We Pirated Our Own Video and This Is What Happened

Piracy is a major issue among all types of creatives. Regardless of if you make handbags, design websites, create beautiful paintings, produce movies, or craft amazing photographs, at some point or another, someone is going to steal and rip off your work. Recently, we decided to run a social experiment; we actually pirated one of our own tutorials and put it online for free before it was even released to the public. What happened next was pretty interesting.

Back in winter of 2017, Fstoppers teamed up with Landscape Photographer Elia Locardi to produce the third installment in his Photographing the World series. While we were filming throughout Italy, Dubai, and North America, we came up with the idea of releasing a fake lesson and seeding it on torrent websites. The idea was sort of a "Rickroll" where Elia would teach what would appear to be a legit lesson. However, by the end of the video, Elia would acknowledge that this copy of the tutorial was in fact pirated and that the viewer had unfairly stolen the content from Elia himself. As we traveled from destination and country to country, we continued to brainstorm exactly what this fake lesson would look like and where we would film it. When Elia traveled to Charleston, South Carolina to film the final post-processing sections of Photographing the World 3, it became pretty clear where this final lesson would be filmed.

Elia's Photographing the World series has been one of the most successful photography educational tutorials we have ever produced. However, one of the biggest complaints people have (yet also one of the biggest praises about the series too) is that we travel to exotic locations that many photographers do not have access to themselves. Therefore, for this fake lesson, we thought it would be funny if instead of heading to Italy for the first lesson, we brought Italy to the viewer! The Fstoppers team packed up all our gear and headed to the most popular Italian location not in Italy: Olive Garden. 

Elia using a "parking lot lake" to create a beautiful reflection

We wound up filming an entire lesson outside the Olive Garden in North Charleston, South Carolina, and Elia did not hold anything back. Everything from scouting, to composition, to gear used, and even the local history was included in the lesson just as he does in his real, full-length tutorials. What starts off as a pretty serious exploration of an Italian restaurant quickly becomes more and more ridiculous as Elia is faced with billboards, urban distractions, traffic, employees, and other environmental elements found on location. Once the final images were captured, we then wanted Elia to take all of the photos into Photoshop just as he does normally and teach exactly how to edit and composite everything into one portfolio-worthy image. Let's just say that by the end of the post-production section of this lesson, it becomes abundantly clear that this is not a real lesson from Photographing the World 3. You can watch the full, unedited lesson on how to photograph an Olive Garden in the video below.

Once we created this fake lesson, we then had to seed it on a few torrent sites. In order to make the tutorial seem legit, we packaged it up with a bunch of fluff material so the entire download was 20-30 GB of data. The file structure was designed to look exactly like a normal copy of Photographing the World and the fake lesson was listed as lesson one. Once we uploaded the torrent files, we had a bunch of friends download it, seed it, and even leave positive comments to help promote the whole series to the top of the search results. After a few weeks of serving the fake files, we were shocked that people were actually downloading and resharing the tutorial as if it was the real thing. 

The Hypocrisy of Piracy

Dealing with piracy is nothing new for most photographers and videographers. If you have ever published an image or a video online, chances are someone somewhere has stolen your content and used it for free or even worse, has made money off your hard work without any credit or compensation. Fstoppers is a pretty small company with only three full-time employees. When we team up with professional photographers like Peter Hurley, Mike Kelley, Clay Cook, or Elia Locardi to produce our expansive photography tutorials, we are putting up all the money, taking all the financial risk, and hoping that our hard work will not only be appreciated but will also allow us to make enough money to make the whole experience worthwhile. There is a fine balance between giving back to the photography community we love so much and making enough money to make a living doing what we love. When you see your photography, graphic designs, or videography taken from you without your permission, it can be frustrating and sometimes outright discouraging. 

So what can we all do to combat piracy in our field? To be honest, there really isn't much anyone can do to completely discourage those who blatantly steal digital content, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself if an infringement does take place. In our latest tutorial, Making Real Money with Monte Isom, Monte discusses the importance of copyrighting your work (I've shared the free video of that below). By copyrighting your work with the US Copyright Office, you gain legal leverage in the event that you need to take someone to court for stealing or selling your work. Of course, here at Fstoppers, we copyright all of our videos and photography so that when we catch people stealing and reselling our work, we can prosecute them, but that process is often time-consuming and painful for those on the infringing side of the lawsuit. You can also simply not post any of your work online or cover all your work with obnoxious watermarks and copyright notices, but that almost always takes away from beautiful images and video you have spent so much time creating. 

In creating this fake video, we hoped that we could tackle the issue of piracy with humor. Of course, making one funny video that we seeded on a torrent site will never completely eliminate those who wish to steal from others, but hopefully it will make a lot of creatives in our own field stop and think about what they are doing. Every week, Fstoppers receives multiple emails from photographers who have had their images stolen from their websites and then used in advertisements, on Instagram, on other photographer's websites, and in all sorts of commercial applications. This problem is a real epidemic within the creative industry. However, in many cases, those creatives who are super upset that someone has stolen their own work are quick to download a free copy of Photoshop, a pirated series of their favorite television show, an artists' latest album, or even educational tutorials from some of the biggest names in the photography world. They do not even think twice about it, and that is extremely frustrating and hypocritical. 

