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.
I don't see anything in my earlier post about condemning Lee for his actions, especially when the first sentence of my post is giving him kudos for taking the high road. So I'm not quite sure where you got the idea that I was admonishing him on how he handled the situation with Mike.
And there's also nothing in my earlier post about telling or lecturing Lee on handling that situation differently. It was all about my encounter with plagiarism.
Yes it was Lee's situation, not anybody else's, but he chose to put it on a public forum that allowed people to comment on his story so of course people are going to express their opinions. I haven't gone through the entire thread but from what I've read I don't see anyone lecturing or criticizing Lee for how he handled the situation. I've seen nothing but support here.
sorry. i wasnt clear... you werent condeming Lee.. I replied to you, because I agreed with much of what you said.. but i can see how you would think i was implying that you were condeming him.. my bad.. if you read through the posts, many people ARE condemning him for how he is handling it.. they are saying he should be sueing him, and that its just showing people that if they want a free dvd they should just steal from him etc.. lots of people seem mad about the grace Lee is showing..
Im actually very impressed by Lees response and the grace he is showing.. I actually used this very story as an object lesson this morning in my sermon.. about how the world wants us all to sue at every chance we get, but that we are shown grace.. like Lee gave Grace to Mike, even though he did't deserve it.. but hey... im guessing this site has a rule about theological talk, so i'll stop there.. just know Lee that you inspired me and I used this story in a sermon today!
All the images have disappeared. Bummer.
Wow. Thank you for the lesson in one way - a very good one - to deal with something like this.
What is funny is that this guy does not realize that you could have taken him to court and been awarded a lot of money, not that he would have been able to actually pay that money. Not saying that you should, but it's the understanding that 100's of thousands of dollars would have been stacked on his credit report simply for stealing your photographs. People need to understand that in America as soon as a photographer pushes the shutter release the images are automatically his property and protected under copyright law.
Has anyone heard of the website Fancy.com? Well, since we are talking about stealing images, I thought I would share something I am in the middle of. Fancy.com are crowd sourcing images taken from around the web, from commercial photographers websites and are using them to sell and profit from through the advertising of products. They, and their "curators," are blatantly stealing known copyrighted images and using them to make a profit. I found this out because one day I noticed our web analytics to show 5% of our web traffic was coming from Fancy.com. I followed the link to see if they reposted on of our blog posts, but I was just taken to a watch image selling a VERY well known watch brand with no credit to our website. There it was, an image we created now welling a 350 dollar watch. Not only did they take the image to sell product, but every time someone clicked on the image, our website traffic was being "taxed" so to speak. SO..... not only were they stealing the images from commercial photographers, but it appears that they are not footing the bill for the web traffic either. If you look at their website, you will see a pleathora of commercial images that could cost millions each year to create.
Upon inquiry to their legal department, and where we should send the bill, we were told that "Image sharing sites, including Fancy, fall under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and its limitation provision regarding user hosted communities. Upon notification of an alleged infringement, we are required to remove the user-generated content. Prior to your notification, we did not have direct knowledge of the user's alleged activity."
So according to Fancy and the DMCA, they can troll for great commercial images of products and use them to sell product. This is an insane concept and goes against everything commercial photographers work so hard for with usage rights and negotiating those terms. How many sites are currently doing this?
Are there any legal gurus in the community that know more about this or have experience with the DMCA?
Please, at the very least, tell the commercial photographers that you know about Fancy.com and what they are doing.
Same thing just happened to me. A guy called Dean Olson out of Sydney has copied my entire website with all of its content is using it for his own promotion.
and why should we care?
did you sue him..? no!
so this whole article is useless... because other people will not learn anything from your story.
sue the guy and make an example... that would justifie such a story.
but not your "i wish him all the best" blahblah...
why does everyone automatically go for the litigation route? I think the OP made a good judgement call. The only person that wins in a legal case are the lawyers, sometimes the embarrassment of being caught may be enough. Naming and shaming and finger pointing publicly before getting hold of the person is something I would say is a bad call. Writing an article on here without finalising the grievance is a bit childish. Also stating that you are the biggest photographer on the internet and creator of the massive video blah blah. I have never heard of you or seen your work, bit of ego in there. I would keep that in check. Great the problem managed to resolve itself, and a lot of contradicting yourself in the text. Also I find the wish him all the best very patronising, someone mucked up fine, they deserve a right to reply before writing a very egotistical article. The person was stupid, did something stupid and when corrected did the right thing and withdraw images. Chest beating on how great you are really turned me off on this article, and it was worth a paragraph.
You're a class act for not outing this guy and riling up photographers with their pitchforks.
same happen with me.. a friend of mine stole the photo I took and submit them to ISPWP competition but he still insist that it's his photo till today saying that he told me to press the camera which is totally BS >.<
You mean to tell me, that if I want to talk to you on the phone... all I have to do is take some of your images, post them on my website, and use them as my own portfolio?
I'll be talking to you in the future sir.. ;-)