Fstoppers Original: The Stolen Scream

Fstoppers Original: The Stolen Scream

What if you took a set of images that became so popular that it was used hundreds of times all around the world by hundreds of artists, businesses, websites, and publications? As photographers, it's what we all dream about but what if you were never paid for your work? What if you weren't even given credit? What if your images were stolen for years and you never had any idea? If there was ever a video to share, this is it. This is Noam Galai's story.



How I met Noam
Last year I was up in NYC for 2 weeks and I posted on Fstoppers that I wanted to have lunch with random Fstoppers readers for the next 10 business days. Each day I had lunch with a new reader and I met Noam at one of those lunch meetings.

Noam started telling me the story of the stolen scream and I was shocked. How could a set of images become so popular around the world without the creator knowing? How could Noam have such a positive outlook about his image being stolen so many times?

Why I made this video
Months went by and his story kept playing through my mind. I told every photographer I knew about his story and everyone was as captivated as me. It slowly dawned on me that I had to film a video and share his story with the world. Noam is an incredibly quiet and shy person and although he wasn't very excited about being on video, he finally agreed to let me film an interview.

My take on Noam's story
I'm not going to write out his whole story here because it would be impossible for me to write all of the details. Instead, I want to write about my personal experience and take on Noam's incredible story.

When Noam first told me about this I asked many of the same questions that people do when they first hear the story; "how much money did you make?" Have you sued any of these companies?" Do you watermark your images now?" I couldn't understand why Noam was so cool with people stealing his work. It wasn't until I got to interview him that I understood his point of view and how hypocritical my views were.

There is no way to know for sure but I bet if Noam had watermarked his images from the start, none of this would have happened including the Glimpse Magazine cover. The people that were looking for "free" images online would not have contacted him if his images were watermarked, they would have simply found another image to use. By allowing his images to be public, Noam has gotten to experience something that many artists would give anything for. In my opinion, this experience is worth more than any advertising agency could pay for the image. Noam has made almost no money on these images so far, but I believe the money will come. I know many, if not most of you, will disagree with me but I see Noam's Stolen Scream as an amazing example of art and the power of technology. I believe everything worked out for the best.

Who among us hasn't watched a copyrighted video online? Haven't we all illegally downloaded music or at the very least accepted a burned CD from a friend? How many of us currently have copied software on the very computers that we are reading this on? I'm not saying any of it is right but I think we have little room to point fingers.

Learn more about The Stolen Scream
To connect with Noam, learn more about his story, and submit more "scream" finds, check out www.thestolenscream.com. To help Noam make back some of the money on his image, buy some swag from his newly created store. I just bought a shirt yesterday.

Indonesian Translation Version:





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BLK PXLS's picture

The start of something HUGE!!!!!!!

Mathieu's picture

Great video again!!!

Lee Morris's picture

This story is going to start a heated debate. All I ask is that if you found it interesting, please share it. Let the battle begin.

taulen's picture

its scary to see hvow easy it is to have ones images "stolen", but yeah, if you at the same time can live from other of your photo-related work, or just do this as a hobby, wouldnt anyone want to have ONE of their images used around the world, from gigantic companys to the demostrants in Iran, even tough they maybe never get paid, for that ONE image. Can it help them, or will it do no good ? I dont know, but maybe Noah will in a couple of years. =)

taulen's picture

Sorry for the typo, NoaM of course.

David Oppenheimer's picture

Check out http://www.photoattorney.com

Register your photographs with the U.S. Copyright Office!

andy's picture

I have so much to say, but speechless at the same time! This is just absolutely wrong on so many levels, but revolutionary at the same time. It reminds me a lot of the famous Che Guevara photo by Alberto Korda!

In this day in age, we should be past the stealing. But I guess it's just begun!


JIMINYA Dallsbeep's picture

unfortunately, the only way to not have your pictures stolen so easily is to not post them on the web.
It sucks so many douchebags just take without asking.

