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:





Lee Morris's picture

Lee Morris is a professional photographer based in Charleston SC, and is the co-owner of Fstoppers.com

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

Great video again!!!

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.

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. =)

Sorry for the typo, NoaM of course.

Check out http://www.photoattorney.com

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

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!


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.

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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!

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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

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!

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.

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!

"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.

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

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...

@ 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..

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.

@ 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.:)

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.

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!

Noam Galai has a posse

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.

"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

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.

I want to commend you on your attitude, Noam.

@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

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.


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....

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.


this truly epic! wow!

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.

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

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