Facebook Software Engineer Teaches You How to Steal Copyrighted Images

Facebook Software Engineer Teaches You How to Steal Copyrighted Images

According to his bio, Jesse Chen is a software engineer at Facebook and recent graduate of UC Berkeley. Jesse has a personal blog which we recently stumbled across that includes a blog post from 2012 that detailed how to go about stealing copyrighted images and removing watermarks.

The post (UPDATE: The blog post has since been removed.) starts off by congratulating recent college grads and expressing frustration about not being able to right click proofs of grad pictures (in order to avoid paying for them). But never fear, Jesse Chen and Jonathan Tien have come to the rescue with a tutorial to show you how to rip off the photographer who took them for you by bypassing the blocked right click and removing that "ugly copyright overlay" in Photoshop.

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Jesse links to his own graduation images, here which he uses in the tutorial.

The article continues by detailing the steps involved to get to a high-res copy of the image (still watermarked at this point) in three different browsers. [UPDATE] in respect to Grad Images we have taken down the original screencaps and have replaced them.

Click to view larger.
fstoppers_jesse_chen_facebook_steal_full Click to view larger.

And just like that you're a master Photoshop-wielding image thief. Congrats.

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This attitude towards photography is toxic and seems like it's becoming more and more pervasive. What Jesse fails to realize is that the photographer who took those images owns them- there's a copyright notice for a reason. As a software engineer, I'm sure Jesse wouldn't be cool with someone stealing some of his code for use in their own website, even though it can be done just as easily. This tutorial is not about "[taking] back what's yours to begin with," it's stealing what someone would kindly sell you (as low as $10). If you want free pictures have your family take them.

Even if Jesse is posting as himself and not as a representative of Facebook, when you work for a company and explicitly show that in your profile, your words are associated with that brand. Disappointing, to say the least.

If you'd like to see the original post for yourself you can check it out here. UPDATE: The blog post has since been removed.

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154 Comments

tony pardilla's picture

ingenious way of stealing pics, but still stealing

Dominik Ulman's picture

Take him to court!!

Matt's picture

Terrible. I can't believe he is so oblivious to the fact that he's actually stealing! I hope that dude get's blasted by a bunch of angry photographers and fired from facebook for unethical behavior.

Derek Boston's picture

Facebook was founded under the premise that hacking is justified and glorious. He is going to get a promotion.

Matt's picture

Yep. Good point Derek.

Tyler Constance's picture

There's some truth to this. I just got my degree in computer engineering, and I spent a year focusing on security engineering and cryptography. You have to know how to break something before you can build it stronger. One of my brightest professors had a professional focus on breaking digital watermarks, but not the visual ones, as seen above. He worked with watermarks hidden in a couple of flipped bits. Nearly impossible to detect and just as difficult to remove. He'd enter and hold competitions to see how efficiently these could be broken, and then he'd try to figure out how to make the digital watermarks stronger to those attacks.

If this kid works on the fb photos team, there's a chance he might be working on improving these kinds of hidden watermarks right now, and that post may have helped him land the job. Of course, I don't know his story, and there's a definite difference between whitehat and blackhat hacking, but I wouldn't want to risk making an ass out of myself for tarring and feathering someone who may be writing an algorithm that will help me keep my photos secure in the future. That would just be embarrassing.

John Yu's picture

https://www.facebook.com/jesselchen/about
A quick FB search seems like he have a photographer brother; and he's more a editor and PS wizard. Just a shout out for Jesse, I would remove personal info like your own car's licence plate on FB ASAP. I bet your post pissed off a lot of photographers.

Scott Brownstein's picture

Wonder if he is willing to let all of us copy his source code? Why not...everything should be free after all.

Steve's picture

Heh! That code probably belongs to Facebook. He probably glossed over the part that it is illegal to use code you have written on the job at Facebook in his in-processing paperwork that he signed as a new hire at Facebook.

M K's picture

Most times these water-marked graduation pictures are worthless 800px proofs that I doubt anyone can be bothered to try to steal anyway. Nonetheless, it is incredibly disrespectful not to mention illegal to steal any copyrighted photos like this. That said, I still think people charging $35 for a digital original of a mediocre picture taken at the graduation/commencement are blatantly ripping off graduates and their parents. I know because I had to buy one for myself for $35 from some random dude that was contracted by my college to work the graduation, exclusively.

Barry Chapman's picture

Most people these days only want them to share on social media anyway, so 800 px is plenty for them.

Steve's picture

Not in my business of sports photography. Prints are hotter than ever and they are flying off the shelves.

Barry Chapman's picture

At least people aren't going to steal your printed images though, like they can with digital ones.

Hi Ody's picture

Oh Really? Allow me to introduce you to the concept of extremely high resolution colour photocopying. That makes the rip-off a single button process making it even easier.
Then of course there is the high resolution colour scanner.
I suppose a simple solution to ensuring protection of your IP is to not put it on the 'net in the first place. But now of course I now hear the screams of outrage at the concept and the howls of pain suggesting the net is a legitimate advertising forum. My response- you can't have your cake and eat it too. If you post expect to be ripped off. It's the same as placing a $100 bill on the ground in a public place in the morning. Would you expect it to be there tonight? Photos on the net are the same. As soon as you leave them there they are going to be ripped off.
Does that make the rip-off right? Absolutely not but at least recognise it will and does happen. It is simply a business risk.

