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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Previous comments
Janne's picture

"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?"

It's a tricky situation. Clearly using a photo off someones Flickr, website or blog is not ok, but in this case the person knows he's crossing the line.

Same goes for going in an art gallery and taking a photo clearly having the purpose of reproduction of that painting. Not ok, but it does happen a lot.

Taking a photo of a graffiti on a wall requires much more thought. First of all, I'd say that the graffiti doesn't belong to the original owner anymore. Sure it represents the same image, but if someone had a right to that graffiti, it would be the graffiti artist (or a vandal) himself. He (might have) made the stencil and he did the spraying on the wall creating his own art.

The second thing is that I didn't know about this photo until today and I surely didn't know the story behind it. But if I saw this sprayed on a wall, took a photo of it (like I often do) and someone would offer to buy it from me for a book cover, I don't think I'd turn him down. Sure, it's someones "art", but due to the nature of the graffiti they'll hardly sign their creations so I wouldn't feel guilty about selling it. On top of that, the "scream" could be only a part of a much wider scene and the book publisher just extracts that part of the photo after reviewing it.

I'm not trying to defend misuse of photographs, but when you think about it, if everything was "trademarked", photographers couldn't sell for example a photo of the famous Sydney opera house. And I can't even try to think how many photos people have taken of it and sold as fine art, post cards etc. I'm also willing to bet that Jørn Utzon hasn't made too much money off of the photos sold.

A double edged sword indeed.

James Bass's picture

That's a pretty incredible story & he is essentially powerless to do anything about it. Shame.

BLK PXLS's picture

My background in graphic design is what really got me back into photography. I purchased a cheap d70 just to take my own stock photography. I could not afford stock photos when I started freelancing. My budgets where not big enough to spend $100us on a image when im only making 300-400 on each project. I've had serveral clients bring me fuzzy print outs from the web and ask me to redraw them in vectors so the can blow them up. Theres not much we can do about it...but I like Noam's take on it......if they didnt steal it ...who would see it??? Thats why i create ....just so another being sees,hears,touches,and thinks about what I create. So Just keep creating it will pay off one day......Or Just call the FBI, if the can raid flea markets for bootleg dvds....im sure theres a law somewhere...

Jaymes Poudrier's picture

@ Janne: I completely agree with the reasoning, it's still seems like if you would be forging paintings. I don't think I could sell something not having a clear understanding of where the source material came from. I can see people emulating the idea, doing a shoot that is similiar but with original subject matter, but certainly not the same derivitive work. If someone stole your television, sold it to a pawn shop who then sold it to someone else. The property may not be handled in the same condition, but it is the same television and it is still stolen property. No two pictures of a building are the same, fundamentally yes, but the conditions for which you would need to make a duplicate are not. At the end of the day you aren't claiming to have designed/built the building you've photographed..

Robert's picture

That image is becoming very Che Guevara like, if it were mine I'd sell 100 signed - certified high quality limited edition prints 16x20. Starting price $400USD which then increases by $40USD every time a print is sold. Put up a website to promote the sales, I'd guess that they will sell out within a year.

Everyone maybe copying but who has a signed limited copy by the artist / photographer?

I believe this is the only way to recover some respect and earn a decent amount of dollars.

Jaymes Poudrier's picture

@ Robert: I like where your mind is at! I'm not certain how fast it would sell but it sounds like a great idea to me. Bring back some exclusivity to the fold.:)

Nicholas gonzalez's picture

I am left with such mixed feelings for Noam's powerful story. We, creatives, think it's the work we want to be seen, but that's halfway toward the truth; We want people, ultimately, to be witnesses of us.

By showing this story, Lee Morris and every one at fstoppers, have given the utmost respect and credit due to Noam Galai.

