Volvo in Legal Battle After Stealing Photographer's Work, Claim Photos Posted on Instagram Are Fair Game for Usage

Volvo in Legal Battle After Stealing Photographer's Work, Claim Photos Posted on Instagram Are Fair Game for Usage

Earlier this year, a photographer and model launched a lawsuit against Volvo, citing copyright infringement, after the car manufacturer used images the pair had taken without permission. Volvo is trying to win the case by claiming all public Instagram posts are fair game and can be taken and used freely.

Photographer Jack Schroeder and model Britni Sumida found themselves in the center of the legal battle following a personal shoot they both organized for their own respective portfolios. After posting the images, which featured a Volvo S60 sedan, Volvo made contact with Schroeder on several occasions to request using the images, but never did they offer any sort of financial compensation.

The photographer instead emailed Volvo to inquire about whether they wished to license the images, but received no reply. Later in the year, he then spotted that his own images had been posted to several Volvo social media accounts, including Instagram and Pinterest.

But aside from the pair understandably being irritated at the lack of financial compensation, there was also the deeper issue of model Sumida now being in violation of a contract she had signed with a different car manufacturer.

Now, Volvo is fighting dirty to try to avoid facing any consequences, stating that Instagram permits re-sharing of any public photo, which the photo-sharing app has spoken on and denied in the past. Volvo is claiming that Schroeder “granted Volvo a direct license to re-share the Instagram photographs” simply by having his Instagram account set to public. The company is referring directly to Instagram’s terms of service in regards to user content being allowed to be “re-shared by others” once made public, which undoubtedly refers to embedding as opposed to just stealing and passing of work as your own.

Volvo also claims that Behance, the platform from which they took some of Schroeder’s pictures, allows them to use the images, as tagging Volvo “granted Volvo an implied non-exclusive license to share the Instagram photographs.”

What’s more, Volvo took a personal swipe at the model and photographer, insisting they “continue to exploit the brand, image, reputation, and substantial social media reach of a venerable automotive company to promote themselves professionally.”

Speaking to PetaPixel, Jeff Gluck, one of the photographer and model’s lawyers, said:

It goes without saying that Volvo’s argument has absolutely zero legal merit and we look forward to further educating their counsel during trial. We will make sure that this case proceeds to a final verdict in order to protect the creative rights of millions of people.

Is Volvo playing ignorance and manipulating Instagram’s legal guidelines in order to suit their own benefit?

Lead image by Erik Mclean from Pexels.

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45 Comments

Ivan Lantsov's picture

this why i not post pictrs people steal and use them, they very bad!

Brook Brown's picture

It looks like the artists may actually have a case.

Scott Hussey's picture

So, if I'm reading this correctly, we all now have complete authority to use any and all photos discovered on Volvo's social media accounts. Right?

Chris Edwards's picture

Time to composite photos of Volvos running people over.

Scott Hussey's picture

Here's their Facebook header photo.

Phil Wright's picture

HAHAHAHA!!! I can't like this enough.

M Tucker's picture

It’s just and emotional feeling, someone took from us a picture, file, thing that they didn’t have the right to do. This happens everyday, in some form. Playing together always works better. Corporations are not thieves, they just want “cheap” to meet a quick need. At the end the value of this picture was insignificant to the scope of the issue. Our rights. If we feel the need to “protect” our product a simple watermark will do.

Percy Ortiz's picture

we shouldn't feel the need to "protect" our product in the first place

Dave F's picture

1) Value may be subjective, but that doesn't grant you authority to set the price on somebody else's work.
2) "Wanting" cheap isn't stealing, but taking without permission is.

Sorry, you're objectively wrong here.

Dave Dundas's picture

Volvo stole his work... don't tell me they're not thieves. In this case, yes they are. Full stop. You think Volvo isn't paying their lawyer more than the original images would have cost? I'll take that bet, this is bull.

Robert Nurse's picture

Volvo is probably paying more in legal fees than if they just did the right thing in the first place.

Erpillar Bendy's picture

The lawyers like it that way.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I sure hope they make an example out of Volvo.

Brahm Sterling's picture

Why grown ups never joined.

