You’d think there’s enough evidence by now that stealing other people’s images is only for the truly dumb. Whether it’s one of the world’s largest news agencies facing a $123M copyright suit, a hipster freetard heisting a veteran photographer’s best-known image, or a British Labour government sabotaging their own election campaign, the sad and expensive results of photo theft are there for all to see.

But no, you just can’t help some people: and so last week two master copyright crooks simultaneously did an excellent job of proving Einstein’s First Theory of Stupidity.

In Arkansas USA wedding photographer and “lover of Jesus” Meagan Kunert had a nice little business going: or at least she did until Canadian wedding photographer Amber Hughes discovered her work on Kunert’s website. Hughes hit twitter, and soon other photographers were reporting that they too had been ripped off by Kunert. The story was picked up by David “Strobist” Hobby’s 65,000 followers, and within hours #fauxtographer was trending and an angry mob with torches and pitchforks were laying siege to every Internet property associated with Kunert, who promptly packed her bags and got out of cyberspace.

Her twitter feed was first to go, rapidly followed by her website, probably sunk under the weight of DMCA takedown notices. Kunert attempted a last stand at Facebook; after pulling her page for few hours she took a revivalist approach, relaunching it with the kind of apology associated with southern preachers who’ve been caught evangelising away from home:

“I hate that I have tarnished the name of Jesus in doing this, and I have got some serious soul searching to do over the coming days, weeks, and months. I know that God does not approve of my choices and that he hates hypocrites such as myself. I also know that God can take my brokenness and turn it around for His glory, which is what I intend to do. If you are the praying folk, I would like to ask you to pay [sic] for me and my family.”

But the Internet is not the deep south and the congregation at Facebook turned out not to be the praying kind: hundreds of comments later it was Kunert who had to pay, as her Facebook page disappeared again, this time probably for good.

Across the pond, just as the Internet was preparing the last rites for Kunert’s business, VoucherDigg set about digging their own grave. One of a myriad of UK companies offering vouchers for package holidays, VoucherDigg was advertising a cheap deal in Portugal from Low Cost Holidays. Naturally they wanted an appropriate image: it had to be from Portugal, and preferably close to the resort they were offering. Ideally it would also need to appeal to families with young children.

And so with impeccable logic VoucherDigg stole the last known photograph of Madeleine McCann, the three year old girl who five years ago disappeared only 25 miles from the holiday resort they were advertising, and the subject of one of the biggest UK and Portuguese news stories of recent times. What could possibly go wrong?

Retribution was public, swift and relentless. The story of VoucherDigg’s use of the McCann photo was rapidly plastered across the world’s media and Low Cost Holidays immediately disowned them. Worse, M’Learned Friends at the world’s scariest law firm announced that they would be handling the matter for the distraught parents. Within a day VoucherDigg shared Kunert’s fate. First their website groaned under the weight of traffic they had probably always dreamed of; then it disappeared as they discovered the reason for their newfound popularity. Finally the site, registered at the University of East Anglia campus in Norwich – presumably at the English As A Foreign Language Department – was replaced by a grovelling apology:

“We were sorry!

Our editing team made the mistake, that Madeleine McCann’s image was linked to the discount holidays to Portugal. We are sorry for the serious wrongdoing that occurred. We unreservedly apologise for the hurt suffered by Mr. and Mrs. McCann.

We regret our not acting faster to sort things out because of our editing team and management overseas not being concerned about the British social news and not realizing the wrongdoing. We realise that this explanation and simply apologising are not enough, because the hurt and damage are irretrievable. In the coming days, we shut down voucherdigg.co.uk to show our sincere apology.

We deeply apologies to Mr. and Mrs. McCann. We deeply apologies to the society. We also apologies to the lowcostholidays for the negative brand affect, who has nothing to do with this issue.”

There are a few lessons in all this for image thieves. For one, Jesus won’t save you: your business is going straight to hell. For another, brush up on your language skills so you can at least produce the literate apology you’re inevitably going to need. But most important of all, join the Meagan Kunert Bible Study Group Inc™ and brush up on your knowledge of the Eighth Commandment: because if you ignore that one the Internet will kick your ass.

