Photographer Fights Copyright Infringement With Photography

Photographer Ryan Doco Connors recently found one of his images being printed on a t-shirt without his consent. Sugar Factory, the company selling the shirt, claimed that since the image was changed 40% (I have no clue where that number comes from) it was no longer considered his photo. Instead of suing, Ryan fought back with a few new photos and lucky for us, he shares all of the lighting details.

This is exactly how The Stolen Scream story started... Hopefully this isn't the beginning of something much bigger for Ryan.

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Nicholas Gonzalez's picture

Solid video from an awesome photographer. It seems that making this video and his images, allowed him to deal with what happened between himself and Sugar Factory, the best way a creative would know how: he kept working. I admire that and him. 

Lee Morris's picture

Agreed. Most people sit back and complain and that will get you no where. I'm not sure where I fall when it comes to "fair use"; the image was changed a lot; if anything I feel like they needed a model release more than a photographers release because the girls face is more "similar" than the actual photography. 

Anyway, great idea, great video. Keep'em coming Ryan. 

All of the video credit goes to my buddy Brian Ceci 

Thanks again all! <3 

Anonymous's picture

Regardless of their claim of "fair-use" for the photograph, the model would still have a claim against them for using her likeness without a release, right?

Anonymous's picture

That bites!!! If I hit the lotto I'm gonna pay for a lawyer!!!(haha) I hate seeing a talented photographer getting ripped off like that:( Great video and cool to see he is making the best of a shit situation. Keep your head up Ryan!

janne aavasalo's picture

If I'm not off, the sentence: "Hopefully this isn’t the beginning of something much bigger for Ryan." should maybe be changed :)

Other than that, I really do understand the reasons behind not to sue, but laying low does send a wrong kind of message to the companies doing this sort of crap.

It is however good that these stories spread through Fstoppers and other websites quite rapidly and that alone may pressure the companies to reconsider their policies...hopefully.

Anonymous's picture

I agree, Jay! 

I am apalled by this guy's attitude. He's just being ignorant and stupid - if you truly are a professional photographer and take pride in your hard work, then you wouldn't stand down. His action is only saying, "I'm okay with it". Clearly he didn't think about his fellow photographers. We can't let anyone steal work without permission, and this whole "40 % excuse" is bullshit. Simple. You can't take ownership of someone else's work without their consent, no matter how much you change it. It's the law, he should look into it. This isn't only about you. When it happens, think about others in the industry. Don't hurt the industry with ignorance. I'm ashamed of this guy. Be a professional, for crying out loud. 

Jay Rimmer's picture

I think I would of done my research and had a legal battle with the company. If the law states that any derivative of a image is still owned by the original artist/Photographer then no matter how many lawyers the company has, they can't change the law. Maybe? I'm a freak when it comes to this stuff though, I would do the research and fight them on my own if I felt I was right and with a little research could prove it. Don't really like the way companies feel they can get away with stuff. 

Steven David Branon's picture

they changed the law for casey anthony.... sorry had to say it lol

mark salmon's picture

How is this classed as 'fair use'? A company took an image, without consent, edited it and the sold it on a t-shrit for a profit without compensating either the photographer or the model. I think this is a case of self preservation for the photographer, probably a sensible move!

I think the whole thing stinks. Ryan buddy keep your head up . tho I wish you could fight back legally it's time we sent a message to those dirt bag companies that are raping photographers!

Scott Ferris's picture

All photographers should have this article tattooed on their right hands. An artistic reply is all well and good, and all power to Ryan, but follow that up legally. Rule one, copyright everything you make and show. Register that copyright, if you don't you are effectively giving your work away. If you follow those simple steps then suing will cost you nothing, your case will be strong enough that lawyers will take on your case without payment up front.

For a recent high profile "derivative works" case look at both sides of the argument at these two links.“jay-maisel-is-a-dick”-freetard-mob-savages-octogenarian-photographer-over-copyright/

This is an amazing time we are living in, but it is up to us to protect ourselves.

Brian McCarthy's picture

I was going to post the same article. I think it's easy to miss the point and feel powerless. As Jeremy's article notes you do have options if you register your work and you can register every single photo you take in a year for about the cost of one PocketWizard Plus II -- $175.  Many of us could easily drop 10x that on a single lens and feel justified.  Registration adds teeth, and BIG teeth, to any issue of infringement (at least within the US).

Anonymous's picture

Kind of ironic you are using a "cheap little Ebay softbox ...that are awesome!" that was ripped off from a design originally made by Lasolite.

Chip Sprague's picture

1) Your point would be more properly directed to someone wearing the Sugar Factory's shirt than the photographer here.  
2) He isn't selling EZbox knockoffs.  
3) Patent law and copyright law are different things. 
4) Lastolite has a patent pending on their EZbox but they didn't invent pop up softboxes.

Anonymous's picture

1.  The point WAS the PHOTOGRAPHER is complaining about being ripped off/copied and the ironic part being having no problem using a product that was ripped off/copied.  The point was directed correctly...
2).  See point 1
3.)  Ripping off either by patent law or copyright is ripping off...see point 1.
4.)  And the ebay rip off version isn't copied from any old pop up's copied from the Lasolite version.  Once again...see point 1.  

