I’m Sorry Doesn’t Make It Right (How can they stop people from posting other people’s photos? A lawsuit!)

You are a photographer and one of your photos is stolen and used in public for monetary gain; so what do you do? What is the proper course of action? And really the bigger question here is; what is the proper course of action to keep it from a happening again?

Recently (September 21, 2018) I came across a post in my Instagram feed from a photographer whom I follow and he had posted about someone using his photo without permission. I might add that he is a very well-known headshot photographer in NYC. As in, maybe the “best” headshot photographer in NYC. I will not use his name, but he does a lot of work for the entertainment industry and for everyday people as well. He is the “go-to” guy for getting a headshot that will make you look the best you can look. He also shoots other styles of photography as well, but I think it’s fair to say he is most noted for his headshot business.

So here’s the scoop as I know it and in my opinion what he did wrong, very wrong.

(These are the facts as I know them from reading the photographers posts on his IG)

Someone used his photo as their profile photo on the website https://www.airbnb.com they used his photo but used a different name. Most likely not their real name, however that doesn’t really matter. It was brought to the photographer’s attention and he, like most people was very upset and contacted @airbnb to have the photo removed. On the first contact @airbnb would not remove the photo. He was told they really have no control over profile photos (not a quote, but that’s the gist of it). His second contact with @arbnb he was told the photo had been removed and that the first employee he spoke with did not know the company’s copyright policy. After @airbnb removed the photo the photographer was pleased and for the most part all is good. The photographer had said in his post that he liked @airbnb and had used their service in the past.

I had left a rather light hearted comment on his first post saying “you should sic Ed Greenberg on them” (infamous intellectual properties attorney). Although a light hearted comment I fully meant it.

I also left another comment on his second post about this situation and rather than quoting the comment that I posted I will give my more detailed opinion here (because it is my blog).

He was wrong! The photographer is wrong for accepting that @airbnb can do nothing about it and he is wrong for accepting their moronic statement that their employee did not know about @airbnb’s copyright policy.

As a headshot photographer this man (the photographer who had the image stolen) has spent years of his life honing his craft. He is as well known in NYC and around the world for what he does and how does it. He teaches the art of creating headshots… I have sat through his classes. I look up this this guy and I full believe without a doubt he is a master of his craft. The equipment he uses, the staff he employs in not cheap by any means and to have someone steal his image and use it as their own is absurd at best. But then to have a company who is benefiting from it and flip-idly claims an employee didn’t know the copyright policy is just as or even more absurd.

So I know at this point you are most likely thinking a few different things like; well, yeah how can @airbnb stop someone from posting a profile photo that is not theirs? And; well if @airbnb took the photo down all is good, so why complain?

Why complain; because they’ll let it happen again and again and again. And if not @airbnb other sites will do it and think it is ok.

Now first let’s understand there are many frivolous lawsuits filed every day. However the purpose of a lawsuit is not so much for the plaintiff to just get a windfall of money, but rather it is a means of correcting a wrong and making damn sure it does not happen again. The biggest way to correct a wrong and make sure the offender or future offenders do not do it again is a lawsuit. Simply put if you punch the bully hard enough to cause him pain he stops. The best way in the business world to cause pain is take a person’s or company’s money. Yeah they scream like a little baby that has had the nipple plucked from their mouth.

Any good intellectual properties attorney will have a good story or two… or ten to tell you about the cases they have won where the offender “didn’t really think it was a big deal to use a photo and there is no harm done because we removed the photo.” And then much to their surprise when the court delivers that devastating blow to their wallet they scream and scream they should.

Let me step back for those who may not know and refresh your memory about the fact that copyright is laid out in the body of the US constitution. Not an amendment… but a right given to us by our founding fathers and it can be found in section 8 “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

This is why copyright infringement is a serious offense.

 

 

So I know you (the reader) may still be saying “but how can @airbnb control what photo a person uses for a profile?” Easy… if the lawsuit is big enough to make them scream they’ll find away very quickly. We live in a world where companies like Twitter and Instagram can grant people verified accounts, so I know there is a way it can be done. With the coming of AI (artificial intelligence) I’m sure it will be very easy to verify people’s online identity with the greatest of ease.

Now for the scary part… This whole post has been about someone using another person’s photo “online.” What about when a photo is stolen and used in “printed material?” It happens all the time, companies making money from someone else’s hard work.