You wait ages for a Schindler, then two come along at once...

Charles Swan is one of the UK’s top intellectual property lawyers. His opinions on copyright and court judgements are to be taken seriously. Cory Doctorow…well, perhaps not so much.

Recently His Honour Judge Birss QC found in favour of Justin Fielder and Temple Island in the company’s claim that Nicholas Houghton and New English Teas had breached copyright in production and publication of a photograph [above right] of a London bus that had been Schindlered to within an inch of its life. Temple Island’s case was that the New English image was an obvious copy of their own Schindlerfest [above left] from a few years before. But although similar in many ways the two are entirely separate images: so where was the infringement?

Swan described the ruling as “ perhaps surprising”, a phrase that can have myriad meanings coming from a lawyer. But for the Interweb it meant just one thing: the sky was falling. “Photographers Face Copyright Threat After Shock Ruling”, screamed Amateur Photographer. “Create A Similarly Composed Photo In The UK And Risk Copyright Infringement”, howled Petapixel. According to these and others, anyone in the UK taking a photograph similar to an existing photograph now risked ending up in court for breach of copyright. To the most deranged, “taking a photo in the same place where someone else took a photo can now be a crime.”

None of this was true, but with crashing inevitability the most misleading and hysterical analysis came from Doctorow at Boing Boing. Eager not to let the facts get in the way of a good story, or perhaps because he’d neglected to actually read the judgement he was commenting on, Doctorow took aim at the “insane” and “bizarre” ruling and let rip:

“If a Reuters and an AP photographer are standing next to each other shooting the Prime Minister as he walks out of a summit with the US President, their photos will be nearly identical. Will the slightly faster shutter on the AP shooter’s camera give him the exclusive right to publish a photo of the scene from the press-scrum?”

“The judge here ruled that the idea of the image was the copyright, not the image itself.”

“This creates a situation where anyone who owns a large library of photos — a stock photography outfit – can go through its catalog and start suing anyone with deep pockets: ‘We own the copyright to “two guys drinking beer with the bottoms of the mugs aimed skyward!”’It’s an apocalyptically bad ruling, and an utter disaster in the making.”

Doctorow’s hysteria is of course unfounded. Just one paragraph from Birss’ ruling comprehensively demolishes Corky’s claims:

“The defendants went to rather elaborate lengths to produce their image when it seems to me that it did not need to be so complicated. Mr. Houghton could have simply instructed an independent photographer to go to Westminster and take a picture which includes at least a London bus, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Such an image would not infringe.”

So why did the defendants go to such “elaborate lengths” and why did Birss rule the way he did? Simple: the combatants had history. New English had previously infringed a Temple Island image and settled in court. Temple Island offered to license an image to New English, but the latter declined. Instead they set out to produce their own image based on that of Temple Island: make it as close as possible, went the thinking, but just different enough to avoid infringing. That’s a judgement call, and New English got it wrong.

Helpfully Birss even spelled out exactly how they’d got it wrong. If New English had never seen the Temple Island image and had produced even an identical image independently they would have been in the clear. If New English had scoured the web for similar images for inspiration and produced the image they actually did, they still would probably have been ok. But instead they were interested only in the Temple Island image, copying it as closely as they – wrongly – felt safe to do. And in so doing they breached Temple Island’s original expression of an idea.

Note the “original expression” bit. Contrary to what Doctorow, Techdirt and numerous others tried to claim, Temple Island hadn’t suddenly claimed copyright of London landmarks, Schindlered or not. They simply objected to another company – whose products incidentally sell alongside theirs in tourist outlets – studying one of their most marketable images, then setting out to replicate it as closely as possible.

In other words, the judge reached his conclusion by employing a commodity clearly lacking at Boing Boing, Techdirt and elsewhere: common sense.

Welcome to the Photo Follies 2011 Awards, the Premier Photo Industry Contest In This Universe Or Any Universe Yet To Be Discovered™. Entries were judged by a jury consisting of leading industry figures, including a school of Barbary macaques, and senior Google Street View operators on loan from World Press Photo. Judging was overseen by the Russian Central Election Commission to ensure fairness.

