair in love and war – and life.

    4.) There were many comments that questioned how this action will effect his reputation. For me that’s super faulty logic… we all agreed the video was well presented and sounds reasonable and professional – so how does that hurt his reputation?

    Taken from my own experience with my current lawsuit – since it’s started – I HAVE GOTTEN MORE WORK – by defending myself and presenting my case to the public. It’s been blogged about all over: http://www.mediabistro.com/agencyspy/freelance-photographer-sues-collemcvoy_b6745

    And after a recent bid I won the group creative director at another local agency said, “I wanted to work with you because I can tell you’re professional in your business practices, and you’re not afraid to stand up for yourself…. that boldness comes out in your work as well. I hope you win your case.”

    Agencies, companies, organizations, etc. that are doing the right thing, or trying to do the right thing respect other people who are also. A part of that respect means they’ll also still be interested in doing business with you when you show you respect yourself and work enough to defend it, with or without a lawyer.

    To me this video show creativity beyond just his work. It’s an added benefit to who he is as a person… it could show a potential new client, “Hey, this guy is thinking outside the box… we want someone like that. Perhaps he thinks differently about photography as well.”

    You can’t make eggs without cracking a few shells. For as much ego as there is in this business few people are bold enough to make their own rules.

    For me, this is bombest thing I’ve seen all year (all 5 days of it). Imagine how many more hits this video would have gotten if a major player would have posted it. It’s PR gold.

    Bravo… and keep us updated. My chips are on you.

    Clark

  18. Many of the comments here are right regarding how expensive is the legal process,
    I was wondering if you there is such a thing copyright infringement insurance which will cover legal fees in case of infringement

    Offir

  19. Gustav,

    I’ve watched your video a couple times and I still commend you for producing it but I do have to ask you if you thought to just invoice them for the usage before going the video route. You mention in the vid you contacted them without any response but wondering if you did invoice them. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seems some part of the story isn’t here. Or am I missing something?

  20. scott Rex Ely

    MY question to the those who feel that the more legally flavored approach would be the most appropriate response path, is this: Do you calculate infringement events expenses and subsequent costs of legal representation into your COB/overhead?
    I can’t help but feel that corporations take into consideration the calculated risk regarding infringements along with the elevated costs of hiring council the infringed will have to assume to argue for compensation and just gamble and do it and ask questions later.

  21. Fighting infringement can be cumbersome, time-consuming, and expensive. I think the solutions and steps taken here, along with the details, make this an approach some of us might consider. Lawyers are an expense, not a revenue stream, so keeping attorney expenses at levels comparable to potential judgment or settlements is the only way for us smaller players to keep things in budget. The long term veterans with attorneys on retainer have the luxury of handing off infringement issues.

    I like the comment above about infringement insurance. Given a reasonable process to file claims, I would gladly pay into such a policy. Seems to me that it would be far more effective. We see efforts like Gustav’s because the legal system in place now has failed us. I’ve fought infringement and contract issues three times in the last decade, and I felt it was the worst time and experience of my career, despite that I prevailed in each case.

  22. The video has been made private per my resolution with the client. It was a handy tool to put some pressure on, but the key was really just prompt, honest communication.