Copyright infringement and image theft are often the bane of my photographic existence. They are illegal, unethical and rampant, ranging from abuses on Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr to theft by bloggers and others with personal websites. I spend more time filing DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) takedown notices than I care to think about.
But recently I came across an unusually flagrant example regarding one (actually two) of my photographs that really got my dander up. The draft version of this blog post was much more extensive, documented and vitriolic than this one but writing the draft may have been cathartic for me to some degree so I’ve been able to calm down a little, to the point that I’ll now (largely) only present the images and let the viewer see for themselves what has been done (though I will point a few things out that might otherwise be missed).
This Black-billed Magpie image is one of my favorites, to the point that I have a large print of it hanging over my fireplace.
So try to imagine my chagrin when I found this while doing a reverse image search on Google a couple of weeks ago.
The owner of this site: a), has lifted my image, b), has altered it (grossly, IMO) without my permission, c), has removed my copyright notice on the image and now claims her own copyright on the print, and d) is offering it for sale on Etsy.
Here’s the link but I included the screenshot in case the Etsy offering somehow disappears as soon as this blog post goes live (I’ve made screen shots and copied code of everything relevant to this post). The Etsy offering of this image disappeared for a few days after this screenshot was captured but it has now reappeared with a few changes.
Here’s what the blurb below the image (in the link) says now:
- Black Billed Magpie – Pica hudsonia Image size: 6.25 x 4.25 inches Matted for 8 x 10 frame. Edition: 50
Inspired by image studied at the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival.
Printed on acid-free, archival watercolor paper. Signed by the Artist.
Print comes in cello envelope, matted and backed ready for framing in a standard 10 x 8 inch frame.
Notice that this person’s claim to copyright is now gone and that she now states that the image was “inspired by image studied at the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival”. I have never exhibited any of my images at the festival or given permission for their use at the festival. But to cover my bases I contacted one of the GSL Bird Festival committee members and asked her if my image had been used by the festival. This was her response: “I don’t personally remember this photo on display anywhere, and I know it’s definitely not been used on the Festival Facebook page. We try to be very careful to get permissions and to give credit when we use any photos. (Which is why we use so many state employee images.)”
But even if my image had been at the festival (I’m sure it wasn’t) it would be blatantly irrelevant. She would still have no right (legally, morally or ethically) to copy it, leave off my copyright, claim copyright on the print for herself and then sell it.
Here’s another of my images lifted by this person.
It’s really not a very good image of a Chukar and her chicks but it’s one I used for a blog post on the “Chukars of Antelope Island“.
But apparently the owner of this site liked it so much that she lifted it from my blog, altered the image, removed my copyright logo, claimed her own copyright on the print and offered it for sale on Etsy. Below is the screenshot from about two weeks ago. Since that time this offering has been removed from Etsy.
This person makes the following statement on her Etsy Shop Announcement - “I have been a professional artist, graphic designer, printmaker, and professor of art and ecology since 1970. My award-winning screen-prints and digital paintings are popular sellers that have won awards and recognition around the world for precision in registration and color matching. My latest pursuit: watercolor gicle’e digital paintings of the birds of the world. These digital prints have been selling steadily since they premiered in January 2011. “
This suggests to me that this person is a professional in a field that almost by definition must be aware of copyright implications and limitations and that she’s been selling these images prolifically, including mine without my permission, for at least 2 1/2 years.
She also makes this statement on her personal website - ” I have to consider the market value of everything I print these days as 25-35% of my monthly income comes from selling art– (to) supplement my TINY retirement check!”
This suggests to me that this woman must think that the size of her “TINY retirement check” somehow justifies her infringement abuses of the images of others (and let it be noted that I too am trying to make ends meet on a meager teacher’s retirement check). It also makes me wonder how many images she may have lifted from other photographers without permission.
This woman makes a sizeable chunk of change every month, at least part of which comes from the illicit use of my images.
Some folks seem to think that if you change the work of someone else enough you can claim it as your own (I’m quite sure this woman knows better) but such is not the case. This, from the U.S. Copyright Office:
- Question: How much do I have to change in order to claim copyright in someone else’s work?
- Answer: Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, a new version of that work. Accordingly, you cannot claim copyright to another’s work, no matter how much you change it, unless you have the owner’s consent. See Circular 14, Copyright Registration for Derivative Works.
Also from the U.S. Copyright Office:
- (c) Fraudulent Copyright Notice. — Any person who, with fraudulent intent, places on any article a notice of copyright or words of the same purport that such person knows to be false, or who, with fraudulent intent, publicly distributes or imports for public distribution any article bearing such notice or words that such person knows to be false, shall be fined not more than $2,500.
- (d) Fraudulent Removal of Copyright Notice. — Any person who, with fraudulent intent, removes or alters any notice of copyright appearing on a copy of a copyrighted work shall be fined not more than $2,500.
According to her bio on various websites this woman apparently taught art classes at Salt Lake Community College for many years so I can’t help but wonder what kind of example she set, by word and by deed, for her students – some of which very likely would have been my own high school students in previous years, since we live in the same city.
That thought doesn’t make me happy either.