The Shop Till You Drop Award [sponsored by Adobe]
Highly Commended: Terje Helleso, for Winter Coat.
Highly Commended: The Sun, for Libyan Low Fly Zone.
Winner: Huili County Government, China, for Walking On Air.
The judges’ verdict: By far the most popular category, this attracted a huge number of entries displaying impressive levels of incompetence. Swedish wildlife photographer Terje Helleso capped a 10 year cut ‘n’ paste career with an animal fashion faux pas. The UK’s Sun achieved spectacular results by outsourcing design duties to a 7 year old with a pair of scissors and Sellotape. The Chinese entry was however unbeatable, raising Photoshop incompetence to an art form: so powerful is it that the viewer feels himself levitating along with the subjects of the photo.

The Robotog Award For Photography And The Law
Highly Commended: London Transport Museum, for DSLR Camera Ban.
Highly Commended: Government of Slovenia, for Panorama Mania.
Winner: Los Angeles Long Beach Police Dept, for Art Police.

Photo © Tim Allen / www.timallenphoto.co.uk
The judges’ verdict: Last year it was reported that Kuwait had banned DSLR cameras. That turned out to be a hoax – but nobody told the London Transport Museum, which imposed its own ban this year. Meanwhile the Slovenian government took a broader view, banning all public panorama photography. Just to make sure they hadn’t missed anything, the ban was made retroactive: all panoramic photographs ever made in Slovenia are now illegal. Not bad, considering that photography has been in existence a century and a half longer than Slovenia itself. Long Beach police won by eschewing the crude truncheon-based approach to photo prevention so beloved by law enforcement colleagues elsewhere; instead officers are now required to supplement firearms training with courses on the history and theory of art and photography.

The Uncle Bob Award For Wedding Photography
Highly Commended: Lasting Impressions, for Where’s The Wedding?
Highly Commended: P&O, for Headless Bride Horror.
Winner: The All-Russia Union Of Wedding Photographers, for Avant-Garde Nuptials.
The judges’ verdict: The Derek Pye School Of Photography continues to churn out worthy award-winners. The Lasting Impressions video operator was unable to find the right wedding to attend after being uncaged; and P&O Cruise’s wheeze of having the ship’s chef double up as photographer was a recipe for disaster. Harking back to the heyday of the avant-garde, the Russian entry surpassed all others in its – ahem – creative approach to the art of wedding photography.

The Susan Sontag Award For Writing On Photography
Highly Commended: Guardian Eyewitness, for Pro Tip – Affordable underwater casings are now available for most cameras, while space travel remains prohibitively expensive.
Highly Commended: Guardian Eyewitness, for Pro Tip  - When glueing your camera to a surfboard, it is important to choose your adhesive carefully.
Winner: Guardian Eyewitness, for Pro Tip  - It is important to avoid laughing while taking a photograph as this can lead to camera shake.
The judges’ verdict: Just as digital technology has made everyone a photographer, so the Internet has made everyone a photography commentator. The web is awash with photo advice, but no other entrant came close to the Guardian for consistency and regularity: while readers daily admire the quality of the Eyewitness photography, professional photographers are equally awestruck by the accompanying Pro Tips.

Photo Caption Of The Year
Highly Commended: Eastern Daily Press, for Olympus Digital Camera.
Highly Commended: The Mail Online, for Media Scum.
Winner:The Globe & Mail Canada, for Caption Writer Meltdown.
The Mail Online's freudian slip
The judges’ verdict:
The UK’s Eastern Daily Press made official what everybody already knew – that it’s the camera that matters, not the photographer – and adjusted their photo credits accordingly. “You couldn’t make it up” is the Mail’s frequent battle cry, but for the Amanda Knox trial the UK tabloid did just that, splashing that Knox had been found guilty when the opposite was true. But the Mail got one thing right, with a telling typo in one of their photo captions for the story. The clear winner, however, was the Canadian Globe & Mail, where an anonymous – and now missing in action – caption writer identified a previously unknown connection between the paper’s Celebrity Photos of the Week & the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The Enron Award For Business Management
Highly Commended: Kodak, for What Happens In Vegas
Winner: Olympus, for Overcooked Books.
The judges’ verdict: As Kodak losses mounted, company executives did their bit by regularly splashing on private jets to Las Vegas. Olympus’ continued existence as a camera company had been a mystery to professional photographers, with the last recorded sighting of an Olympus camera at a photo-call as long ago as 1998. All was revealed when new CEO Michael Woodford inadvertently opened the books to discover 13 years and $1.7 billion worth of creative accounting.