I'd be pissed too if I was Ryan. I'm just saying I find it ironic.  Kind of like if someone who uses fileshare often makes a CD of original music, puts it up for sale, then complains it's being downloaded via fileshare.

Anonymous's picture

I immediately thought of the "kind of bloop" issue- if that's fair game I can't see how this wouldn't be. Just because Miles Davis is more famous? Go get Jay Maisel's lawyers Ryan, they wont even have to do any homework...

Colin Feldhaus's picture

wasn't this the same thing that obama did with his presidential campaign logo? They stole a photo, changed it a bit and used it as their own. 

Also, that whole 40% is a bunch of B.S.... Because I am pretty sure every time I add a fileter to an image or change the exposure I am changing close to 100% of the image's pixels.  But it is definitely the same image?

Anonymous's picture

Never mess with a company that uses Comic Sans on their website :) Great video and way to deal with the whole situation! 

Well at least we all know now that when licensing an image we need to write in the contract that all derivatives of the original image must be negotiated with the photographer. I for one will never buy from the sugar factory and will inform my friends to do the same.

Im sure you can find someone to take your case.. Fight it!!

There must be a hungry lawyer out there willing to persue this. Good luck

I'm hoping one reads this and contacts me :P

Scott Ferris's picture


Read my first link, he lists 11 first class copyright lawyers, what they need from you (what you need to have done) and how you will qualify for a lawyer to take your case on a no fee basis. But you need to contact them, you have been wronged, you need to instigate any action. Did you register your copyright? If not then you have shot yourself in the foot, but you can still get paid, if you have, you can be looking to collect a five figure sum.

Joël Trousset's picture

That sucks. I've been following Doco's work for quite some time now on devArt, love it! What a shame!


Paul Monaghan's picture

This reminds me of an earlier article on fstoppers.

Vlad Dodan's picture

He needs to get in contact with Jay Maisel`s lawyers. They will rip through any company for a % of the wins. Just "google"  [Jay Maisel vs Andy Baio] 

Sam Dickinson's picture

+1 to this.  Don't let someone profit off your work without you getting compensated.  This can't be tolerated, and that 40% "rule" doesn't exist.  This should be an open/shut case for even the cheapest copyright lawyer.

Paul Monaghan's picture

The fact that they said they changed the image 40% is proof that they used his image in the first placce?

Brian McCarthy's picture

Vlad, if you copyright your work (in the US) you can do better than that.  US copyright law requires the culprit to pay damages plus legal costs (up to $250,000 ceiling -- that goes a loooooooong way)

Anonymous's picture

 Legendary photog Jay Maisel just sued and won over a picture that was redrawn and changed slightly.  Joe McNally and Scott Kelby voice their thoughts about Copyright Infringment and the Maisel situation here:

Scott Nelson's picture

I'm sorry to hear about the company stealing your image. I loved the video and your approach to 'retaliation'. Great job buddy. I loved the lighting too! good stuff.

Anonymous's picture

this really sucks but some of these guys need to be slapped on the wrist for this sort of behavior. 40% of the image was altered??? WTF? If you didn't hit that shutter button that image wouldn't be there so screw that analogy. We are all little guys in a pond full of sharks, does that mean we all bow down when the bigger man slaps us with their wallet. I am sure there is someone out there willing to represent you. I'd even donate money and raise money against this case to fight these guys. If it weren't for you and a whole bunch of other little guys this company's extent creativity wouldn't exist. Craftsman ship to steal, the point is your produced it and they took it from you, PERIOD! They have nothing on this

Mike Tarsitano's picture

so if I walk into their store and cut the back off of their shirts ... I can walk out with the shirt free?????I would have altered the shirt by almost 50% 
they can steal you image and manipulate it without your permission and sell it as theirs ........ there is something Very wrong with that .   I wonder If you had a group of people who would be interested in going into the store and clearing out your shirts in this way I wonder what they would do ???

777photographer_shashinka88's picture

I'm a professional photographer and just had an image stolen and put into a 35,000 print run, local newspaper/magazine and online yesterday and they tried to make it sound like the model of the shot who gave then the photo was in the wrong for not understanding that I owned all the rights to the image.  Its the companies responsibility to see if someone other than the photographer actually has the rights, which they only do if they signed a contract stating such.  Don't let them fool you with that tactic.  Anyway, photographer's who register their photos with the US Copyright Office can get as much as $150,000 plus $10,000 if they remove metadata online or crop out ones logo I believe, both of which they did to my image.  It's actually quite easy to get photos registered and there are several good tutorials online.  Anyway we can't let scum get away with this or it'll continue getting worse.  Even just getting a normal licensing fee after the fact only encourages them to continue the practice as they only have to pay when caught, whereas sending them a message in the form of a big lawsuit will stop most.  You can also have the offenders website taken down for copyright infringement through contacting their ISP and making a claim through them.  Education is the key to stopping this.  Also, some lawyers will work for a percentage of the winnings I've heard and if your images have been registered with the US Copyright Office then your case should be a walk in the park.  The only caveat is that your images must have been registered within 3 months after first being published (either in print or being up on the web) to get financial compensation I believe.  

So Ryan if your images were copyrighted through the USCO then you can probably get a lawyer to take your case for a percentage of the winnings.  Since they are a big company too the have the money to give and are even more scumbaggish for stealing from you to save money.