Photographer Gets Threatened with False Takedown Notice

Photographer Gets Threatened with False Takedown Notice

Just recently a friend of mine posted some rather stunning images on his Facebook page. While vacationing in Vegas, Réjean Brandt, a very talented fashion photographer from Canada decided to take the opportunity to organize a portfolio shoot. The photos taken at Red Rock Canyon were beyond splendid to say the least, and I quickly jumped on Réjean to get behind the scenes details for an article on this very site. The next day the images were abruptly taken down. Why? Because Red Rock Canyon threatened to seize his equipment if he didn't. 

The model that Réjean had found on Modelmayhem had recommend the beautiful area of Red Rock Canyon as the perfect backdrop for their quick impromptu shoot. Taking just a camera body, two lenses and a reflector the small group entered the national park legally (paid for access) and quickly conducted the shoot in less than two hours and were on their way. There was no mention anywhere of a permit needed for photography anywhere around the grounds. Réjean posted the images on Facebook after he finished retouching them, and as a lot of photographers do on Facebook, he tagged the pictures at the location of the shoot, Red Rock Canyon.

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A few days later he received a takedown notice from someone representing Red Rock Canyon.

 

"Notification
 Please find the enclosed copy of State law regarding photography on State property or of State property.
 
It has become evident to us, that you have violated State Law and are now subject to fines.
 
It appears that on February 15th of 2013 that you photographed a model within the State park boundries, that you have attached your name to such photos and that contitutes advertising and as such, is a violation. Per each occurance of every photo we find, your fine will be 10 times the cost of the permit, had you filed for one. Your Permit costs would have been $200 for one day, your fines will be $2,000 per photo that we will find. We will contact the local authorites in your province to insure collection of monies or the seizure of equipment.
 
We will also be notifying the Federal Park Authorities of possible violations on their land as well.
 
You will have 24 hours before this matter is turned over to the State's Attorney General for prosecution. to remove any and all photographs taken on State Property or of State Property without a permit. As the photographer, you and you lone are responsible for removing ALL photographs from prior receipients, internet advertisingagencies, social media sites, etc.
 
 -[---- Burke]
Red Rock Canyon Conservation Group"

 

 

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Réjean informed me of the email and promptly took the 'offending' photographs down. He, being from a different country, wasn't aware that he needed a permit, and while I do believe that ignorance isn't above the law, Réjean is human and all of us do make mistakes now and again. Feeling quite guilty he replied to this mysterious officer of Red Rock Canyon's integrity and offered his apologies, and asked if there was a way that this misstep could be corrected (IE: Buy a permit after the fact).

This was  Mr. Burke's reply:

"Dear Sir,
This is not a matter that we discuss. We are only the conservation group and we only notify the proper authorities. It will be up to them to discuss any terms.

If you removed any photos, there will be nothing for them to prosecute you for. In the future, please fill out the appropriate forms for the property you will be photographing on. Just about ALL public property, Federal, State, County and City, require a filming permit and insurance. Even some local homeowner associations require these, but that is a civil matter.

You were among 12 photographers who received notice yesterday.

Please note: Your pleading of not knowing is of no importance to us as we here are aware of property copyright laws of Canada.

[--- Burke]
Red Rock Canyon Conservation Group"

So, Mr. Burke is correct, you do need a permit to take photos in Réjean's case while inside a Federal and State Park, there is no argument there. I just couldn't believe the tone of the reply and upon further examination of the email that Réjean forwarded to me I noticed something. The email was sent from a gmail account. Now, I know that many of us use gmail as an official email provider, but the government doesn't. I told Réjean that I would do some digging to find out who this person was and if he was in danger of being sued.

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I took it upon myself to call the agency that issues the permits for weddings and commercial photography at Red Rock Canyon. Lee was the first to answer my call and after a lengthy conversation about the incident he directed me to his co-worker Jamie who issues out the permits. She explained that if Réjean had received a takedown notice it would have come from their law enforcement head, Robert, and that the email would be sent by a proper '.gov' email with an official letterhead attached. She also stated her concern on who this person was and what he was doing emailing photographers on their behalf. She transferred me to Robert, the head of law enforcement for Red Rock Canyon, and he reiterated to me that indeed an official takedown notice would have come from him and that this 'Mr. Burke' had no right to email and harass Réjean on their behalf.
 