Janne K's picture

Wow, great story! He has absolutely great attitude towards this what has happened to his work. As a producer I'm appalled that some people are using his work for gaining profit without compensating him, and even worse, selling his work as their own! But as a guy wielding a camera, I'm even slightly envious (but in the most positive way), since what I (and I think most of us) really want the most is to inspire others. And he indeed has done so with his work. All the best for Noam, count me among those you have inspired!

David Keller's picture

Noam Galai has a posse

Joshua Chase's picture

Wow, sucks that so many people profited off his photograph. Hopefully some will see this story who have used it and maybe be honest and decent and pay up some royalties, but I doubt it. Great story.

Janne's picture

"If someone stole your television, sold it to a pawn shop who then sold it to someone else. The property may not be handled in the same condition, but it is the same television and it is still stolen property. No two pictures of a building are the same, fundamentally yes, but the conditions for which you would need to make a duplicate are not. At the end of the day you aren’t claiming to have designed/built the building you’ve photographed."

This is an interesting conversation, so I'll reply.

Your analogy goes well for selling or using the straight off photographs from the web or any other place, but I wouldn't agree when it comes to the stencil/graffiti/graphic parts.

I'd say that in that case someone would see your television, leave out the innards and fabricate something that vaguely looks like your television. I'd also say that no two spraypaintings or photographs of this spraypainting will be the same.

And as a photographer I wouldn't claim that I'd done the graffiti either, just created my own art in the form of a photograph. It may or may not have my artistic impression showing, but it's still my photograph.

The real problem of course is the lack of information. I'd of course comply and respect the copyright of the creator, but when the photo or should I say image is reproduced by a third party or 300th party, how would you know anymore where the credit should go.

This issue is pretty much the same as pirated movies, music or software with a bit of a twist. And as we well know, that conversation is a perpetual motion machine with an endless amount of loopholes :D

Noam Galai's picture

update #1: I just got a long email from one of the artists in the Netherlands (the one i talk about in the video). I guess someone emailed her the video. She explained her side of the story, apologized in any way possible, and offered to compensate for her mistake. I got a feeling we are going to work together on something rather than go to court :) sorry to disappointed all of you. My main rule about this whole thing is NOT to sue people, just companies. Suing people for no real good reason (like my case) can destroy someone's life in a minute.

Steven Hyatt's picture

I want to commend you on your attitude, Noam.

Jaymes Poudrier's picture

@Janne: Great response! It's difficult to come up with a great support from my end because the topic largely depends on applying generalization to variable degrees of infraction.

I would say, when in doubt leave it out. :)

I think that pirated movies, music, and software a bit different. In that it is unlikely that you would not know your downloading the summers newest blockbuster, or downloading your favorite artists music. Software is kind of the same. The publishers of this content make avaialble to you all the information you need to acquire, therefore you should do your due diligence to research the content before taking it as your own.

Your right though, it is an endless spiral of back and forths. :P

Alvin Toro's picture

Noam, I really admire you for embracing the situation and making the best of it. In this business there are those who are penny wise and those who are dollar stupid. You've chosen to be the former and I truly believe in the end it will pay off. These days, anyone with a little imagination and a cellphone can create a good image. But in an ocean of visual pollution you've created a timeless piece that has resonated in the hearts of people around the world and risen above the rest. The reach you've gained with the image is priceless and your focus should not be in putting your work on a vault so no one can steal it but to spread the word to everyone out there that the work is yours. In the end success will not just come to you because you are good at what you do, but because you are good at who you are. From what I can see you are a master at both.

sam madino's picture


I had my images stolen and published on the COVER of national magazine. I didn't get anything for it. At least you are getting a lot of fame and had one sold. Consider yourself lucky and how you are getting global attention and fame as result of it. Stop fighting it and use your new fame to sell more photos....

Casper's picture

Hi Noam,

I sent Wietske a message via Twitter in Dutch, basicly saying it was not ok to use your image and not reply to the email you sent her. Nice to hear you guys are hooking up now. If you ever need a third (photography) wheel to your wagon... ;)

Your attitude in this is awesome, I hope you guys can make something nice out come out of this.