N A's picture

I'm gonna be contrarian and side with Volvo on this one. The car is clearly featured in the photos. If it was just sitting in the background that would be one thing. The shots are advertisements that the photographer and model tried to get Volvo to pay licensing fees for. It's Volvo's product, they have every right to use the photos.

I also side with celebs. You shoot an unsolicited image of Miley or Tay Tay, that's their image, their likeness you're trying to monitize. Their face, their rights imo.

Photographers get a pass because the law (in US) assigns copyright to the person that presses the shutter button. Philosophically that's questionable. The subject should have at least equal claim to the photo IF it's unsolicited by the subject. If there is a photographer/subject contract in place that's a different story. I'll extend this to street and public event photography. I don't think a venue should be able to capitilize on a patron just because they happen to be on venue property for example.

Subjects need more rights over their likeness.

John Nixon's picture

You make a very good point. I was firmly on the side of the photographer and model on this one - until I read this. Now, I’m not so sure, I think Volvo at least have a case.
However, it could have been dealt with better, the winners will be the lawyers, as usual.

Grant Schwingle's picture

While this is an interesting point you are missing the initial interaction. IIRC the photographer and model did this shoot in order to try to book this type of work. Volvo reaches out to them and asks to post the pictures - the photographer says sure if you pay me - it is the photographers work. The photographer went out, found a model, found a car, bought their camera and lenses, learned how to use equipment (possibly going to school for it), and ultimately did the work to create these images. Yet, we are allowing Volvo to take these images free of cost and use it in their marketing? Oh hell naw. An ~$11B company that sells 700k cars per year can afford to pay someone for their work - especially when it comes to marketing. Not only that, but if this closed in Volvo's favor we set an extremely dangerous precedent for using work found on social media platforms.

The images of celebs is kind of a different thing all together in my opinion - it's someone's face so I don't always side with the paparazzo that aim to profit from this.

N A's picture

I'll reread the article. If it was a general call to the public for enthusiasts who love their cars I'll still go with Volvo. People love showing off their brand loyalty and don't expect to be compensated for it.

If Volvo contacted the photographer and asked for photos that's different; a blatant grab for free advertising then yeah I agree with you.

Neu Porabno's picture

So you are saying that if I shoot a football match at Camp Nou stadion and the stadion is clearly in sight and stands out that they have the right to use the image without compensation?
Or if I shoot a rock band as a concert photographer (or a fan with a phone from 1st row) and only band is on the images that they have rights to use the images for free?
Or are you saying that Ferarri can use any images from F1 race from any photographer where only their car is seen? Huh.. good luck.

Dave F's picture

Disagree. There’s so much I could write about this but I’ll keep it brief and simply make this one point, at least for now:

Copyright aside (which IS the law, like it or not): companies like Volvo pay for product placement all the time, in all sorts of mediums, not the other way around. Meaning, even if Volvo doesn’t get to use the image themselves, THEY are still benefiting from the photographer shooting their car, because they’re getting free promotion. They’re getting product placement without having to pay for it.

And that’s what makes all these companies who steal images (especially when their product, brand, store, etc are featured) especially sh**ty: they end up getting a free ride not once, but twice. They try to claim they have a right to an image (they don’t) simply because they are represented, in some way, in the image, and feel they shouldn’t have to pay to use the image for whatever they want. The irony being that when they are denied usage without proper compensation, they feel they’ve “lost” or been “cheated” out of something, when in reality they’ve ALREADY GAINED free product placement.

So yes, I call that greedy.

N A's picture

Product placement and brand loyalty are odd. Two sides of the same coin imo.

In big budget feature films there's value for companies like Volvo since the reach is enormous. It's worth paying for. In one random photographer's portfolio, probably not. I think there's a threshold in terms of reach and overall value where who's entitled to compensation inverts.

A small time photographer stands to profit off a product's brand recognition, particularly if it's trending.

A manufacturer stands to profit off large scale distribution in cinema, television (streaming) and print campaigns.

It's a matter of scale. If you're the smaller of the two entities you're the one who's likely being carried by the recoginition of the other.