In fact, not one person at the official office of Red Rock Canyon had ever heard of this 'Mr. Burke' or of the 'Red Rock Canyon Conservation Group'. Robert was concerned that this might be a case of a money scam to scare photographers into paying a permit fee to an organization that might not even exist. I searched for the group and found nothing. Robert was extremely pleasant over the phone and said that people always make mistakes and that the majority of the time they let things like this slide, since it wasn't a big production, but also explained the importance of having a permit.
 

If Réjean had indeed gotten his permit beforehand all of this wouldn't have been an issue. Robert and Jamie were more than happy to let Réjean repost the images non-commercially with their blessing, but warned that in the future he, of course, would need to file the proper paperwork. Rightfully so. They also warned that if Mr. Burke were to contact Réjean again to just ignore the emails. They wanted to let us know that they were going to try to look into the matter. I was happy to report this to Réjean and his photos are happily where they should be, on his portfolio and without the beautiful backdrop of Red Rock Canyon blurred out.

 

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In closing, I hope that this serves as a good lesson to each of you as you read this article. First and foremost if shooting in a state or federal park always check to see if a photography permit is needed, this also goes for any location that might be in question. Second, if you do receive a take down notice, go ahead and remove the photographs in question, but also stop and do some research on the person sending you the takedown notice. Never send any money or equipment to someone if they demand it. Find the official people in charge of permits and see if an arrangement could be made, like paying the permit fee. Most often or not state park and federal park officials will be more than willing to work with you.
 

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I would like to thank the Bureau of Land Management (Southern Nevada District Office) and the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association for helping us with the article. (*Only first names were used due to privacy).

Photographs used with permission.

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75 Comments

I was worried that the shots with the excessive gaussian blur was the final edited shots...

Doug Gray's picture

 Same here....

Rebecca Britt's picture

No, Rejean had to do that when I first started writing the article, before we knew who had sent the takedown notice was. 

Tam Nguyen's picture

Haha same here... I was all like, uhm wassup with that excessive gaussian blur?

I live 15 miles from Red Rock everyone shoots out there. There is better spots with less traffic and less hassle then this area. It blows my mind that he would tag the park. Federal and State parks have a "grey" area on photographic permits. 

Think about this, Grand Teton national park is photographed every day by photographers. How many that take a shot at sunrise get a permit to shoot the landscape picture? Technically if you have a tripod you would need a permit. You would also need a permit to sell the image. Yet it's almost encouraged by the rangers. Yet a park ranger being on federal land could potentially walk up to you and say are you shooting this for commercial and you say yes. He can impound all of your gear and fine you.

Barry's picture

Rick I am interested in finding out about the better places you mentioned. I'll be there Mid March and was planning on shooting RRC. Thanks.

Valley of Fire is quite nice and less congested. I am assuming you are coming for WPPI if that is the case Red Rock may be really full.  Another location would be Nelson, NV about a 30 minute ride and an awesome old town and cactus area. They offer "permits" for around 20 bucks which is well worth it! 

oh thanks.... haha

Barry's picture

Thank you

Rick, same as Barry. I'll be there in June shooting a wedding (planning on taking the bride and groom to Red Rock). Would you be so kind as to point me to areas you think would be great for this purpose? Thank you kindly.

See Above :) 

Thanks Rick!

Michael D. Risser's picture

 I'm about the same distance away. Whether or not a permit is required is outlined quite well on the Official Red Rock Canyon website: http://www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/fo/lvfo/blm_programs/blm_special_areas/red_r...

DUDE! i'm shooting in the vegas desert in less than a month... can you advise me of some cool spots to shoot? i LOVE this red rock canyon place... where are the better spots?

Great story!  Another weird aspect of this story is that DMCA Takedown Notices are filled by a copyright owner to the website host-Facebook in this case.  Facebook would then act on the notice and directly inform the poster of the images.  The email sent above does not conform to the official complaint or notification process for DMCA Takedowns.