When a photographer is well known for his/her work it is not something that just happened one day. You just wake up and bam you can take a great photo and the world loves you and lavishes you with money. Sure it would be nice if it worked that way, but it doesn’t. All too often (and it happens more than you know) images are ripped off for monetary gain. In this case @airbnb is letting a customer use a photo of a very good looking man for a profile photo. I might add that the photographer was a model for many years before he became a photographer. “Good looking” sells… there is no other way to look at it. Good looks will take you a long way in this world. We never see every day looking people in advertisements and in my opinion if someone had a really great looking profile photo it would most likely stand out and get noticed more than others.

I urge all serious photographers to educate themselves about copyright and registering their images. It really is not all that hard of a process. I register my images four times a year. The biggest problem with copyright is there are so many myths out there. Again… there are so many myths and I think the biggest and most confusing myth that I hear all the times is “if I have the original RAW file I can prove it is mine” or “I have the copyright as soon as I snapped the shutter and created the photo.” While both of these statements are 100% true, you still need to register your images with the library of congress. Look at it this way… you bought a car from me and I gave you a recite for the purchase of the car. Now you own the car, but to make it complete you have to register the car with the state government so that it is documented that “you own the car.” Same thing applies to intellectual property. You created it, but you need to register it.

Take the time to read the Copyright Zone. The book is very easy to read and as I have said in previous posts “it will actually be the most important photography book you’ll own.” There is so much great and accurate information coming straight from the infamous intellectual properties attorney Ed Greenberg and commercial photographer Jack Reznicki.

Thanks for reading.

Food for Thought, The Social Media Photo Ruse (“A photo is worth a thousand words” and it could also be worth many questions as well.)

Organic Pumpkin Doughnuts with pecans and maple glaze. 1/60 sec at f/3.5 ISO 50 50mm

Organic Pumpkin Doughnuts with pecans and maple glaze. 1/60 sec at f/3.5 ISO 50 50mm

Do you ever stop and look really close at photos on social media? Do you want people to look closer at your social media images? If you are seriously using social media to represent a brand or maybe your image is your brand, I ask you; are you putting thought into the quality of the images. I know that sounds a little corny but seriously take the time and look at some of the photos of the favorites you follow. Now I’m not talking about your BFF or Aunt Martha’s picnic photos but rather the images of some of the higher profile people you follow. From Instagram, Facebook to blogs they all have their place on the web and they all serve a purpose and they all need image content whether it be photos or video, you should be putting thought into this content and not just the quantity but also the quality. One great post speaks volumes of ten good posts.

We all know (or you should know) the one way to kill followers on Instagram (IG) is to fill your followers feed with multiple images posted just minutes apart. I have dropped fairly interesting people from IG just because they post ten photos of the same party or MX race or photo shoot ect… IG is where you need to be right now if you want to promote or if you are a good photographer, but just don’t get carried away. The girl who posts ten selfies a day is just as bad as the guy who posts one selfie a week but it is in front of the same mirror in his bathroom. Boring! Just as boring is an image of a beautiful meal you’re getting ready to indulge in and there is no description as to what it is or where it is. “A photo is worth a thousand words” and it could also be worth many questions as well. So help your viewers out and give a description and respond to comments. Responding to comments even just to say “thank you” makes your viewer/follower feel like you know they are there. Of course if you have hundreds of thousands of followers returning comments can be daunting to say the least, but with that many followers you now hold an extreme amount of leverage over social media and you should be using that leverage for advertising and there for have someone dedicated to returning comments.

Now back to the questions at hand; the reason I ask these questions is because there is a bit of a ruse going on with a lot of high-profile bloggers and IG-ers. I am a photographer myself so I follow certain people or entities to keep current with news, trends or maybe for inspiration. I follow the Victoria Secret models such as a Lily Aldridge, Elsa Hosk and Alessandra Amrbosio just to mention a few. Sure they are beautiful women and they are super models and they appear on Victoria Secret’s social media. However they have their own IG accounts and they post selfies and meals just like any other girl on social media… or do they? Now please know I am not bashing or in any way disrespecting these ladies in what I’m about to say. But how is it that Elsa can post what appears to be a selfie taken inside of a vehicle and it has near perfect lighting. Or nobody ever has a photo that has lens distortion and the big give away is “we all know models are just regular people” so how is it that their faces are always free of blemishes. I’m not saying they are fully retouched images in the sense they look flawless, but rather they look natural just coming out of a pool or hanging with friends and there are no blemishes… none. Nobody is that perfect and the ruse is in this case models looking as if they are in everyday situations. But it is not just limited to models I’m merely using them as an example. It could be an image of food but if it is representing you or your brand make it the best it can be before you post it.