In this case I'd say a photographer stands to profit more off Volvo than Volvo does off the photographer. There are thousands, maybe millions, of photos where Volvo's products are featured. One more picture won't make much of a difference unless it's an exceptional image. In a month or two the images will be buried in a mountain of other photos. It wouldn't make a difference to Volvo if these shots were never published. They just don't have that kind of value and Volvo treats it as such. It's ethically questionable but if we think Volvo's going to sell thousands more cars because of these photos in particular... I doubt it.

To the photographer, otoh, it's a big deal. That's his time, skill, effort, etc etc. I don't think he should be getting screwed by Volvo but in the end I don't think his name or photos will sell more cars.

But... Volvo in the frame will put his photos in front of more people than the human model will alone. We all know exposure doesn't pay the bills but there's more value to the photographer getting his photos viewed by millions of Volvo fans.

IG Stats
jackschroedercreative (photographer) 11.9k followers
britni_nicolee (model) 38.1k followers
volvocarusa 223k followers

Jack & Britni are small time. Volvo's account isn't huge either but it still has 5x the reach.

Photographers need to be more contientious about the legailities of what they shoot. Any work where a brand is prominently features needs to have a contract in place to ensure compensation.

Never shoot a product without a contract that clearly states the compensation parameters. Maybe this guy had one, no idea but if he didn't that's a rookie mistake. Get it in writing before you press the shutter button, always.

TBH I think everyone sucks here. Trying to make $$ off each other and looking foolish in the process.

Pierre Dasnoy's picture

To make it simple :

The photographer bought a volvo. The volvo is his, he can do whatever he wants with it.
He makes "advert type" photos of the car, for his portfolio.
Volvo finds it and takes pro-level photographs for its own business promotion, without asking.

You buy flour,
You make a cake out of it.
The flour company comes get your cake and sells it for itself.

Shooting personalities is different : it's someone's face on the picture, not a good. Far from comparable, though still under the law of copyright.

N A's picture

The difference is, flour in a cake is not the identifying characteristic of the cake. It's not the flour anyone's going to talk about when they eat it. The chocolate, the icing, the decorations, those things attract attention, not flour. A baker uses those raw materials to create their own finished product. You can't readily identify the type of flour used unless the bag is pictured in the frame. If the bag is in the frame, well, maybe that's fair game.

A car is a finished product. The human model in the Volvo photos is more or less decoration. The car is the subject.

The photographer may be trying to monetize Volvo's intellectual property. I need to reread the article to get a better sense of the photographer's and Volvo's intent.

That aside, it's somewhat like music imo. You can buy a CD and own the physical medium. You DO NOT own the music. The copyright is held by the publisher. You can't start a pirate radio station and broadcast that music. You certainly can't use the music in an advertisement to make money.

Same deal with the car in my opinion. Yeah you might own the the raw materials but the design, engineering and overall aesthetic of the vehicle belongs to Volvo.

I agree Volvo should not have taken the images and posted them, that's just bad form. But if the car is the subject that's their IP on display, they have every right to broadcast their own IP.

I guess the question is, how much value do the photos have if the car is removed?

Grant Schwingle's picture

That is not the question. There's a clear cut precedent here and despite Volvo designing and producing the car they DO NOT own ALL images of the car in perpetuity - that is absolutely ridiculous. Sure the IP is their own, which entitles them to what? Photos of the car? NO. Renderings and drawings of the car that were used in it's design and creation. YES. Photographs are registered to the photographer. Clear and simple Volvo is trying to bully this photographer out of the money he should be paid for his work.

N A's picture

>Photos of the car? NO.
Yeah, actually. The photographer made the conscious decision to shoot a manufacturer's product with the intent of getting paid. In the absence of a contract he's not entitled to Volvo's money.

I've never agreed with the US copyright principle that the photographer exclusively owns the copyright. It should be shared equally between the photographer and the subject, animate or otherwise, unless exclusivity is clearly stipulated in a contract.

I think we all agree Volvo are a bunch of douchebags for posting the images. They should have just left it alone. The car is their design, their IP and their brand recognition the photographer is attempting to use for his own gain.

If there's a contract and Volvo violated the terms, lawsuit. Otherwise, the photographer is just another creative trying to land a deal with a major manufacturer by putting the cart before the horse. So many photogs do this now. Hell, pet owners are dressing up their dogs in name brand apparel and begging for sponsorships. Brands are riding this free advertising trend because they can.