Douglas Sonders's picture

i hope a lawyer sees this and sees the potential and helps him

Isaiah @ihaynes05's picture

Wow. Makes me change the way i look at Flickr and other sites like that. I don't even wanna put my personal vacation pictures up without a watermark now. Thanks for putting this guy's story out. Its nice that you guys use this platform to help the little people.

Daniel's picture

I was mad for Naom. Especially the graphic designers/photographers that have stolen his work.

Getty Images...you are wrong...love that!

Lee Morris's picture

Isn't anyone happy for him though? I must be the only one that sees all of this as a good thing.

Keith's picture

Wow, I wouldn't even know who to sue first...I completely agree with him in that when it's being used for graffiti and other forms of non-profit art I would probably be glad. Of course some credit for the work would be even better. But when people start making that much money on art that was stolen from someone else it's just downright horrible. I can't imagine making that decision before putting it on a shirt saying "no we don't need to pay anyone for this just go find something on flickr." I know this is an extreme case of what could happen but it just discourages people from sharing photos online through this type of service. And that is frightening.

Jeff Guyer's picture

Holy crap! It really is such a double-edged sword. Obviously, as an artist you hope to reach the broadest audience possible. But to have people commandeer your work-- steal it and spread it-- is so wrong on so many levels. As a former lawyer who left the practice seven years ago to pursue photography full-time, I would love to give Noam hope. The unfortunate reality, however, is that this thing has grown so big that nobody can rein it in at this point. As a fellow photographer/artist I am outraged for him. I have never posted my images on flickr...and now I most definitely never will.

Patrick Hall's picture

I've always personally run my photography business more as a service and getting money up front for my work rather than from royalties and prints. Licensing is def an important issue that should be taken seriously but I can see it in a positive light like Lee is suggesting too. I don't think Noam ever meant for this image to "sell" and it's not a traditional commerical image. That isn't to say he shouldn't be paid for his work but I personally think there is a difference in uploading a random fun photo and getting some traffic out of the blue vs going all out on a photoshoot and then having one of those images stolen and sold for a profit. But then again, I've never created an image seen around the world as much as Noam scream image :) I agree with Jeff, this is most definitely a double edged sword!

Milton Tan's picture

I would send each of those companies who make profit out of the photo an invoice if I were him.

Noam Galai's picture

I think people take it the wrong way. Flickr was and still is the BEST photo sharing site out there. I still post my best photos on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/noamg/) and you'll be surprised - but i get most of my clients from there. I sold photos to The Rolling Stones, to National Geographic, to Applebees, CNN, Fox, and many others. all those clients found me on Flickr.

Its not like people steal any photo you post there.

Matthew Anderson's picture

People and companies are opportunistic. You can't blame them for it. If you are in business as a photographer, you need to understand that your image is loosing financial value as it makes it's way around the world on a royalty free basis. Sorry Noam, but Getty hit it on the head - your image has lost value because nobody is going to pay for something that's been taken for free over and over again. They can't control it's use, and you can't either for that matter. My advice to new photographers out there is to consider your entire delivery system. Are you emailing photos around willy-nilly? I ended up with a similar situation to Noam's after a handful of my own images were emailed to a friend. About a year later they were plastered all over his adverts, catalogues, etc. with no photo credit, no payment, and no warning. I don't mean to sound negative, but the safe thing is to assume that someone wants to steal each image you post to your blog, Facebook, etc. Manage your assets accordingly. I learned my lesson the hard way like Noam.

dsenf's picture

I think it's great. But mind you, photography is just a hobby for me, it doesn't pay my rent. Sure, I was mad too, when one of my pictures was stolen by a magazine for the first time. But if you don't have to make a living off of it, it's nice to have people publish your pictures for you, as Noam said.

Noam Galai's picture

@Matthew Anderson - Getty had no idea about this story. They just saw the photo and said people wont use it...

Janne's picture

It's a double edged sword all right, but I think a part of this is because of the nature of the photo itself.

The t-shirts and the first magazine did it really wrong, since they used the original photo and the magazine even knew to call and thank Noam for it. National Geographic licensed the photo, so nothing wrong there.