Official DMCA Info is here:
http://www.copyright.gov/legislation/dmca.pdf

The final images are great. It's scary to think that people can cause so much disruption just because they are either after money or just to mess with people. It's just one of the pitfalls of the ease of access to information about people that can be obtained over the internet. 

Michael Sidney's picture

I find it all rather silly that you need a permit to take photos with just you and a model. And that you have to pay to go into a state park. Didn't know it was like that in America.

Problem is, its usually not just a model and a photographer. Come out during WPPI, and youll see how many photographers get snagged by the ranger at Red Rock and and Valley of Fire for not having permits, its usually the photographer, his gear (usually a single strobe-speedlight in a soft box on a stand), an assistant, a makeup/hair stylist, the model, and usually two-three other people they brought along for fun.  (something tells me this photographer did not do the MU and Hair. And with all the outfit changes, did he bring a changing tent for her to change in ?).  And ive watched these tourist photogs leave their garbage out there, nothing like plastic water bottles lying around after the shoot to make the area more natural, but since its not in their backyard it not a big deal to them. (I help clean up Red Rocks each summer, and its a mess). 

I have known this photographer all his life and know that his intent was not of a malicious nature. I can a sure you that this gentleman probably had no more than himself, his equipment, the model, maybe one hair person, one makeup person and maybe an assistant. Regardless of how many people were out there I know that if anything this photographer respects nature and all that is in it and will probably have left the area in as good if not better condition than he found it in.
Please refrain from painting everyperson with the same dirty brush.

Réjean Brandt's picture

Now you have me curious as to who you are lol

Valley of Fire you don't need a permit if you arrive in the same vehicle..... 

Réjean Brandt's picture

I showed up with a model, a MUA/Hairstylist and an assistant.  The model came with her hair already done and had makeup and wardrobe changes in the vehicle.  I had on me, a camera bag, a light reflector and a bottle of water (which was appropriately disposed of).  The MUA/Hairstylist stayed in the vehicle while the model, assistant and myself did the shoot.  We respected the park and left nothing behind.  Not everyone is as careless as you might assume.  

I'm curious, if you've watched someone leave garbage behind did you address it with them? I would and I do with anyone I see leaving trash anywhere. Makes for some pretty interesting confrontations at times however I'm not about to stand by and let people junk up the world. You're painting with a very broad stroke there.

NO i really dont want to get shot or stabbed over a Snickers bar wrapper, etc...
I'll just wait and pick the thing up myself.

This article has nothing to do with a DMCA take-down notice. As a previous commenter noted, a DMCA take-down is filed by the copyright owner. In this case, the argument is over permits, not copyright. You really need to change the title of this article.

Wow...the scary thing is that most of us wouldn't immediately think its a scam...just goes to show how pedantic we all fear that authorities are when it comes to photographers.

In my local area there are a number of buildings, mainly lighthouses, that require you obtain permission and /or pay for a permit to photograph them. Strikes me as a little ironic that a building that was designed for and wsole purpose is to stick out like dogs b@%ls doesn't want it's photo taken...

Pathetic. In the meantime it should (!) be a well known fact that for professional photography almost everywhere  a permission is required. "Everywhere" refers to any location where any authority claims rights for. 
Rather than being surprised by the "notification" I'm flabbergasted by the sheer lack of awareness of the aforementioned fact.

Mike Wilkinson's picture

Interesting story. I'm glad your friend didn't send any money. I'd be curious to know if there's any further information on the scammer, as I'd bet that this isn't their only scam in the works right now. Definitely check the legitimacy from anyone who reaches out to you, especially via email.

 

Photo permits get even weirder in Britain. Some agencies have a usage contract associated with the permit.

The National Trust (which manages some wildlife areas and historic properties) claims a kind of monopoly on photos of its properties. Even with a permit, they will not allow you to sell the photo through a stock agency other than them (they maintain a stock library). If the photo is sold commercially, they require approval and an even 50/50 split of the money with the photographer. Essentially, they control copyright even though it technically belongs to the photographer.

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