So my whole point is that it is obvious somebody is controlling the content and most likely there is a photographer taking the images and making them appear as if they are selfies. Smart move when you think about it. I know many agents in Hollywood will never let a client’s images go to print or social media without being retouched. Only paparazzi shots go to print or posting without retouching. So if it is good for Hollywood why not for the advertisement industry and why not for you and your social media. If you are not a photographer I would suggest you find one or learn yourself. A decent point & shoot and Adobe Lightroom would suffice for editing most images.

So there is your food for thought. Take a few minutes to look at the social media of some high-profile companies or people and look at the images that are meant to look as if they were shot with a phone camera and see if you notice the obvious.

 

Instagram Lives (IG has no adds that chase you around like an evil stepmother)

"Reaching" Model Kendall Strampel, hair & makeup Aryn Wilson

“Reaching” Model Kendall Strampel, hair & makeup Aryn Wilson “Dreams can be so elusive like a whisper on the wind. Like the moon above seen yet never touched. Through perseverance, hard work and a long road traveled… One day the moon is replaced by the earth in the sky.” -Richie Smith Jr-

My experience as a photographer with Facebook is dead. I have two active Facebook pages; my personal page is where I interact with people I know, most of whom I have met in person. However there are a few very interesting people on my friends list that I have never had the pleasure of meeting in person, but I have found them very interesting and I like to follow and read their postings.

My Recklesspixel Facebook page was created as a way to get my photography and illustrations out to the rest of the world. Sure I have a website, a blog site and media content site that are all integrated, but social media is for the most part free and as the name implies it is social. But Facebook has gotten greedy when it comes to getting your message (mine is photography) out to the masses. They want you to pay to “boost” your postings and it really is a bunch of BS.

Here is my personal experience with Instagram vs Facebook. Ok so I have paid to boost a post on Facebook and all it ever got me was a few “Likes” and that was it. I received very few comments and I received absolutely no business, no business interactions what-so-ever, zero.

The short of how I started with Instagram was a friend in China asked me if I would use Instagram to share photos with her and this dates back to 2009. I downloaded the Instagram app to my phone and I had one follower and I followed just one person, my friend Grace. We originally started out on Skype and as Grace’s career changed and she was on the go Skype was no longer functional to connect with a quick real-time photo or comment and given the fact the Chinese government does not allow Facebook we found a work-around solution.

So I had IG for a few years and soon I started to get followers from my Facebook friends list, just a few here and there. Then I noticed in 2012 that when I would meet a younger person say 15 to 24 years old they would ask what my IG name is and they would all but puke at the thought of Facebook. “Facebook” that is where grandma goes to play Farmville or they would say things like “Facebook sucks because it only shows you what Facebook wants you to see.” That statement came from a fifteen year old five years ago.

So I plodded along and every so often I would open the IG app and check it out, but not too much would happen. Then in 2014 I set some goals to take my photography to newer and higher levels, I knew I needed to be more active on social media. Now let me explain that this is not the typical social media activity many are guilty of where they just sit and push a “Like” button or view mindless videos of cats only to get to the end of the climax-less video to wish you had those two minutes of your life back. Or worse to sit and rant and comment about a Photoshoped image of an abused animal, child or whatever… to me that is all pointless stuff one does when they have nothing better to do. No, my social media activity on IG became calculated, but first I had to educate myself a little bit with everything IG, such as etiquette and what people are really using IG for. So for the most part there are really two groups of people on IG; there are people who what to post content for others to see and there are selfie queens who must post a selfie every few minutes because their fragile mindless ego dictates they have to do that. Don’t get me wrong I think everybody has posted a selfie, but if it becomes an obsession than as far as media content is concerned it is pointless.

So I started actively following people or businesses that I thought would help my photography, I also would interact with them. And as time pressed on I would post content that was 99% about my photography and 1% about other stuff such as a cool and interesting location or activity. Then one day I got a DM or direct message and it wasn’t from Grace, it was from a fellow photographer asking advice. What? From me? Then more DMs started to appear in the coming days/weeks from models wanting to shoot with me, photographers who wanted to shadow me at a shoot and people asking Photoshop questions. Although I had interacted with IG users by nothing more than leaving comments on posts I had never sent a DM to anybody, well other than Grace. Then the phone calls started coming, I have my Google Voice number in my profile. I had people asking about portrait pricing and dates. I was like OMG it really can happen, social media can really work for you if you work for it and I have never given Instagram a dime, FUCK YOU FACEBOOK!