Barry Chapman's picture

Presumably people would have to pay for the print first in order to copy it. That's not the case with digital image theft. Sure posting online is a business risk, but the attitude that if I can steal it, why pay is a sad reflection on society nonetheless.

Justin Gill Photo's picture

I'm willing to bet those photographers have deals with the universities to charge a low day rate, in exchange for being the exclusive shooter present. That's why they can charge $35 per download, which let's not forget you ended up paying. I wouldn't call it a ripoff so much as a shrewdly effective business ploy.

Vinnie Pugliese's picture

Dude
Nobody cares what you think about the size; quality; rip-off/not rip-off; usage; pricing; acceptability; etc.
This ENTIRE discussion is about theft; legalities; moralities; and ethics.
Buy a vowel.

Jeremy's picture

maybe best not advertise for him by publishing his tutorial. What do you think?

Austin Rogers's picture

Bringing attention to something isn't quite the same as advertising. I'd say in this instance "any press is good press" doesn't really hold up.

Barry Chapman's picture

It's not about whether it's good press or not. You've helped spread the word about something that I think we all agree shouldn't be publicized. How is that helping the cause of photographers?

Austin Rogers's picture

It's all about bringing attention to the problem.

Barry Chapman's picture

And in this case bringing attention to it only makes it worse. You could have reported that there was a tutorial posted out there which gives step by step instructions without reporting it in detail or giving a link. You could then have said that you've contacted the author to request it be taken down and you'll report on his response. Instead you've just spread the word to allow more people to discover the method, and as I said in my own comment your post is likely to rate higher on SEO results for people looking to steal photographers work.

Austin Rogers's picture

The reason I took steps to document the entire page is to have proof that it existed. As you can see for yourself, the post has already been taken down. There'd be no way to check that what I had reported was factual.

Barry Chapman's picture

But you've preserved it here! Can't you see that's worse than not having reported about it in the first place?!

Justin Gill Photo's picture

You've screen-capped the whole process step by step, for posterity's sake. I get your intentions, but yeah I agree pretty foolish and myopic on your part.

Mr Blah's picture

Having proof, and publicizing it is 2 different things...

Mr Blah's picture

You didn't need to copy the tutorial to bring attention to something.

You could have written an essay on your thoughts and what you think it means (more than 15 lines...).

this argument is like the news showing body parts of 9/11 victims "so we understand the horror".... NO NEED!!

Michael Houwer's picture

I feel bad for photographers that have to make money from selling the pictures. Best scenario is to just get paid well for the job itself and give the pictures away for free.

Lenn Long's picture

Unfortunately getting paid upfront is not the business model for scholastic photography. Most photography companies like GradImages actually bid on contracts for high schools , school systems and Universities. They pay the school in the form of a scholarship donation for the exclusive rights to photograph the graduation and other school related events like fraternity/sorority and athletic events. For grads I know it's as much as $2-$5 per graduate depending on the size of the school.

Black Light Shoots's picture

Goes to show how much you don't know about the various ways of working inside this industry. Lots of different contracts for varying markets.

Michael Houwer's picture

where in my comment did I fool you in thinking I knew anything about the industry? I just expressed my sympathy for photographers whose pics get stolen. I guess you don't know anything about reading :P

Deleted Account's picture

He's talking about your negative comment. And yes, I can read, and quote.

"Best scenario is to just get paid well for the job itself and give the pictures away for free."

Michael Houwer's picture

Get paid 2000 dollars for a job and a don't care about who downloads your picture VS. get paid 500 dollars and you have to make extra money by selling the pictures where you estimate you can make an extra 1500 dollars. With the risk that people take your pic illegally and Photoshop it.

This is not a real world plausible scenario. It was just a wish how it could be for photographers. Who just want to get paid for their pictures and don't want to lose income by people stealing their pics.

If you think this is also negative then I look forward to your quote :P

Daniel Pryce's picture

With this kind of work, the photographer or in this case, the company that pimps out a photographer would get paid for the time they spend shooting. Editing is done very quickly and because the lighting setup is the same, its literally just like applying instagram filters. All the extra money that comes in is from print sales. These guys graduated from Berkley, I highly doubt that all of the 5,000+ graduates are going to steal photos from the self proclaimed "world’s largest commencement photography business"

Black Light Shoots's picture

Never did say you knew anything. It's perfect then that you're here now you can read all the wonderful pieces written by very knowledgeable professionals. And no, giving away free pictures is not what us professionals do - not always at least. Much like any other kind of business this is what we do to earn a living. Read more and educate yourself about our industry better.

By the way I wasn't attacking you. Just stating what I understood from what you wrote.

Barry Chapman's picture

Personally I think it would have been better to ask him to take his tutorial down than to spread word about it. I stumbled upon the method for getting around disabled right click downloads myself a few years back and I'm no geek. But I never told anyone else how to do it because it's bad enough already that it's so easy to work out. The method of removing watermarks is clever but even more insidious once spread around.

