This Guy Stole Photography From The Wrong Person... Me

This Guy Stole Photography From The Wrong Person... Me

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.

3

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 websiteupdatebelow
We found him advertising on other websites
updatebelow
We found him on Craigslist
updatebelow
We found him on Youtube
updatebelow

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.

updatebelow
As I continued through "his portfolio" I noticed one shot that looked like something I would take, but it wasn't my shot. After reviewing John's actual work, I knew he wasn't good enough to take it so I did a little more research. I noticed that the trees in the background looked familiar... in fact, this shot was taken about 1 minute from my house at Boone Hall Plantation. After doing a Tineye search for that image I realized that he had stolen this picture from my friend Leigh Webber, another great wedding photographer in town.

updatebelow
Now I know a lot of photographers would be furious about this but honestly it didn't really bother me. I think John was pretty stupid for trying to get away with using my pictures as his own, especially when some of my pictures are so well known publicly, but I doubt he is booking any work and this isn't effecting my business in any way. I was going to just forget the whole thing ever happened but a few friends convinced me to give John a call.

 

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.

Log in or register to post comments

112 Comments

Previous comments
David Crockett's picture

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

Andre Goulet's picture

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.

Mike

grimmywest's picture

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...

Troy St. Louis's picture

Good job Lee.  There is so much of this going around.  Awesome DVD by the way!

Markal Firenzi's picture

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??

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.. ;-)