Photo Essay on Bombing Suspect Taken Offline to Stop Theft by Screenshot


In 2010, then BU journalism student Johannes Hirn put together a photo essay titled “Will Box for Passport.” The essay was based around a boxer by the name of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, better known now as “Suspect #1″ or the “Black Hat bomber” from the Boston Marathon bombing.

According to an NPPA report, once Tsarnaev and his younger brother were listed as suspects, several publishers both large and small found and began using content from the essay without ever ascertaining Hirn’s permission. All the while, Hirn was on the phone with his former BU professor Peter Southwick to figure out how he could properly license the images before websites and blogs began stealing them — it was already too late.

The report claims that several “large famous [websites] as well as personal blogs,” took screenshots of the pics on Hirn’s PhotoShelter website and began using them without ever seeking him out for permission. In the mean-time, legitimate organizations were trying to get in touch with Hirn, who turned out to be very difficult to reach.


There are a few lessons to be learned here, not the least of which is to always use a watermark. It’s no excuse for the dishonest organizations that pulled photos from the site without permission, but even the outlets that sought permission couldn’t get ahold of Hirn and wound up using PhotoShelter to try and reach him. By the time PhotoShelter did (and it even took them a while), the majority of the damage was done and Hirn had already been forced to take the gallery down.

In correspondence with News Photographer, PhotoShelter CEO Andrew Fingerman — who spoke with Hirn personally — said that Hirn wished, in hindsight, that he had used a watermark, provided direct contact info through an “About Me” page, or taken advantage of PhotoShelter’s built-in capability to license images. Sadly, he did not, and as a result he found out how quickly an image can be stolen and distributed when you don’t take the proper precautions … and sometimes even when you do.

(via PDN Pulse)

  • Duh

    the good news is that this will never happen to Hirn again…

  • Johnny Blood

    “There are a few lessons to be learned here, not the least of which is to always use a watermark.”

    Why? Watermarks, like above, only steer advertisers and purchasers of your images away. What’s more, they make your collection of photos look tacky. The only advantage a watermark has is if you copyright your image, and then take your image, and then airbrush the watermark out, they have show willful negligence, which means you can command more money for the image theft when you sue for copyright infringement. Let them steal your images. You will earn more in court and/or by threatening a law suit then you would have ever earned negotiating a license with them in the first place. Win-win.

  • Jack Reznicki

    Hirn should contact an IP lawyer, not a professor. I believe he still has options.
    Just having an image on the Internet, doesn’t give a news organization any rights to use it. They owe him money.
    Also, registration is what really protects you. He should do an expedited copyright registration right away.

  • p.rock

    Wow, I wonder how much in potential licensing he lost.

  • Scott M.

    Why don’t they make a plug in that prevents screen grabs? Or do they already?

  • Dude

    That’s virtually impossible.