A few weeks ago I got a Facebook message from someone saying I should check out a particular website. The message simply said "I think this guy is stealing your pictures." We'll call "this guy" "John," and yes, John was using my pictures as well as other photographers' images and claiming that they were his own. John's plan of grabbing images from photographers far outside of his state could have worked but he happened to choose me, Lee Morris, the owner of one of the biggest photography websites on the internet, and the creator of a massive wedding photography tutorial.
The first link that I was sent was to Wedding.com. On this site, "John" had made a business profile featuring some of my images.
The image above is one of my flagship images. I took that shot for a big advertising campaign years ago. I put a ton of thought and work into getting that image and so I could easily recognize it anywhere. After seeing this, I showed a few of my friends this page and they began doing some research. In about 20 minutes of time we knew everything about John; his current and previous address, his Facebook page, his Google account information, his current and previous employers, his phone number, and a list of websites where he was advertising his "business" including his main website.
We found his personal website
We found him advertising on other websites
We found him on Craigslist
We found him on Youtube
As I went through more and more of "his" pictures, I kept wondering if anyone was actually falling for this because he would put a few of my images next to one of his shots and it was obvious that these shots were not taken by the same person. When you see one of his shots next to one of mine, it just doesn't really add up.
I called John multiple times. Probably twice a day for 3 or 4 days. He had a Google Voice number and I didn't want to leave a message because I actually wanted to talk to him and ask why he would do this. I called John again just now and got his voice mail again. I went back to John's website today and noticed that all of my pictures had been removed, and there used to be a lot up there. I assume that John Googled the phone number of the person that was calling him so much and realized it was Lee Morris, the guy he was stealing from.
A few months ago I wrote the article: How Bad Wedding Photographers Have Made The Industry Better. I made the argument that brides are willing to spend more money for "good" photographers because there are so many horror stories about cheap wedding photographers. Can you imagine if you had booked this guy expecting his pictures to turn out like mine and then he delivered these amateur, snap shot, spot colored pictures? John would have added another horror story to the wedding photography industry. I have no problem with cheap wedding photographers, everyone has to start somewhere; the problem with John is that he is blatantly lying to his customers. If a Bride in John's area has a certain amount of money to spend on a photographer and she chooses one based on their portfolio, John might win that client over a real photographer by using other photographers' images.
As I said above I'm really not mad at John. We've all done stupid things before and I doubt he has booked a single wedding from this website of his. I didn't write this post to get this person in trouble with the community, that is why I changed his name and blacked out everything about his business in the images. If you do figure out who he is, please do not contact him, that is not what this is about. I may try to give John another call in a few days and if he doesn't respond I may eventually send him an email. Maybe I'll even send him a copy of our new wedding dvd, he could use it. The moral of the story is, don't steal other photographers' work and claim that it is your own, especially mine. You'll never get away with it.
Update: I received a sincere apology and explanation from John and in an attempt to protect his anonymity, I have removed the majority of the images in this post. My intention was never to reveal who John was and I honestly wish him the best. Needless to say, John will only be using his images to promote his business from now on.
Thats funny,I placed an add in a magazine i sent 4 of my best photos i got the sample to check ff and low and behold there was a FIFTH image!!!! I am not A great photographer I don't Think I am bad either I get better every Day.. The image she had on there was Ok NOT good i said why did you add someone else's work.. She said well the other photographer said that 5 images would look so much better and he wanted to help me out!! I said well i want people to like me for my work who is this photographer ? she said oh its my son he does so many weddings and he loves to help other photographers cus he has been their... So i went to his site And he was amazing!!!! so either he had his mom try to put a bad photo in my add or on his site he is using others work.... Oh and I had her take it off before I new any of this.. said its not even close to my style ..
Wait a second Lee did "John" give you permission to post his photo? PWNED!
I was waiting for this comment :)
If all I have to do to get a free DVD is steal your pics, I'm in, check out my website in about 10. Once I have the DVD I promise to take them down. PROMISE!
I wonder if he licensed the song on the background of his website....
Looks like the thumbtack site got deleted..where is the actual website...
If you guys keep looking this guy up I'm going to have to delete this post
Even Amateurs have images nicked and promoted by someone else as their own.
My experience came to light and went sour real quick, when the person bringing it to my attantion was a legal representative at a major corporation, not happy an image advertising some other business had their logo in it.
I was happy with the image being removed, but the offender threatened legal action(?!) so I got a take down notice issued, and the Corporation then went further with a full site take down and legal threats of their own.
Now ive heard ( from legal rep at the major corp) the offender is being prosecuted and (IRS) audited, due to other 'irregular' business activities they uncovered.
Moral - dont steal, if you do, admit mistake, apologise and learn, dont get uppity or personal, it Will come back and Bite you.
Well done on the gentle and forgiving approach.
Even Amateurs get stolen from.