Quote Of The Year
Highly Commended: Mark Zuckerberg, for Comedy Of Errors.
Highly Commended: Sienna Miller, for Tired And Emotional.
Winner: Johnny Depp, for Photography Is Rape.
Pluck me...we've got a leak
The judges’ verdict
: Everyone’s least favourite geek finally admitted what every Facebook user had been telling him for years: but only after it was his own account that got hacked. Former topless model turned actress Sienna Miller refocused the UK’s Levenson enquiry into the media away from trifling matters such as the hacking of a murdered schoolgirl’s phone toward more serious issues: the Daily Mirror’s cropping of photographs and celebrity documentarians’ habit of chasing her down the street. Although not a contributor to Levenson, it was the camera-shy Johnny Depp who won by building on Miller’s riff to reveal the true nature of photography in a cover story in Vanity Fair.

Photo Product Of The Year
Highly Commended: Sigma Deutschland, for SD1 Morris Minor Edition.
Highly Commended: Urban Outfitters, for Sienna Miller Anti-Paparazzi Shades.
Winner: Hasselblad, for H4D Ferrari Limited Edition.
The judges’ verdict: Who says the Germans don’t have a sense of humour? Sigma Deutschland attempted to kick-start sales of the SD1 by charging 10,000 euros for a limited edition version with wood trim styled after a 1950s Morris Minor Traveller. Urban Outfitters came up with a $12 solution for wannabe celebs wishing to appear anonymous. But racing to victory was the Hasselblad H4D Ferrari Limited Edition medium format camera. In tasteful racing red, and boasting specs including 800 horsepower and a motor-drive with a 0-60 speed of under 5 seconds, the H4D Ferrari was aimed squarely at a previously ignored niche market: wealthy middle-aged photographers with erectile dysfunction. A follow-up, the Jeremy Clarkson Limited Edition, is rumoured to be in the pipeline.

The Remix Award For Plagiarism
Highly Commended: Siegfried Kauder, for Double Strike.
Highly Commended: Cory Doctorow, for Boing!!! Cory Doctorow’s Daily Mail Copyright Clanger.
Winner: Bob Dylan & Richard Prince, for Everybody Else’s Images Revisited.
Photo by Ed Schipul (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The judges’ verdict:
German MP Siegfried Kauder immediately fell foul of his own proposed “two strikes and you’re out” copyright law when two photographs on his website were found to have been hijacked from elsewhere. Author and Creative Commons campaigner Doctorow blew a fuse when he learned that the Daily Mail had used some of his wife’s photographs without permission, then went ahead and did the same thing with a photograph from the Guardian the very same day. But the clear winner was the world’s first plagiarism supergroup. Dylan was caught out claiming paintings in a new exhibition were from his travels in Asia when they were very obviously slavishly copied from a variety of other people’s photographs. In a deliciously ironic twist the fawning catalogue to the exhibition was written by Richard “Prince Of Thieves”, who had just lost his own multi-million dollar copyright suit for ripping off photographs from Patrick Cariou’s book Yes Rasta.

Grand Prix de Folie Photographie
The judges’ verdict: This year’s winner was a no-brainer in every sense. The premier award has in the past been inevitably scooped by one of the industry’s big players; it’s a sign of changing times that this year’s winner is not even professionally involved in the photo business. Photo blogger Thomas Hawk started the year promisingly, with a museum confrontation that left him facing a $2m copyright and libel lawsuit. But Hawk’s tussle with the World Erotic Art Museum was mere foreplay: the best was yet to come in June, when he accused legendary New York photographer Jay Maisel of copyright enforcement practices that would make Tony Soprano blush. In the ensuing firestorm Hawk displayed his much-vaunted commitment to transparency first by abusing and censoring anyone who disagreed with his frankly expressed convictions, then by quietly removing his offending posts. Finally he removed his blog from its long-standing home in the offices of investment firm Stone & Youngberg, where Hawk’s alter ego Andrew Peterson works, to remotest Utah.