So with the good comes a little bad I guess. I have had some images stolen from IG and amazingly enough one moron edited the photo and posted back to his IG and credited me as the photographer and he even credited the model, but his edit was horrible and …yeah his IG account went down in flames like Russian jet over Syria lol.

Now as I said my posts on IG are calculated to get the most impact. Timing is everything; using software to know the best time to post has really helped me. But I think the most powerful tool was learning how to use hashtags. Hashtags are more powerful than older people realize because they travel across social platforms. I say “older” people because I find the younger crowd knows fully how to use them and their power.

Instagram really has taken a good swing at Facebook and as far as I’m concerned it landed a critical blow. Almost like when you’re hit and it doesn’t show till the bruises appear later. I’m sure Instagram will evolve even further, but I just hope they stay as organic as possible. IG has no adds that chase you around like an evil stepmother nor is there a sidebar showing you aunt Martha just liked her 800th cat photo of the day, no game requests and best of all if you get sucked into a video they are only 15 seconds long, that’s the limit and they’re sticking to it… so far.

Love my IG.

 

A Must Read For New Models (And “yes” many days in life are like a minefield. )

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This post is directed towards new models coming into the world of modeling and it is to give them an idea of what one might want to do and not do as they start off on that long journey. You did know it is a long journey, right? Ok, so as a model you are more than just a pretty face. In the beginning you are just a pretty face, but you need to take it to the next level. Many models are using modeling as a way to propel themselves to something higher, like acting or other aspects of the entertainment business. While I will agree there are some models out there of all ages that are “hobbyist” so to speak and they just like being in front of the camera and there is nothing wrong with that. It certainly is a fun way to start to see if you really like being in front of a camera.

But let’s face it, it doesn’t matter if you’re using modeling as a step up to something higher or you just want to go straight for professional modeling, you need to brand yourself. I am not going to go into branding in detail because it is a topic that should be looked at in detail and I am not an expert. I do know a lot about branding, however like I said I am not an expert. It all sound kind of scary and complicated and rightfully so, however if you break it all down it is not that complicated and if you want to succeed & survive in a cruel world it has to be done. The biggest piece of advice anyone could ever give you is “take business courses” and learn about business. I know you’re thinking how does this all relate to modeling. Ok, so as you grow you are going to make money, hopefully we can say you will make lots of money, so you need to be prepared for this chapter of your career before you come to it. You have to know this may be the most important decision you’ll ever make and like many things in life you’ll never fully understand it until you look at it in hindsight. It doesn’t matter if you are a model or a photographer or someone who wants to open a restaurant, you need to know how to make business decisions and all the other do’s & don’ts. You could have the best food recipes in the world and have the nicest restaurant in town but if you know nothing about how to run a business, you have a perfect plan for failure. As a model you may think that when you become well known and start working for bigger clients you’ll just hire and agent or a manager and this is a fine thing to do. But how do you know they are good at making business decision?  If you know nothing about what is and isn’t a good business decision and you hired a manager or an agent, they could be stealing your profit or worse yet, lead you down a bad business path. So I’ll say it one last time take some business courses, you’ll be so glad you did. Besides if you decide to make career changes it is a very valuable set of skills to have.

So moving on… You need to establish a web presence and I don’t just mean a Facebook or Instagram page. You need to learn about social media.

  • How it works and doesn’t work.
  • What content belongs on what social media?
  • Keep up with the times as social media is constantly changing.
  • Social media vs a website.

First and foremost if at all possible you need to secure the domain for your name. This means buying the web address that is your name. I’ll explain; my name is Richard Smith Jr and I also go by Richie Smith Jr. I own both of those dot com names. I don’t have them attached to a website, but I do own http://www.richardsmithjr.com & http://www.richiesmithjr.com. I have a very common name but I am proud to own those dot coms as it gives me the power to control the web presence of my actual name. For me it is somewhat important, but let’s look at somebody like Lily Aldridge. Come on you know who Lily Aldridge is right? She is a Victoria’s Secret Angel and a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue model. Now how would it look if she did not secure the dot com of her name and it fell into the wrong hands? So I think by this point you are starting to see why you need to secure the dot com of your name if you can.