Pierre Dasnoy's picture

I was writing a lot, but you gave yourself away :
It's the music on the CD that is worth money. Like these pictures on instagram.
And if the guitarist plays a Fender (guitars and amps with recognisable sounds), and even poses with it on the cover, Fender won't get money from that CD. And that's logical.
And if Fender still wants to make an advert with it, they can either give money to the artist, or get him as ambassador, following a contract. Like here with those photos and volvo.

N A's picture

>It's the music on the CD that is worth money
Yes

>Like these pictures on instagram
No

In product photography, which this is, pictures in and of themselves have no value. It's the car that gives them value. Take the music off a CD and what do you have? A coaster. You could argue that the plant that makes CDs thinks they're very valuable. They put alot of time and effort into inventing and mass producing CDs. CDs are the medium that gets music heard. Photographs are the medium that gets subjects seen. Outside the production line very few people care about medium.

Subject matter is what we're talking about.

picture = cd
car = music

The presence of the car in the photo makes the photo worth monetizing. Take out the car and the photo is just a model standing on a dirt road. The value has gone from something to nothing for this particular target audience. No offense to the model; she's not the subject of these images. The sole value in these pictures is Volvo's intellectual property. The photographic medium is irrelevant.

Photographers value the image itself. We understand the creative process. We are attached to our work.

No one else cares. That's why photographers and other artists are often asked to work for free, and unfortunately frequently do.

Virtually everyone other than photographers, models and art directors value subject matter. Why do old out of focus polaroids have so much value to some people? Subject matter.

Just like no one really cares about CD manufacturers, no one really cares about photographers. We're just part of the assembly line that gets subject matter into the hands of consumers.

>Fender
How often do you actually see gear in photos in CD liner notes? Maybe in the background but not front and center. Endorsements are typically listed in the liner notes. There is likely a contractual obligation there. Put our brand name in your CD jacket and we'll give you a discount. Magazines are a different thing. Brand names are prominently displayed in article photos but the musicians that get the most pages are big names with a large audience. You don't see up and coming musicians getting much space in magazines. There's a symbiosis where a great guitartist can put a product into the hands of many aspiring young musicians and a good manufacturer can use its advertising potential to push that musician further. Magazines link the two and profit off both the musician and instrument brands.

As far as recognizable sounds go, amp modeling like AXE-FX makes synthesizing vintage amps easy. You can't tell if it's a actually a Fender anymore. A lot of artists are touring with a compact rack of electronics because they're easier to maintain and it's possible to build 1:1 redundancy. No more running around looking for 12AX7s at 9pm. Been there, done that. Sucks. Gotta keep spares on hand :)

Pierre Dasnoy's picture

https://www.google.com/search?q=guitar+on+album+cover&rlz=1C1OKWM_frPF79...

Wrong again.
Volvo would be the artist of these pictures ? Come on.
A photographer is an art support ? Really ? Zombie man, ok, not a photographer.

The actual difference is what kind of client make the art worth money.

In music, the fans buy cd's or stream music on spotify, and that brings money to the artists.
Or a brand gives money to them for playing their instruments and talk about them.

These pictures were supposed to go into a portfolio, since the photographer can't brand himself a "car photographer" without this kind of picture to show (Right ? Understandable ?)
Then Volvo finds them good, asks to use them, but didn't answer when they were told a price, and just used them without mensioning.

But keep talking if you want, I'm out.

Grant Schwingle's picture

@NA - I mean you can disagree with copyright law, but you're still wrong here.

Dave Dundas's picture

"I've never agreed with the US copyright principle that the photographer exclusively owns the copyright"

It doesn't matter AT ALL if you agreed with it, it is IN FACT, the law. end of story. Not liking it is perfectly fine, but does not change the fact that it is THE LAW. You don't get to pick and and choose which laws you're willing to agree with, and deny any consequences for breaking others. Volvo broke that law, and looks like an ass too, but that's a different topic. It really is that simple, and I expect that to be explained to them in court too, I also expect that Volvo already knows that as well, but we'll see I guess.

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