UK Magazine Blames Stock Photo Site for Stolen Photo Used on Cover

UK Magazine Blames Stock Photo Site for Stolen Photo Used on Cover

Prominent photographer Nadav Kander recently found his portrait of David Lynch on the cover of UK magazine The Big Issue. The problem is he never provided the portrait that was used and the image looks to be a photograph of his photograph which was purchased on stock photo site Alamy.

Copyright theft is becoming bigger and more problematic for photographers and other artists with the internet free-for-all that search engines help perpetuate and the lack of understanding of the general public who don’t work in the art space. That should be where this story would end, but it seems that magazines, stock photo sites, and even other photographers posting work that is not their own are profiting from copyright theft.

This past week, the UK magazine The Big Issue released their newest issue with a cover image portrait of David Lynch. The original image was taken by Nadav Kander with his prominent lighting and personal techniques on full display. The image that The Big Issue used is allegedly a photo of a photo that was taken by another photographer where the portrait was on display at a gallery. This photo of the original portrait was then allegedly placed on the stock photography site Alamy where The Big Issue magazine purports to have purchased the photo from.

Going down the rabbit hole and some sleuthing does bring up the Alamy image that was previously being sold by a photographer with shadows being cast across the framed portrait and the black frame and wall the image is hung from in the photo itself. The cover image has been cropped in, presumably by someone from The Big Issue’s art department, to remove the wall and frame, but the shadows are still viewable in the cover image. I would believe that an art department worth their salt would have seen the original image in the cover prep and removed it from consideration, but there could have been other considerations that did not allow this to go noticed.

The Big Issue did respond to Nadav Kander on instagram with a comment that states:

[Kander], we’re very sorry you feel aggrieved. This image was sourced by the art team. They discovered it on Alamy. It’s a great image that we felt would help move the magazine.

It seems that The Big Issue is attempting to lay blame on the stock site Alamy rather than having a higher expectation of their art department when sourcing imagery. Kander also added in his statement on Instagram that the photographer who allegedly sold the image on Alamy states on their site that permission should be sought before using their work.

The Big Issue was contacted for comment but has yet to respond at the time this article was written.

Copyright infringement can happen to anyone whether a small town photographer or a national portrait artist. Whether you are the former or latter and in the USA, check out the CASE Act that is working its way through Congress and reach out to your state representatives to put your support behind your copyright protection.

Lastly, how do you feel about this sort of image theft and those who profit from it? Let us know in the comments below.

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Hector Belfort's picture

Interesting article. So what is a photograph of a photograph and who owns it. If it were a car or a painting would it be different? Everything we photograph is almost someone else’s work ( especially if you believe god does the nature parts ).
Picasso once said good artists copy great artists steal .
If I were Kander I’d be upset. The photographer puttting it on Almany is questionable, Almany selling it is very questionable, the Big Issue using it is even more questionable especially if the cropped it.
Could be all innocent mistakes. Kander might do well out of this.
I have his book where that photo is on the cover. It’s is a great portrait

JT Blenker's picture

Without a change to the original image other than cropping it’s pretty much cut and dry theft when a photo of a photo is taken. Now is it malicious due to the profit motive? There are three levels of theft here as well where there is an expectation knowledgable individuals and companies that should have stopped this in its tracks. Alamy has removed the image already on copyright grounds it seems (though they haven’t scrubbed their site as the link is posted to the sold image in the article). Dancing around the nebulous position that all art is theft because there is nothing new simply doesn’t hold water anywhere.

Dan Howell's picture

I don't think that the 'photographer' who copied the gallery print and knowingly uploading to Alamy is the worst player. Yes, the magazine's staff should have recognized the image/style but it is defensible that they relied on Alamy in the past for images. The image should have not gotten past Alamy's quality control, so they share some of the blame.

Eric Mazzone's picture

Flat out, the original photographer owns the copyright of the second photo, as that second photo is a derivative work and all derivatives are property of the original creator.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Go after the user, the magazine. Let it trickle down from the top. They all have more to lose between each other as far as relations. Going just after the photographer allows Alamy to feel more powerful.