The photo on the book cover was credited to another photographer which can be actually right. I didn't see the original photo there, just a graphic version of it. And as you saw on the video the photo is just the right kind for making it into a stencil or a graphic.

What I mean is that the credited photographer might have shot the photo of a graffiti on a wall never knowing about the original artist who made it let alone the person on the graffiti.

So can you sue a photographer for selling a photo of street art or the company who bought it? Well I guess in USA you could, but I don't know if it would end preferably anyway.

I guess the good thing is that you've gotten so much publicity off of this one photo that you couldn't buy that kind of "rep" with any amount of money.

Sure, it must be weird to see your face all over the world and on the internet, and it must be frustrating that people are making money without even crediting you.

On the other hand (if that's your reply Noam) you've sold photos to very big companies after this, so if even a part of those contacts came trough people knowing you on the back of this one photo, then I think it has been worth it.

mark Beaumont's picture

An excellent video, and thank you for posting and telling the story. To cut to the chase, if that was me, I'd be very, very happy. The exposure after the events, would be worth far more than any payment for that image. Photographers are way too hung up on getting money in their pocket, there are some things money can't buy. Noam, I wish you the best of luck, you will undoubtedly profit from this in the end.

CJ's picture

Great story. I'm glad to see that Noam found the bright side out of that. Awesome video as always, Lee.
@Noam- Awesome work on your Flickr. I really hope more eyes worldwide will see your work without exploiting it.

Dan Hebert's picture

I think that every magazine or publish should have the task of researching the image and finding out who it belongs to before they use it. How can a best selling publisher use and image without knowing where it came from?

mario's picture

Esto es parte de la vida de una obra, la reiterpretacion de oras es la clase de una sociedad visual. Deria estar feliz de que una imagen de convierta en signo tan poderoso. Hay que saber que las fotos que hacemos no son de nosotros si no del resto del mundo tambien.

Michael's picture

I can add a similar story to this one.

Not my picture, rather the work of a professional colleague from a nearby city. I am sure you have seen the photo of a pair of older adult hands praying with a baby's head cradled at the wrists, head bowed facing the hands. It is everywhere. I've seen it on bumper stickers, printed in newspapers for decades and on the 'net as well. Jim Carpenter took it when he was working for the Charlottesville (VA) Daily Progress newspaper back in the 70s, and it was first published in that paper. Jim has to date made about $10 off his work. He, too, is philosophical about it.

Moses's picture

Amazing story! I wonder if Banksy is behind some of Noam's face pictures on walls.

Jaymes Poudrier's picture

The problem isn't exposure, it's recognition. Everyone seems to think that it's all about being "seen", but what a photographer needs to operate comes with associating ones self with their work.

The image was stolen plain and simple. It became popular which is a great thing, but out of all the places it had been posted how many of those times had Noam gotten recognition for it? No one will go to him for photography BECAUSE of that image without first knowing that he was in fact the person depicted and/or the photographer behind the shot.

I do agree with what Janne said about the book and the photographer taking a picture of a wall. However, just because an image is open to public display does not mean it merits public distrobution/consumption. Would it be right to take a picture at an art gallery of an image someone painted, doctor the artowrk so it's a clean copy, then reprint and sell withyour name on it?

I think the worst part about being human is that we can legitamize anything. We tell ourselves that because we are doing it, it must be ok. That if no one can see you do it, that it never happened.

Hopefully this video will remedy some of the misinformed, at least in part. Good Luck Noam with all your future endeavors!

Serge's picture

This reminds me of that old Wilco song (what light).

I guess you have to take the bad with the GREAT! That image is going to outlive you or any money you might have ever made. This is an artists dream, not a capitalist's (for sure). I bet you can make other fantastic work (that pays) with such talent you have.
This story will spread the word for your side. People will know. They will look for you.
Good luck to you.

Eric DiFebbo's picture

This is nuts... I used tineye.com today and already found 3 of my images being used against my terms of use. I also did a lookup for a buddy of mine and he had almost 15 being used the same way. Goodbye public files!

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