The moral is be nice, well done,
And admit mistakes and learn from them,
Dont get upity and argue or accuse.
I had an image taken and used to advertise a small company, a long way away.
Legal representative at a major corporation contacted me, they didnt like their logo advertising someone else.
I asked Thief, nicely, to remove my image.
Thief threatened legal action if I were to pursue a take down notice.
So Major Corp did it for me, full take down, site in use and others in Thiefs associated companies.
Now Thief is being prosecuted, by another Photographer, and their State Govt, and being (IRS) Audited,
Because they got arrogant, and Major Corp spent a few more minutes checking them out.
That was an awesome read, Lee. I will NEVER understand why people do this, and why they think they can get away with it. The same thing happened to me a few years back, with one of my candid rain photographs... what's funny was how I discovered about it: an anonymously reader started accusing me of stealing his friend's photo! And when I finally discovered who the thief was and sent her an email, she even had the guts to deny it at first and say "we probably just shot the same picture at the same time". What are the odds! Eventually she came clean and issued a public apology.
It was weird getting accused of stealing you own photo. I wrote about the whole ordeal in my blog: http://www.dannyst.com/in-search-of-the-stolen-shot/
Hey Lee! If we steal some of your images and pass them off as our own will we get the wedding dvd free?!? LOL
Lee - I appreciate the fact that you're showing grace and forgiveness, I really do. But, this is theft and copyright infringement on your end and fraud on his end. He is fraudulently representing himself to his "customers" if he has any. That doesn't help the legitimate 'togs in his area and it's bad for business period. I can understand you not wanting to prosecute, but I think he needs to be called out publicly and stopped.
I would have totally named him. Maybe I should just chill out but it reminds me of the web commercial I produced for the "TED 5000 energy detective." Which by the NEVER works and I feel so ashamed for producing content that was misleading.
i doesn't work? shit, i didn't know that. i've done work for them too
You could send me a copy too, I wouldn't mind checking it out! haha.
Hey Lee, You mad bro? Lol
Lee you are a true gentleman for taking the high road and putting things into prospective. I'm glad to have met you and Patrick in Chicago back a few summers ago. Cheers Mate.
oh come on, how could you have let him off so easily? Im not saying you had to go all out lawsuit on him, but you should have at least made him sweat a little more.... then send him the DVD :-)
If you're going to give a you Wedding DVD to a jerk who steals work - please give it to me instead! I'd love a copy. I'd "settle" for the Peter Hurley DVD though!
LOL...so if I steal one of Lee's photos, then photo collage it w/ Patrick Hall's, then selective color it and post it up with a really bad video of the process, would I get a free wedding DVD and photoshop and videography DVD? :-)
Nice job taking the high road Lee...you guys always have class.
This is self-worth gone south. Imagine knowing that your talent is so bad that you have to steal it.
It's a scam artist with hopes of receiving deposit money only to slip away and never take a picture.
Wow. Very reasoned response. Good for you!
I guess Im going to have to stop telling people that I started Fstoppers and that my name is Lee Morris... shucks....
What about the couple that hires this guy thinking they're going to get similar results of their wedding day and end up only with this guy's actual work? You certainly haven't done them any favors by letting it slide, even for a little while.
LMFAO...Way to go lee
Well played, Sir. You handled this situation with greater poise and maturity than I would have been capable of. This makes me respect FStoppers and your photography even more.
You handled this very well Lee and I commend you for this! I think most of us wouldn't have been so kind and forgiving...
I never understood guys that steal images and claim it as their own...I mean just learn proper lighting on your own and go out and do you own thing. Saving to get your DVD by the way...
Couldn't help but feel a little angry for you, but well said and very well handled!
Lee, Really sorry you let him continue scamming people. You weren't the real victim, the victims are the people paying thousands for work he can't deliver. I know these scammers and his lesson from you was to be more careful about stealing high profile images. I see too many people paying big cash to great marketers only to get garbage in return.
Yes a free DVD!!!!!!!!! jajajajajaja All photographers have some ego because photography is among other things, the relationship of the photographic eye, and creativity to make a picture, being a profession and lifestyle creative authorship will always be something that we keep with suspicion. It is normal to show some ego Lee has the wins to back it up. I admire you for how you took everything. Hey if you're feeling kind of gifting a DVD, Sign me in your list, one for Venezuela!!
He clearly knows your onto him now, as he's started to remove his ads and sites.. When asked why he was stealing images from one of the most popular photography sites in the world he told me "There are no stolen pictures. Don't you think if they were, someone would have done something about it." So I told him to maybe check out fstoppers".. Minutes later his ads were deleted
Wait, you know the guy? I think Lee has already had a response back from him
I dont "know him" ... It wasnt to hard to find his ads, and then his site.. The Internet is a wonderful thing if you know how to use it! I'm just glad he's been found out, and that he's taking the sites down!