JT Blenker's picture

That’s a position that should be debated. Alamy doesn’t have the ability to monitor its catalog but reaps the benefits of copyright infringement.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

If they can't monitor their catalog why do they do business in the first place? Clearly could be looked as intentional fraud.

JT Blenker's picture

Completely agree.

Mr Blah's picture

They can't monitor their catqalog? really?

They could implement a simple comparison to what is indexed in google images to look for copyrighted matches...

They just don't want to.

JT Blenker's picture

I would believe the amount of images being uploaded to the site is probably beyond what a reasonable amount of load on any system would be able to keep up with to pull out possible infringing images. It’s likely on an honor system like most social media is today. There is then the ability to lay blame on the uploader over the selling of the copyrighted material rather than take any accountability for hosting the material in the first place.

Mr Blah's picture

Taxes in Canada are an honor system. I could not declare anything for a few years and not get caught. But if I get controlled, there will be swift and massive fines to go along the unpaid taxes.

Here we have an honor system with 0 will from the stock website to penalise infringement once they are notified.

That's not an honor system if it's not being enforced when a challenge is being raised.

Keir Smith's picture

It's worth pointing out The Big Issue is a non-profit magazine to benefit the homeless. They might not have acted very professionally here, but it's a bit much to sue a homelessness charity.

JT Blenker's picture

But does an organization that provides a social benefit deserve to be absolved from the repercussions of there willful actions and ignorance at the detriment of a solo creator? They cite that they are a professionally curated and created magazine that sources there work through ethical means. Is it the antithesis of there value statement by not holding themselves in any way responsible for the expectation a professional would have in sourcing imagery?

Benoit Pigeon's picture

So take from one to give the other just because you are a not for profit. Sounds totally wrong.
Not for profit or not is 100%, absolutely no excuse. May be asking the photographer to donate a one time right to use the image would be ok, but remember they point at Alamy, meaning the intention was planned either in error or not, but planned.

Lee Christiansen's picture

True it may be a not-for-profit charity - however, staff get paid, the CEO gets paid, they take out insurance for things because they have liabilities... Not-for-profit doesn't mean they make no money - it just means they essentially don't hold profits in a big reserve.

I would guess that the photographer would sue Big Issue, who would then sue Alamy. If Alamy is taking money for services to which is has no rights to then should be held accountable. I'm guessing they in turn should sue the original submittor of the copied photograph.

At the end of the day, there is a limit to who can be sued. The photographer could also sue Alamy for distributing his image for financial gain as well as the person who supplied Alamy, but the returns may be less.

Alas, "good faith" doesn't always cut it. If I buy a stolen car "in good faith," I'm still going to lose out when the car owner turns up and says "oy...!"

But if Alamy can't be sure of the pedigree of all its stock, then it needs to make good when things fall foul. And I'd expect them to go after the submitter pretty quick as well.

Eric Mazzone's picture

Non-profit organization doesn't mean they don't have a profit motive.

Dan Howell's picture

I would not say the magazine carries the most blame. It is easily possible that they have an account/history of successfully buying legit images from Alamy and other stock libraries and considered this within normal work flow. The uploading photographer committed knowing fraud. Alamy should have detected in their approval process. To 'go after' the magazine is to MISS the real problems.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

The way I see it, the more impact is to go against who published it since no one else did but the magazine. The more misery between the 3 parties at fault as it trickles down to the image provider. The least they will trust each other and learn to be more careful.
I have done this once to a cheap agency that hired me and ignored my calls and emails for extremely late payment. I send the bill tho their clients who never replied but the agency paid me right away as in same day. From there we did business as usual, I got paid on time, but the agency eventually went under. It was a matter of respect, the bill was not big at all.
Your solution is to avoid the problem by investigating the issue not fix the problem. I would assume Alamy gets complaints on regular basis and ignore all of them. But I bet Alamy does not want to lose clients, especially accounts.

stevepellegrino's picture

No doubt that Nadav Kander is the victim in this. And the "photographer" who submitted it to Alamy, Alamy and the magazine are to blame.

