It is getting pretty hard to avoid reading a story a couple times a month where a photographer's photos are stolen in some way. It has become, sadly, the nature of the internet. Sometimes photographers aren't even aware of it until the image spreads beyond containment, but others, like Swedish photographer Tuana, do their best to nip it in the bud and succeed with help from what many would consider to be an unlikely source: the company who was unlawfully selling the image.
Let's start at the beginning. In early 2011, Tuana began a project called The Last Princess. "I wanted to show that it is possible, no matter your equipment and resources, to create photographical art," Tuana explains. A goal much like what Lee Morris sought to do around the same time with the iPhone fashion shoot. "So, all the pictures in this project were solely shot with my iPhone and edited with iPhone apps. The pictures were shot in peaceful natural surroundings in Sweden and portray long-haired girls, dressed in sweeping dresses. I wanted to create a sense of fairytales in my pictures, and hence tried to avoid areas that have been modified by human activity."
Tuana's original idea was to create an art book out of the product to be released some time in 2012. Like anyone likely would have done, Tuana wanted the world to know what he was working on. "I shared my pictures on Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook and noticed that other Instagram users revised and posted the pictures on their profiles without my permission. After a while it felt like I no longer had any control over my pictures. But I tried to look at it positively – maybe they stole the pictures just because they liked them so much."
Sharing is one thing, but making money off his images without compensating him or even letting him know is entirely another. "When I found one of my photos printed on a T-shirt sold by the fashion label Mango, both in their physical stores and online stores, the line was crossed. At first, I thought it was just a joke, but it proved to be true and it made me very angry and sad. They used my picture without my permission and it had also been revised and recut and some text was added that had nothing to do with my picture."
"My iPhone picture was now printed on clothes sold by a well-known fashion retailer and no one had asked me, the photographer, for my permission. The T-shirt was sold in over 100 countries worldwide, both in physical stores and in e-stores."
The shirt was pretty popular, even worn during a BBC television program:
Not willing to take this sitting down, Tuana decided to take action. "I posted a picture on Instagram and called out Mango in Twitter to make them contact me to sort out things. I was sure that it has to be some kind of mistake, but things like this should not happen."
— Tuana Art (@tuana) February 4, 2013
At this point, if Tuana is anything like me, he was full of piss and vinegar, ready to go into the ring and fight to the death for his rights. Except he never had to, because the reaction from Mango was exactly what everyone should do when confronted with a situation like this: they wanted to get to the bottom of this as much as Tuana did.
"After only a couple of hours Mango tweeted me back and we started a conversation. I was told that one of Mango’s sub-contractors had told Mango that they had the copyrights of the picture and had sold it to Mango. Since the face of the model is not visible on the picture, the designer thought they could use the picture in any way the wanted.
"I got legal advice and help from solicitors from the Association of Swedish Professional Photographers and other photographers like, for example, Kate at Chase Jarvis Inc. I used gettyimages.com to calculate how much compensation I could get plus 100% of the amount for every rule they had broken. In my case, they had cut and edited my image without even giving me credit.
"Mango took the incident very seriously and all the clothes were pulled back from their stores and they compensated me. I did not want to sell my picture, so I kept the copyright so that I could use the picture in my art book The Last Princess. Ironically, the picture on the book cover is the same picture used by Mango."
Mango didn't resist, didn't fight, didn't try and get out of it. They just did what was right, and that is extremely admirable.
"This incident led to discussions about who owns the picture when it is posted by someone else on Facebook, Instagram or Tumblr. I think that my case proves that the photographer still owns the copyright of the picture, even when it is uploaded onto social media sites.
It is highly refreshing to hear a story where justice is served and a photographer is actually helped by the one place they originally expected to find resistance. Mango did absolutely the right thing and I hope other companies and individuals will take this story to heart with regards to future instances. When Noam Galai found his scream being sold on other websites, they were less willing to engage in helpful conversation and we all know how that has ended (or rather, has continued). Tuana managed to wrangle a tough situation and overcame it because Mango was happy to help.
"When I look back on all this, however, it is kind of cool that one of my iPhone pictures has been viewed by people all over the world. Still today, I can see people on TV wearing the T-shirt with my iPhone picture on it. I am happy that Mango took this incident so seriously and never denied anything. Mango sorted things out in a very nice way."
Way to go Mango. You have done not only Tuana right, but given photographers around the world a reason to tip their hat to you. I'm sure we are all happy to finally read a story with a happy ending.
All images and screenshots courtesy of Tuana and republished with permission.