People Magazine Uses Photo without Permission, Receives Cake Invoice

This is probably the strangest story you’ll read today. When Neil Berrett quit his job in 2009, he sent his boss a kindly written resignation letter written on a cake. The photo of Berrett and his cake become widely circulated, and received hundreds of thousands of views.

Last month, Berrett received an email from People Magazine asking for permission to use the cake photo in an article. Berrett replied asking that the magazine license the photo, but never received a response. The next day, he suddenly found that the magazine had gone ahead and used his photo in an article titled “Take This Job and Shove It! 8 Memorable Quitters“.

Berrett responded by sending the magazine a cease-and-desist letter. Six days later, the magazine removed the photo and offered him $75 to use the image. Berrett writes,

That may have been reasonable if my photo’s copyright had not been willfully infringed and used for six days.

Today, Berrett decided to put an ironic twist on this whole story by sending an invoice for $500 to the photo director… on a cake:


Thanks for the tip, Jim!

Image credits: Photographs by Neil Berrett and used with permission

  • David S. Wieland

    But the important question is: did you ask permission to post these photos?

  • Daniel Fealko

    Well that takes the cake!

  • Michael Stanclift

    “Image credits: Photographs by Neil Berrett and used with permission”

  • Eric

    What a tasteful resignation!

  • Studio

    I bet they send him a cake that looks like a $500 bill….

  • dr.frank.poole

    Alas, this sort of thing goes on all the time now, and the “reputable” magazines (and newspapers) are no less guilty then the rogue ones. Posting an image on the internet that is not watermarked is, in my experience, asking for trouble, sad as that may be.

    I love the way Neil has dealt with this. And the $500 fee is in no way excessive.

    If the magazine refuses to pay up (playing a delaying game), a letter from a lawyer will, in my experience, always do the trick. Theft is theft whichever way you look at it.

    Best of luck, Neil, although luck isn’t really required.

  • Ranger9

    Add to excuses for not getting paid: “Bookkeeping ate your invoice.”

  • Mike Isaac


  • Brett

    The cake is a li-invoice…

  • Greg Gazin

    Take this invoice and… Eat it!

  • TR

    He’s in the photo, but who took it? Doesn’t the photographer hold the copyright? (I realize if it’s on a timer the photog is him.)

  • Dc chavez

    TR- he hired a photographer on a work for hire basis to snap this candid shot. End of copyright story. :)

  • Malok

    I think the real question is “Did they pay?”

  • rbitting

    They should send him a check written on a cake!

  • Frank

    >Alas, this sort of thing goes on all the time now, and the “reputable” magazines (and newspapers) are no less guilty then the rogue ones.

    I’ve seen word for word copies of blogs re-posted on reputable “news” sites with no permission or attribution. A very hypocritical thing considering their longstanding disregard of blogs.

  • GlossGreen

    I love this story. Great way to quit and send an invoice. Permanence and record keeping will be a problem though.

  • NativeTexan210

    I bet if they were clever enough to think of that, he might actually accept that as payment for the used time but not license to keep using it. lol, I know I would.

  • Commercial Photographer

    People Magazine did not need his permission to publish the photo. It was nice that they asked him if they could use it. Under the U.S. Copyright Law, the magazine can use the image without getting a release signed. Neil does not hold the copyright of the image unless the photographer gave/sold it to him. The law is quite clear about who can do what. The law states that any image may be used without permission by the photographer except where a recognizable person (Celebrities, Politician, Entertainer), child in a identifiable location (schools, ect.), Compromising content that could cause harm, Nudity with face shown, sexual acts, and several more areas. Also, any image shot by a photographer is copyrighted as soon as the shutter closes. The fines are built into levels such as the image has not been directly sent in for filling as a exact copy (a fine of 1600 per image use). A photographer also can submit a “lot” containing many different images together for legal restrictions ( The fine jumps up to 16500.00 per use).

    I know that it seems biased that the person in the image has little control of the image but that is the way the law is written. I should also mention that I am a commercial photographer and have to deal with the issue on a regularly. The fine amounts differ depending on the state, judge, jurisdiction.

  • GlossGreen

    But here’s the core of the problem: does not hold the copyright and did not obtain the permission of the copyright holder (Neil Berrett) before using it. The photo credits are posted at the end of the story.

  • photographer3

    The photographer who took the photo should bill People Mag for unlawful use, and dont settle for less than $1000 for unlawful use.

    Agree with Commerical Photographer, the person in the picture doesnt get pay but photographer does. The picture in People mag is used in editorially, so you dont need permission per se.
    Once image is posted on the internet its considered published, and the subject in the photograph can not control (editorially) use by others, but images itself is copyrighted and does need to be paid proper licensing fee to the photographer.

  • Mark Harmel

    Who is the photographer?

  • NJguy

    the cake is not a lie.

  • Saharopakistan

    Every year we wait for the monsoon season to come and beat the heat of summer’s spell. The lovely rains that blossoms the trees and lightens up the atmosphere, the wonderful weather where romanticism revolves in the air for 2 months atleast. It’s altogether a lovely feeling throughout July and August.
    But all of a sudden, this year’s monsoon actually brought sadness over the faces; it became a wrath of God. Every single province in Pakistan got traumatized due to the rains. As this year’s rain brought in a huge Flood, shattering houses, taking away lots of lives. From the top to the bottom, Pakistan is all under water. Killing Water!
    What is happening? Such destruction? So much rain that not even dams can stop them? Did our Meteorological department know about such heavy rain falls and disaster caused by it? Was our irrigation department prepared? Did our ecological department plan about it? Did people have any idea how worse it can be? Did people prepare? Did people get time to think over it and prepare?
    Obviously there is no answer.
    The rains started, the sewerage system got occupied. People started running towards their home to take their families to a place where it’s not raining heavily. They are on their way to other cities/areas, the bridges collapsed, roads broke into pieces. Even the mountains loosen up, huge rocks started to fell on causing road blocks. One to another, people got caught into problems, where there was No way out.
    The people who went on holidays, vacations, honeymoons etc got trapped in the beautiful northern areas of Pakistan. Up on the hills, where there is no food, water, access to any store; they are stuck up in their own realm of problems. Where helicopters and government officials will have to go there to help them but due to heavy rains, they couldn’t go there even. It’s a distressing & painful state.
    The flood started from Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, entering Sindh via Baluchistan and parts of Punjab.