So, in the end, while we have tried to bring the issue of piracy to the forefront by making a ridiculous yet humorous mockumentary of our own content, we hope we can persuade more people in our industry to do the right thing and pay for the content they enjoy just as they hope to get paid for their own content that they produce for their own clients.

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54 Comments

I've been wanting to buy the video series, but I just don't have the cash right now. So I've been patiently waiting and saving away some money here and there. As a software developer, I'm very anti-piracy. I also think it will make the video that much more enjoyable when I do finally get it. Keep up the great work guys, and thanks for the behind-the-scenes videos too!

Benton Lam's picture

The guys over at SLR Lounge uses a subscription model. Software customers generally don't like subscriptions either, but there's a promise of recurring revenue for the software developer provided they can keep up with features.

I do wonder if the guys at FStoppers have considered a subscription model.

In general, I find that people think everything is easy to make. Look at gamers complaining about making changes in a game - they always think that it's super easy. One peek behind the scenes, and we can see how much work it is for the rank and file.

I think there's a similar expectation mismatch here. One peek at the BTS, and despite the goofy stuff, we can see how much work and effort is in the whole thing.

I'm in the same boat as you, Mike. There are so many tutorials that I'd like to watch.

I would pay for that I think, but I wonder how long I had to be member to pay down all their content then, must be a 5 year contract :P

Myron Hobizal's picture

I know all people have budgets, including me. I can't afford these tutorials either, except for maybe a couple. But then you have other people making 6-figures as a software developer, pro photographer, doctors, dentists, and they always seem to complain too that they cant afford things.

Tyler Neuroth's picture

Ohh wonderful, this was such a great idea and way to showcase the issues at hand!

Felix Hernandez's picture

This is genius!!!!.. And I totally get it... I have suffer from piracy... whether its my tutorial or photos. There is no excuse.

Annie Leibovitz's MasterClass is online on YouTube and so far MasterClass has not been able to remove it for whatever reason. I would assume they have some resources to tackle the problem, more than us.

Patrick Hall's picture

If they copyrighted the tutorial, they just have to send Youtube a remove notice otherwise Youtube is in violation of copyright law. If they did not copyright it, then it's much harder to get Youtube to act on it in a timely manner.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Youtube has tons of music videos and audio tracks. I mean, those are for sure trademarked how can they post it and keep it on Youtube?

You are right, a quick search and I found the Master Class on Youtube? Boy, these guys are fast, whoever these guys are.

Cole Herning's picture

I mean, there are a lot of good tips in there for amateurs at least... Lol

ALEXANDER TARDIF's picture

Oh man, you had me at "...rolled out the never ending past bowl..." and "...but this is just.. Honda Civic...", OMG, I was rolling - sooo good!

Btw, do people really line up at the Olive Garden so much that there's a wait time?!?!

Patrick Hall's picture

I think they have half off bottles of wine during happy hour so that's why everyone was there

Motti Bembaron's picture

Yeah, for some alcohol is enough reason. The food there is so so, used to be better.

Plus the Italian food that is actually better than Italy’s ;)

If there is one thing I learned from the photographing the world series is that Italian food in Italy is not very good..

Patrick Hall's picture

But please don't take our word for it. There is nothing I want more than for people to doubt us and then share our experience first hand. I actually doubted Lee the first time he came back home and said his authentic Italian food experience was horrible. He's been 3 times now and I've been 2 times and I have to agree with him. That being said, I've heard the northern region is much better than the central and coastal regions.

Andrea Re Depaolini's picture

I've seen your BTS in Italy and I have to say it seemed all really strange because the Costiera Amalfitana is famous for the delicious food, my guess is that you were there in the off season so the best restaurants were closed due to the lack of tourists as Italian people prefer to eat at home rather than go to a restaurant, especially in the small towns. Anyway if you will ever come back to Italy (in the north preferably) consider yourself my guests. It's a matter of national honor for me :)

RE food in Northern Italy: I'm not a foodie, but when I was there long ago, their idea of a pre-dinner salad was PASTA. I said, Bring it!!! Liked the north way better for tons of reasons.

Glen Barrington's picture

Aw! The O.G. is EVERYONE'S secret dining vice! No one claims to LIKE it, but they all go there for the modest prices and the Italian comfort food.

Brilliant! That was so funny to watch.

Kyle Medina's picture

Anyone contemplating on buying these, I highly recommend them. If buying all three is tough. Do just buy the first one at least.

Clever. If I go to an Olive Garden and watch the video while eating a Never Ending Pasta Bowl do you think I will achieve transcendental consciousness?

That's such a great idea! Now I have to watch that fake tutorial. :D

I’ve learned a lot from “Photographing Olive Garden”...

Andrea Re Depaolini's picture

I have to say I've found a way to avoid my pictures being stolen, and it's very effective, I just take shitty pictures so no one wants them and no one steals them. Problem solved :)

Alexander Meier's picture

This is so funny. I watched this yesterday in the bus. I had to laugh so much. The best was definitely the masking haha 8=o Great job! I hope to see a lot more of tutorials with Elia.

Patrick Luchsinger's picture

This is awesome! 😂😂

HAHA! It's funny because I'm thinking about download that joke video and rofl.

Too funny guys-keep on innovating!

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