Sandringham, Norfolk, England, 10/12/2011. Runners dressed as Father Christmas take part in the Santa Dash fundraising run for the Norfolk Hospice through the Country Park at the Queen'€™s Sandringham Estate.
Photo © Jeremy Nicholl 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Sandringham, Norfolk, England, 04/12/2011.
Runners dressed as Father Christmas take part in the Santa Dash fundraising run for the Norfolk Hospice through the Country Park at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate.

Cory Doctorow: serious about copyright... Photo by Ed Schipul (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Question: what do you call someone who campaigns for anyone to be allowed to publish a photographer’s work without permission, and then complains when someone publishes his wife’s photographs without permission? Answer: Cory Doctorow.

Our old friends Irony and Schadenfreude had a field day last week when writer and wannabe copyright reformer Doctorow mounted the Boing Boing barricades to rant against “the awful Daily Mail, a hateful right-wing tabloid that keeps finding new bottoms to scrape.”

That’s an interesting image, but what was the reason for his ire? Apparently his wife Alice snapped an anorexic mannequin in Gap and uploaded the image to TwitPic; Doctorow then published the photo at Boing Boing accusing Gap of “death camp chic”. The Mail, ever on the lookout for a good scandal, picked up on the story and called asking to use the image.

Despite their reservations about the Mail the Doctorows, after due consideration of, oh, a few seconds or so, decided the hateful right-wing tabloid could have the snap for a charity donation of £250. The Mail [part of Associated Newspapers, with 2010 operating profits of £42M] countered that was beyond their budget. Then the Mail did what the Mail does, and lifted the photo anyway – along with a few juicy quotes into the bargain.

Unsurprisingly the Doctorows were outraged, hence the Cory vent in which he accused the Mail of “ripping off” the picture, ending with a demand for £2,000 for two infringed images and the vaguely threatening words “updates to come, I’m sure”. But could this be the same Cory Doctorow that has spent most of his adult life campaigning for the weakening of copyright laws? The Doctorow that tours as a poster boy for Creative Commons licenses that allow photographers’ work to be used without permission? The one that “rips off” photographs for his own articles?

Well, er, yes; which is why a few of the responses to his article were less than kind, accusing him of hypocrisy. However the Doctorow fan boys, like Cory usually very much in favour of redistributing photographers’ work without permission, felt his pain and the comments were largely filled with suggestions that the Doctorows should call M’ Learned Friends. Although it would be highly entertaining to watch the Doctorows sue the Mail for copyright infringement that’s sadly not going to happen; or at the very least they’ll have to get in line.

For what the Doctorows overlooked is that in uploading the image to TwitPic they had already given away their image distribution rights long before the Mail came calling. As the rest of the Internet already knows, TwitPic signed a highly contentious deal with the World Entertainment News Network in May that gives WENN distribution rights to any images uploaded to TwitPic, and without any payment to the image owner. So if anyone is going to be suing the Mail it will be WENN, not the Doctorows. Interestingly the story disappeared from the Mail site over the weekend without the Doctorows’ knowledge, so it may be that WENN have already contacted the paper.

The final irony is that only hours after his Mail bitch-fest, Doctorow was busy ripping off photographs himself. On August 16th, the day of Doctorow’s rant, the Guardian ran a story from the Edinburgh Festival with a photograph by Murdo Macleod. And the following day there was a story about the Edinburgh Festival on Boing Boing, filed by Cory Doctorow and with that very same Murdo Macleod image. Doubtless Doctorow took time off from discussing the Mail with his lawyers to ask Macleod’s permission to use the image. If not he will have already calculated what he owes Macleod for “ripping off” the photo: his own going rate of £1,000 per image.

It’s clear that Doctorow, despite his carefully constructed image as a cutting-edge thinker on intellectual property matters, has a lot to learn when it comes to copyright. But last week should have provided a lesson simple enough for even Doctorow to grasp: when it comes to intellectual property and ripping off other people’s photographs, what goes around comes around.

What I’m thinking…

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