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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Previous comments
Benton Lam's picture

The video is hilarious, especially when watching it while inebriated ;)

Priceless!! I don't know how Elia was able to keep a stright face while filming this. Well done sir, well done!

AC Wong's picture

I switched over to Format for my website since they do offer a way to prevent someone from stealing your photo. If someone tries to right click on my photo, you immediately get "This photo is copyrighted..." Would this be enough to stop the person from stealing my photo?

Patrick Hall's picture

No not at all. You can just print screen and copy it into photoshop. Or I'm sure you can look at the dev code and find the reference to the actual uploaded image. There is no way to prevent people from stealing your work but you can copyright it, track it, and then offer them a settlement in place of taking them to court for copyright infringement.

I really want the real tutorial but can't afford it. But I would NOT sink so low and go pirate it, it's other creators work - just like my own photography! What the F* fellow photographers?!? .. You're complaining about copyright and watermarking your images, but on the other hand you're torrenting tutorials and then complain about it?? I don't know what to say anymore...

That was the best lesson I have ever seen. Does Olive Garden want to use that in their advertisement?

Lee, what are you doing, brah? You're a good lookin' dude. Own it. Come to the bald side. #lotsofsunscreen

Either that or get all "Silence of the Lambs" on Patrick's Chia-shag?!

(Great vid, guys. Funny stuff.)

Andrzej Muzaj's picture

So, it's another time when someone took Elia's image of sky over the Rome and composited it illegally to... Oh, wait! ;D Anyway - glad you all have such distance and can approach those difficult situation with humor. Hearing Elia shouting "fuck you" and drawing a giant dick on the screen made my day ;)

Patrick Hall's picture

It was in response to a few different drivers yelling at us "fuck her in the pussy" haha. We edited that clip out but it was pretty funny to hear that in real life

Andrzej Muzaj's picture

Now I wonder: why those drivers were yelling that. I'm intrigued! :D (Probably it's just because they're dickheads, but still... And I know - that was an unfounded moral judgement, but it still can be true. ;)

Andrzej Muzaj's picture

Some shit goes viral for the very wrong reasons... ;)

Patrick Hall's picture

I just found a 10 min video of this happening over and over again

Andrzej Muzaj's picture

Guess some people take freedom of speech to literally. And mix it with trolling and sexism, too.

Ha! The joke is on Elia because I shoot a lot of ugly suburban restaurants and I learned a ton from his video. The reflection in a puddle trick is worth it all by itself.
You guys outsmarted yourselves with this one.

Elia's Photographing the World series... where are all the baseball photos?

Excellent and hilarious. I bought PTW 1 & 2 and watched all the BTS videos. Definitely one of the best tutorials I have used and the BTS stuff is great.

One thing that I took away from the PTW and BTS is how much work it entailed. You guys worked your asses off and legitimately suffered to deliver a quality product. The idea that someone would steal that is very aggravating and I hope there is such a thing as karma. I also sincerely hope that effing tool who stole your camera got hit by a tourist bus shortly thereafter.

Great stuff, many thanks to Elia, Naomi, Patrick and Lee for taking the time and effort. Well done.

I totally understand the idea behind this, and that it was a way to try and fool people with a fake torrent to find out what the reaction would be, but when the creator themselves are okaying the torrent, you can't really say that people have downloaded it illegally can you ?

I know it's a grey area, and as I said I understand the whole idea behind it, but when you look at the whole scenario downloading a torrent the content creators themselves have released is not really illegal ?

Patrick Hall's picture

Sure we can because 1) we never sold the content in the fake torrent and 2) we never copyrighted it and are going after infringers. It's just free content we put online. I wouldn't call downloading the fake torrent with a fake lesson and a bunch of garbage files "illegal". However, downloading anything in our store is illegal.

That awesome body of water was ... awesome!

well piracy is a curse, i wish we could get rid of it, so original content makers can get what they deserve, on other hand one of my friend told me that more then half of the population can't afford things so they that is why all this happen.

Michael Winston

Super well done. And sadly, relevant.
I do hope this opens the eyes of some RE piracy.
Thanks for the work you all do

Glen Barrington's picture

I'm a lousy photographer, Maybe a lousy tutorial is just what I need.

Heiko Kanzler's picture

Beside the sad topic of pirating, I am sorry to say but I enjoyed this fake video a lot :-)

Michele Buttazzoni's picture

That's brilliant!!! LOL!!!