    As always our Forces are always there to take care of us, to protect us and save our lives. Army along with Air Force and Navy rescued many affected people but still several died and drowned in the water. Still Navy and its Commandos are trying to save lives in flooded areas of Sindh, though it just entered Sindh but created a mess there too.
    Prediction is that this situation will calm down by mid August 2010 but will not end until September.
    But one must appreciate the spirit of Pakistanis; everybody is there to help their native brothers and sisters. People are collecting & providing clothes, money, medicines, food etc all what they can think of, to the camps created by Armed Forces in different localities, as people cannot return to their homes due to no electricity, gas and major necessities of life.
    Electric supply, Gas and all such pipelines were closed to avoid fire and current in water, which could have lead to several deaths. Already a great number of people have already died within a week’s time.
    Well, one can take preventive measures always. People should avoid travelling, whether it is through any mode. People should store lots of food & medicines in their home. But then again, can one stop flood coming into their homes? Gosh NO!
    Although these Disasters being Natural are not without Human Involvement!

    This is a humanitarian crisis, and one should really not consider the nationality of the families dieing due to such a crisis. It is so unfortunate that people are considering nationalities when giving aid to individuals including little children. I think this is an opportunity for people, regardless of race, religion or color, to unite.

    SWO is working in effected areas of Sindh from the first day with its team of Doctors and Caregivers but we need help, we urgently need following items:

    1. Mosquito nets.
    2. Snake Bite Injections.
    3. Food stuff.
    4. Tents.
    5. Drinking Water.
    6. US Dollars 70000

    We are looking towards International Community for their support and help. Remember, God loves those who love humanity.

    “I will never forget the destruction and suffering I have witnessed today. In the past I have witnessed many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this.” – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

    Sincerely yours,
    Mehtab Qureshi
    Saharo Welfare Organization (Regd)
    Phone: +92-021-37677933

  • Susiemutha

    this guy ought to go into the cake business…with ‘tell em how ya really feel…on a cake’ as his marketing strategy…just sayin

  • Spameater


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  • Apaulfx

    Turn out they just got pissed and took the photo down. I doubt they paid his invoice.

  • Pingback: Let them eat cake.()

  • Randy

    I have a question for legal minded types: is there any limitation on the type of media that the invoice is printed on (or resignation, for that matter) and still be considered a bonifide document. A cake is a somewhat transient material. For example, what if I sent someone a bill via skywriting above corporate, but they neglected to look up while the plane was doing its business, does it count as a form of communication?

  • Noname

    Important question is, can you read?

  • PeteB

    I wonder if they paid in chocolate money?

  • Savale

    No the important questions are:
    Sponge or fruit?
    Is it written in raspberry or strawberry flavour icing?
    (I’m hoping for raspberry)

  • wife of lawyer

    Can you pic people NOT read? He paid the photographer! A fee for services with the agreement that HE, Neil Barrett, owns the image NOT the photographer. Therefore, the photographer is not a concern.
    READ first, please.

  • wife of lawyer

    This is a smart guy. First, he paid for and retained license to the photo documented evidence of his resignation.. we all got that from the above. Second, the cake in the photo can be read, so that answers the validity issue. Third, I am sure he also followed up said cake with a written copy of it’s iced statement.
    If not, the cake still stands, just like an email does, also “transient material” but still admissible in a court of law.

  • ProFreelancePhotographer

    Umm…I’m a freelance photographer and I can tell you $75 is absolutely NOT reasonable for a photo appearing in People. $500 is the normal STARTING going rate for a photo like this appearing in the way it did. He should have billed them for a lot more for the copyright violation.

  • Jpliu

    Interesting! Does this website owner need to have permissions to publish these two photos here? I don’t know much about copy law but am very interested to know the answer.

  • Albert Zablit Photographer

    The photographer already sold his rights to the guy.

  • Albert Zablit Photographer

    I hate to be an ass, but… does it matter who took that snapshot?
    I kid, I kid, I don’t know the answer. I looked on Berrett’s flickr but didn’t find any info.

  • Ed

    pwnage. hahaha

  • Sidar

    Nice article

  • Saima Imtiaz

    The post has really good , informative
    and valid points i like it! thanks
    for sweat sharing! giftxperts com

  • Samia ali

    Really nicely done and author has shared lots of
    informative thoughts in this article!
    over all its really Good i like it!! keep Sharing

  • Steve

    He has permission as stated on the bottom of the article… Learn to read…

  • Kitsune Rouge

    Is it just me, or does it look like “Total” is spelled wrong on the invoice? I see “Totel” but maybe it’s just the handwriting.

  • Noch

    Read more, post less.

  • Noch

    How is cake any more transient than paper? Paper can rot, be set alight, be screwed up, be shredded, the ink can run and smudge, it can be eaten (if one really wants to), covered in paint, etc…

  • Sweet

    i like it .. keep it up : )