Wei Han Frank Lin's picture

this truly epic! wow!

Beach's picture

This really is such a powerful story. I have a feeling it will really gain a large following, as it should. Big things ahead for Noam, without a doubt.

And everyone who hasn't really needs to check out his other work (http://galai.com/noamgalai/NEW3/photos.htm). He has a true talent for capturing powerful moments with his photography.

The comments referring to the famous image of Che Guevara are very interesting, mainly because none of them refer to it as "Guerrillero Heroico, Alberto Korda's famous image of Che Guevara" :) It's worth reading the Wikipedia article.. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guerrillero_Heroico

Noam strikes me as a really amazing person, and I think he has a healthy outlook on the whole issue. I'm very happy for him on an artistic level... I mean, his work is having global impact on a sociopolitical level. That's not something a whole lot of people can say.

It's rather unfortunate that he's not realizing a commensurate impact on his bank account, but when all the dust settles I imagine Noam will be content.

Kudos to the Fstoppers team for recognizing what an amazing story this is and making the effort to get it out there into the world.

Lee Morris's picture

I don't know how it's done, but someone needs to make Noam a Wiki page.

Anthony Kurtz's picture

The funny thing is that it upsets me more when artists steal images like this then when big business does. I expect companies to do that...but artists stealing from other artists, I just think it's lame.


Eric's picture

When I first saw this awesome video I immediately thought of the clenched fist image of Frank Cieciorka. An image almost synonymous with the civil rights movement in the US. I'm sure Frank didn't make all he could from the work itself but the lasting legacy of the image is priceless. I think Noam has captured one of these types of images.
I don't condone using images without permission but I think Noam will make out OK in this. Thanks Fstoppers for shining the light on this story with another awesome video production.

Lee Morris's picture

@Anthony, We use everything as inspiration though. This whole story about the baby gap shirt seems ridiculous to me: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cdevers/5402217217/ . Yes, they may have started out with that image but it is totally different now and that photograph is not selling shirts, the simple design is. In my opinion, if anyone should get paid, it's the designer of the car.

The interesting thing about Noam's image is that it is actually his face so it is a bit easier to pick out.

Noam Galai's picture

By the way - thank you all for the super nice comments! and for all the people who emailed and tweeted. I feel like i have an army of photographers behind me

Joshua Cunliffe's picture

Sue. Those. Mother. Hubbards.

Patrick Hall's picture

One thing that always amuses me is the litigation option. How can you sue these people when you don't know where the ads and banners originated and can't read the language it is written in? I think organizing a legal team to go after many of these guys would cost more than you would ever get from them and much more than the money you would make off licensing your image. I've always thought if someone wants to use an image for free then the moment you tell them how much your image costs they will just go another route.

Lee Morris's picture

Exactly... I bet the only thing he could possibly get money from would be the book cover and even that is a long shot.

Udi's picture

"An excellent video, and thank you for posting and telling us 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"


Bruce's picture

Rather than explain the whole thing, here's my story:


Beach's picture

I agree completely Patrick.

Several years ago I had a copyright issue on a much, much smaller scale and spoke to an intellectual property attorney.

First, if the image wasn't registered with the US Copyright Office, all that you can sue for is actual damages (ie, what they would have had to pay you if they had licensed it to begin with).

Additionally, it seems like most of the uses of the image are outside of the USA. That would only further compound the difficulty of any legal proceedings.

Also, I think that the public has gotten increasingly sick and tired for some time now of the "sue first, ask questions later" mentality.

When it comes down to it, I think that the way things have happened are probably the best possible outcome for an artist. The image has taken on a life of its own because it speaks to people.

And now that the scope of its usage has come to light, I have a feeling that Noam will get more positive attention than he'll know what to do with.. and certainly more than he ever would have if the image had been used WITH his permission from the start.

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