Taken! "I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for 'business', I can tell you I don't have 'clients for you'. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my 'pictures' go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will 'write an article explaining how upset I am at' you. " - Lee Morris :-X
The website is great. But to be honest. You seem a smug prick. Even your silly picture on the banner ad stuff comes off as brash. You're better than that man. Your work is amazing, let it show your confidence
Hmmmm....and to think, all the writer's were just saying how Lee is the nicest, down to earth guy they've ever met.
First class Lee Moris. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to the profession.
i think you may have been too easy on him.... but thats only my opinion..... i hate the overuse of litigation, but sometimes people don't learn from just a slap on the hand....... just my opinion, and ditto Joshua Nyenhuis...... you are first class, Lee.
Best part is how you used this to advertise your video twice:) You are a marketing genius. I am not even being sarcastic. well done:)
I have the problem of posting a shot that's never been done around my area before in San Antonio, and then several months later find almost identical shots on other local wedding photographer's websites. Hummmmm. One of the biggest photographers in the area routinely tries to keep up with my shots and website style. Over the past year, his site has become more and more like mine in design and I see shots almost identical to ones I've shot way before him in the same location and almost exact same pose. If he's reading this, he knows who he is! I'm more flattered than anything!
Sadly this is only morally wrong.. Not legally
Unless David charges $999 for a weekend seminar. Then it's okay to try to emulate him. Morally and legally.
Well since everyone has comment on this post, the culprit might as well too. First off what I did was a bonehead and foolish thing to do. Stealing is absolutely the wrong thing to do, and and I was stupid enough to have done it. Secondly, although I have already apologized to Lee personally, I feel I have to do it publicly as well. To Lee I am once again sorry for doing this and I can assure you and other photographers that this will never happen again. I will not post my reasons for doing so, but I can tell you Lee is completely understanding of what and why. To other photogs that have been affected by this I want to say I am sorry for my actions as well. By doing these things I have subject the industry to be looked frowned upon. I know there are others out there that are or have done what I did. With encouraging words from Lee last night I intend to go on and pursue my career as a photographer, with my own pictures. Everything that has been said on here I have felt conviction and am I deeply angry at myself for the stealing I have taken everything that was said within these comments and I am going to use them to better myself not only as a photographer but as a person. I will also pray and believe that I can go on and try to run a successful business. Once again I am truly sorry to all of the true professionals out there, maybe one day I can rise up and be in your category but I know I have a long way before I get there.
Thank you and God Bless.
wow, very brave for you to come out and take responsibility. we learn from our mistakes and although you started on a bad foot with Lee, I am sure you will benefit from the encounter more than you will suffer retribution. best of luck in the future
So what was his explanation? Fascinating...
Good job Lee. There is so much of this going around. Awesome DVD by the way!
tar and feather.
Kudos to Lee for taking the high road, I can't say I would do the same because I didn't.
I'm a writer and I had a similar issue a few years back with someone stealing some of my writing off my social media page and putting it on theirs. The girl, who I'll call "Jane", was an acquaintance of a good friend of mine. She sent me a friend request and I generally don't add people I don't know, but after asking our mutual friend, they said Jane was harmless so I decided to add her. After leaving a few creepy posts on my friends page I decided to check out her social media page and found paragraphs of my writing, word for word, splattered all over her page.
I immediately called her out and she apologized profusely. But being a writer, obviously plagiarism is my achilles heel so I told her to take my writing off her page, to never contact me again and I eventually ended up blocking her from my profile. I wasn't as understanding as Lee because I felt her apology was only because I caught her in a lie and less of having actual remorse for what she had done.
I'll never understand why people do things like this because at some point in time, whether you're a photographer or a writer, you're going to be put in a position to prove your work. And what happens then?
While I am one who is in favor of grace, I do (somewhat) agree with what you're saying. I've talked with Mike personally, because of my job... It's a job that involves grace (put 2 and 2 together you'll figure it out).. Anyway, he and I have been talking, and I do believe he is sorry...
But like your writing situation would he be saying he was sorry had he not gotten caught, I don't know, though perhaps it was bothering him at his core, I know if I had of done something like this, though i never would, even had I not been caught, my conscious would have been killing me.. I can't speak for Mike as to whether his conscious was bothering him, but, now that he has been caught, I do believe that he is sorry.. And Lee does too.. And since Lee is the only person this affects, I don't think any of us need to concern ourselves with it.
It's Lees situation, not ours, just like your writing situation was your situation and you wouldn't have wanted others to get involved... You dealt with it, in your way, Lee has dealt with it in his way.. he clearly has a lot of grace, and he should be commended for that, not condemned..
I know grace is not a common thing in 2013, but there are some (though very few) people in this world who believe in it, and perhaps at some point in his life, Lee was shown grace, and that's why he was willing to show Mike grace.
All this to say, this is Lees' battle, who are we to try and tell him how he should deal with it??