Now social media is an ever changing thing. Do you remember Myspace? If you don’t remember or are too young to know, MySpace was huge before Facebook came along. Will Facebook always be here? If you answered “yes” just remember that’s what MySpace thought. Who knows maybe Facebook will last, but as of now a lot of the younger crowd has kind of split off of Facebook and went over to Instagram. Instagram is more of what the younger crowd is looking for, but there will always be the “new kid in town” and everybody will try it. I thought Twitter was worthless when I first seen it. Now I use it. I actually use several forms of social media, but I use each one a little differently. I have a personal Facebook for family & friends and then I have two business Facebook pages, one for my photography and another for my catering business. Twitter is great for news, Pinterest is where I create mood boards for photo shoots and Instagram is where I follow people whom I find interesting although I may not know them. IG is also where people find me, both photographers and models. They follow what I’m doing ask questions and interact, of course I do the same. So that is a brief overview of social media and there is a lol more to it, but most of all is to know what to post and where to post it. Don’t be rude on Instagram and post 20 selfies a day and fill up your follower’s feed, which is a great way to lose followers on IG & Facebook. If you want to post a selfie, make it one really cool selfie. Make it special, make it different and make it something people want to see. One interesting selfies is so much better than 20 selfies of you looking like a deer in the headlights.

A website is different than social media because it will always be there and you will always control it. It will be where anybody can go to see what you are about, what your business or career is. Maybe you sell products of services or in some way produce content for learning or entertaining purposes. Either way it is your website, your dot com and it is your little part of the internet.

I have worked with several models and I have met and talked with even more than I can count. I find so many young or maybe just new to modeling that have all this drive and willingness and most of all dreams to achieve, but they’re clueless about where they should be going. I mean clueless as to “they don’t even know that they don’t know anything.” And clueless is not always a bad thing, clueless people have no fear because they don’t even know they should have fear. And with fear being a big obstacle, not having it can be good… that is unless you’re walking through a minefield. And “yes” many days in life are like a minefield. So I guess the purpose of this post is to get new models to just stop and look and think, before heading to the minefield.

If It Is Good, It Will Get Stolen (Instagram is like the wild, wild west)

Kendall Strampel at the gate to the medical ward at Eastern States Penitentiary

Kendall Strampel at the gate to the medical ward at Eastern States Penitentiary

Not sure why people do this? In all of my quest to become a great photo editor I have spent countless hours working in Adobe Photoshop. I have spent countless dollars taking classes, reading books and traveling to conventions and attending live seminars. I have studied under some of the best in the industry. One thing that is known by all is; if you post online you will have your images stolen. These are the most recent images that have been reported to me by Digimarc. Although I find it an honor that someone likes my image enough to steal it and repost it. Or in the case of what goes on at Instagram where people take the photo and re-edit it in some horrible manner that doesn’t lend any goodness or in anyway make the photo better than what it was to start with. Digimarc is a digital watermark that is embedded in the properties of the image kind of giving the image its own personal address. Wherever the photo goes, so does the watermark and can be traced. The watermark can be stripped out but it will greatly reduce the quality of the image.
I have never stolen an image and called it my own, nor have I taken someone’s image and re-edited it. I have however bought (as in paid $$$) stock photos from istock.com to use for editing purposes. My latest photo of The crazed Kendall at the gate to the medical ward at Eastern States Penitentiary was only online a few days before it started to travel around on its own. I knew this would happen because the photo was very popular as soon as it went up online at the various places I posted it. The biggest amazement or I should say “question” that everyone was asking me was “how did you get her on the other side of the gate to photograph her?” Because any photographer who has ever been to ESP knows that the gate is kept locked and it is a forbidden area to photograph. You can take photos of the gate, but you can not go on the otherside. So just how did I get Kendall in this spot? I think you know the answer to that.

As for Instagram; I have been getting all kinds of activity over there. I get the normal people who “like” my photos and follow me. Some ask questions or advice and this I find no problem or fault with. But I get DM’s (direct messages) all the time from girls who want to shoot with me. So called models. I say “so called” because they are for the most part just girls looking to get in front of a camera so they can say “yeah I did a photo shoot today.” So I tested the waters on this and had a 50% failure rate… or success rate depending on how you want to look at it. The first girl was amazing. An amature for sure but what a great person and she took direction well and we had a great shoot with awesome images created in the end. Second was a total dud… a miss-fire so to speak. I scheduled the shoot with hair and makeup artists on hand and the girl was a total no show. Ahhh… what do you want its Instagram, its like the wild, wild, west.

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