The person who submitted it to Alamy knew exactly what they were doing. When you submit to Alamy you have to check a box that states you have a model release for recognizable faces. It would be interesting to know if he did that or not.

Alamy has a lot of images being submitted to them daily. Once you pass their quality control when you first apply then you're free to upload what you want. The system for submitting, not just to Alamy, but other stock sites is obviously an issue.

Finally, the photo editor at the magazine should have seen that something wasn't right with this. Did they see the model release? I think the bigger problem that we're seeing with both newspapers and magazines is that there are fewer real photo editors and that role is now being filled by someone who is assigned to just gather "content".

I hope that Kander receives damages for this.

Dan Howell's picture

You do not need or typically file a 'model release' for celebrity photos, nor are they typically available for commercial usage. This was an editorial usage and as such does not typically require a release.

You mention model release twice in your argument here which tells me that you don't have experience working on celebrity editorial publication or you would know better.

I would be highly surprised if David Lynch signed a model release even for Nadev Kander. It is not typically how celebrity shoots are done. If anything the photographer signs a contract to limit how the photos will be used or displayed.

Lee Christiansen's picture

mmm... but here's a flip side to the argument that this is purely "editorial use..."

It can (and has been) argued that use of a celebrity on a magazine cover in itself encourages sales and in this context falls outside the scope of mere editorial use, (where inside the covers this would be an easier argument to make).

If the magazine cover is almost exclusively the portrait of Mr Lynch, (and having no other context than being a very a fine portrait shot), then I'd guess there is a strong argument to say the portrait is being used to drive magazine sales rather than editorially add to content. If this can be shown, then "editorial" use starts to pale and yes, a model release would be needed.

I wish I could remember where I saw this argument which I believe was won. Pretty sure it was a female model or actress who brought it to court some years back.

Dan Howell's picture

Couldn't speak about UK laws, but the every day practice of magazines in US is that cover publication does not imply endorsement or commercial usage. Every editorial element published in a magazine is intended to drive sales.

You can play theoretical games if you want, but by your logic photos of politicians or news events published on covers imply commercial usage which simply isn't the case. No idea if you have ever worked on magazine shoots or more importantly celebrity shoots for covers, but I certainly have on several occasions. Commercial modeling releases are simply not used. Even fashion models on editorial shoots sign editorial releases.

I'm not making this stuff up or talking about how things should be. These are widely accepted practices. And I believe that it has been tested here and upheld.

Eric Mazzone's picture

That's exactly the argument the magazine made for using the image, that that particular image would help MOVE more copies of that issue, so YES using that image is a commercial / profit based intent.

JT Blenker's picture

It should probably head towards the courts with the scope of the infringement.

JT Blenker's picture

That would be the contention that’s possible via the cropping.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Had the magazine done a google image search, they could have red flagged that image in seconds.
If Alamy does not have an image search of their own that would filter automatically these types of very obvious fraud, again, they shouldn't be in this type of business.

Matt White's picture

"Lastly, how do you feel about this sort of image theft and those who profit from it? Let us know in the comments below."

One thing I think this article could do with making clear, The Big Issue isn't a traditional magazine, but a street newspaper produced by a charity to be sold by homeless people:

I can't find numbers for size of editorial versus homeless vendor support staff, but I would be extremely surprised if it's anything substantial.

JT Blenker's picture

The Big Issue is a weekly magazine that states its supporting vendors are homeless. I’m not sure how that pay structure then works for them (the magazine is £1.25 and the vendor homeless sell it for £2.50) which the magazine says creates micro-entrepreneurs. Currently there are around 1500 vendors up and down the UK who last year alone earned a total of £5.5 million through selling the magazine. The average pay rate for each vendor was £3,666.66 or about $4,589.92. Still the magazine made £5.5 million or about $6,884,900.

Keir Smith's picture

The profits all go to The Big Issue Foundation, which is a registered charity.

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