Steven Erat's picture

The splash this post will make in the sea of photo hacks for the unethical is insignificant at best.

http://lmgtfy.com/?q=how+to+remove+watermarks+from+photos

Vinnie Pugliese's picture

Sorry Baz..
Taking his tutorial down is only a part of the problem…
That removes only one element (his post) but doesn’t address the overriding issue that theft is theft.
Many many responses here and elsewhere with a so-what attitude, which is far bigger problem and NEEDS to be discussed.
Ethics and morality are rapidly disappearing in a world where only the ‘bottom line’ counts.

Tyler Constance's picture

In this kid's defense, I'm not the same person I was two years ago, and I hope he's grown too. I have mixed feelings about fstoppers using its reach to inspire the horde to rally with torches and pitchforks. I think this could have been dealt with more discretely and professionally.

Austin Rogers's picture

The reason I believed it was important to share this story is to address the seemingly ubiquitous attitude behind this tutorial. Stealing photos is still stealing. I couldn't agree more though, we all grow with time.

Steve's picture

Austin, you did the right thing. You have nothing to apologize for. I think most of people who have a problem with your post are people that are not working photographers and therefore this act does not resonate with them the way it does with working professionals.
And then there are the ones who I totally don't understand who claim to be a fan of this site yet they are some how offended about the wording of the title that supposed to somehow be some grand conspiracy to generate hits for the site. Hell, if I'm a fan of fstoppers, the more hits the merry because that's what keeps it alive.

David Burckhard's picture

The guy writes an article on stealing, makes it public, and thinks nothing of the consequences, is a graduate of a prestigious college and should have half a brain wired into his head but folks are supposed to be (I think you mean) discreet in their response? Not buying that.

Tyler Constance's picture

I'd rather not publicly shame and try ruin the career of a young and aspiring engineer over a reckless post he made two years ago.

(but I did mean discreet, not discretely; whoops!)

Steve's picture

So lets not shame him because that wouldn't be nice. Guess what, it was not very nice of him to steal the profits of a hard working photographer either. They didn't get paid for his photo that he stole and probably countless other grads (like all of his nerd buddies) that followed his actions. The law is the law and he broke it. He's not a criminal but it's against the law to do what he did.

Tyler Constance's picture

You're missing the point. I'm not saying what he did isn't wrong. I'm saying what Fstoppers did isn't right. I'd like to think this community is above bullying people on the internet.

KevinNewsome's picture

Fstoppers reported the facts. Facts that had already existed on the Internet for two years, and were posted by an IP thief. You're worried about the thief's feelings? or his future? Funny, he didn't worry about it until THIS MORNING when he finally pulled the blog post down.

Steve's picture

So just how is fstoppers bullying someone? This guy broke the law and they are simply pointing it out. There's no bullying here. I just don't get people who have sympathy for folks who knowing commit such actions. And don't tell me this Chen guy didn't know what he was doing. He has enough sense to copyright his own website yet violates the very concept that he wishes to protect his material against. Sorry, but I call bullshit, not bullying.

Now, I like they way SLR Lounge did things but I don't hold any grudge against fstoppers for reporting this as fact to a community of professional photographers in an open forum. The cat is out of the bag and most of us are already expert at PhotoShop with our daily jobs, anyway.

Tyler Constance's picture

Mob mentality is bullying, and I'm kind of embarrassed you guys don't recognize that. If I had come across this, I might have sent him a friendly email telling him that it might reflect on him poorly, and recommend he removes it.

But maybe that's just because I'm not vindictive. I don't get any enjoyment from putting people down in front of thousands of people. It doesn't pad my ego or make me feel like a bigger person.

daniel mcgarrity's picture

Yes, I agree Tyler, mob mentality is daunting, however it is NOT bullying, it is people writing in an anonymous cubicle that which they would never say in person.
I have seen the torches come out often in these things, notably by those who may not have primary business (meaning they pay the mortgage with) that are photography based.

THAT being said, while I respect your desire for niceness, It may very well have been attempted for the last several years with Mr. Chen, perhaps not until he saw his name trending negatively did he even think what he did was going to be poorly received.

Finally, ignorance of the law, federal law in this instance, is a poor excuse, as is age. Mr. Chen uses the term "copyright" ironically he puts a copyright symbol notice at the bottom of his own page, so he clearly understands the distinction. So with the level of education he has received, and the use of the copyright term on his own page, I think it pretty clear he simply didn't care for others copyright.

Having not heard from either Facebook (who I would bet probably got in touch with him) or Mr. Chen himself, to defend or explain the situation. I think we can assume that somebody understood that what he put online was not only detrimental to photographers work, but to his own job prospects as well. More to the point, if you were to potentially employ someone who may have access to secure information or require a security clearance, would you like to know their attitude, as an adult, not a child, about security?

Yep, put away the torches folks, but don't put down the magnifying glasses

Tyler Constance's picture

Daniel, yours may be the most sane comment on this page, haha. I appreciate that.

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