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.


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.


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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Previous comments

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

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."

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"

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.

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


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.

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.

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.

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.

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!)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

The problem with people today is they don't want to be accountable. And when called out, they make up some lame excuse. Others want to be "discreet", pamper and mollycoddle the offender when they handle the situation. You may object to mob mentality, but in some situations it's appropriate. With social media being what it is today, one might want to think twice before putting something out there that can affect someone else's livelihood because of the potential negative blowback. If he got tons of praise on his blog about it, how it is different than chastising him in a public forum? The message just isn't supportive. Yeah you might say, we should be better than that and take the high road. If this was a different situation, I would agree. But these "young cats" get way too much babying and the degree of self-entitlement is staggering. I mean this is life and life is tough. Your pictures cost money so quit whining, man up and pay it. This business of "sparing the rod" when it comes to kids today needs to stop.

No, Tyler, you're missing the point. Most people are honest and don't rip off copyrighted images even if they know how. This guy should have known better. Shaming him publicly is a suitable punishment that fits the misdeed.

"stealing the profits" omg, if you, who are into photography and must understand about all this, are completelly wrong and use the wrong terms, how could you possible expect someone who is not into photograpy (even if this may not be the case) to know what is right, what is wrong and to understand what he is doing?

Lets see, since this post went somewhat viral a lot of people that actually don't care about intellectual property gained access to a webpage that was so obscure that it remained hidden to the public general public for 2yrs. Thanks to the nature of the internet and various internet caches this webpage is now being seen by a far larger audience and being used for theft by more people than it did for 2yrs when it was obscure.

If we had to put a dollar value on it do you think Mr. Chen's webpage had a larger financial impact on photographers before this post went viral or after? Perhaps just from the financial point approaching Mr. Chen privately might have been better?

Given his position, which according to LinkedIn is "I currently work on the Photos team at Facebook", and that on his blog he claims "There is very little that I do not know when it comes to technology", I would think the public lashing is as relevant to his position as it is to his humility.

if You think it`s bad to show the tricks about removing the proofs... then... WHY ARE YOU SHOWING IT HERE? why do you make it more popular?

Austin Rogers's picture

Valid point, I'm sharing it here because this is a community of photo professionals, typically we're not the ones doing the theft.

Well ain't THAT something.

There are crooks in every profession. Ripping off visual concepts, using part of an image for something else, etc etc etc...

I'm pretty sure there ARE less than holy photographers out there, they might not visit here or be as active as the rest of them... but there are..

I don t agree with you Rogers, Michal doesn't have a valid point. Your post is very good and besides what that guy did was wrong by stealing images he didn't took.... IT SHOWED to me what not to do or what to change to avoid somebody steal my pics. I think all you can learn about photography even securing them is important. Not just claiming or complaining to others not to steal your images but knowing how can that be done so you avoid mistakes
very good post from you
Thank you

As if knowing how to save a photo from the web and using content aware is a trade secret. Come on, anyone who wants to steal a photo will have knew this (or a similar technique) already.

The point of this post isn't the technique itself but the author's attitude towards photographers, which is sad considering the guy is more or less also an artist (coder).

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