Kickstarter Campaign at the Center of a Controversy Over Stolen Images


The wildly successful Kickstarter campaign Blackprints is currently at the center of a heated controversy over stolen images that has already involved one copyright dispute. It seems that the campaign’s creator, Sabrina Chun, might have taken to acquiring photos of cars off of the Internet, changing them to black and white minimalist versions, and selling them as part of this campaign. (See Update)

According to A Photo Editor, the issue was first brought to light when someone noticed that the minimalist print of a Shelby Cobra that Chun was using was actually a black-and-white version of photographer Bruna Ratensperger‘s work.

This led to a copyright dispute that got Blackprints taken down momentarily, but the campaign is now back up using a less identifiable Shelby image alongside the rest of the prints.

Here’s a screenshot from Ratensperger’s website:


Here’s the Blackprints Shelby pre copyright dispute:


And here’s the Blackprints Shelby post copyright dispute:


It would be easy to say that Chun is obviously in the wrong here, but the recent ruling regarding Richard Prince may have some judges actually siding with her if this was to go to court. Who’s to say the minimalist versions don’t convey “a new expression, meaning or message?”

And if she were in the UK, she could always argue that she found the photos as orphans online. Needless to say, recent copyright legislation seems to open up a can of worms regarding whether or not Chun’s use would be classified as fair … let us know what you think.

It’s hard to say whether the remainder of the photos she is using are fair game or not, but it’s entirely possible that other photographers are having their work modified and used by this campaign [see update below], which has already raised a whopping $66,000 (the goal was only $5,000).

To see if you recognize any other copyrighted photography being used as part of the campaign, head over to the Blackprints kickstarter page by clicking here.

(via A Photo Editor)

Upadate: Since posting this article, we have received an email from Mrs. Chun responding to the copyright allegations. Here is the section of that email in which she clarifies a few points:

I’d like very much to address some things on your latest blog post regarding myself and my Blackprints project:

1) Yes, I did erroneously take Bruno Ratensperger’s photo, but I had only intended to use it as a tribute because that particular car, the #95 Cobra, is a very famous one. The image was originally a free downloadable wallpaper via Autoblog, and I acknowledge that it was my mistake to believe that it was free intellectual property. However, Bruno and I spoke over the phone and we resolved the issue. Also, I had addressed this as well, via blog posts and updates multiple times to anyone who had inquired about it, as it was indeed my mistake.

2) The photos are all mine, as I literally have hundreds of my own car photos. For example, on my blog posts here and here. Additionally, all background photos are obviously purchased stock photos.

  • harumph

    The Kickstarter campaign launched April 2, and then it shut down for a period of time and then recently relaunched. So in less than 30 days she raised $66,635!? I say again…!!!???

    Also, she’s using the Ghostbusters car? I guess that dough is going to go to Sony after the lawsuit.

  • nerdbomber

    Just curious, but did she photograph any of those cars? If not, I really don’t understand how she’s able to sell other people’s works claiming it as her own.

    Just as when a producer/rapper uses a sample from an old song, they must get permission from the artist/producer/songwriters/label that they sampled from and pay them to use it.

  • b

    theft. end of!

  • Fuzztographer

    Sigh … if you want to be taken seriously, stop inflating your accusations by calling it “stealing”.

    But this situation brings light the delicate argument of copyright vs progress of art, and it’s almost refreshingly surprising that the latter has judicial backing.

    The purpose of copyright was never to enable the predatory rent seeking we see today. Hugely vested and powerful interests perverted it into this antagonistic, one-sided system we have to today, and they exploited it to their every advantage.

    No, the entire premise is “to promote the useful arts and sciences”. The exclusive monopoly and compensation is only the *means*. The *public interest* is the end.

    Given that this is very much “progressing art”, why aren’t we saying mission accomplished?

  • Facepalm

    How about, take 100% of the car pictures yourself and ‘re-imagine’ them yourself as well.

  • Renato Murakami

    Leaving the unhealthy part of the discussion aside (how much the Kickstarter campaign got), this doesn’t look very good for Chun there.
    When we are discussing grey areas like this one, it’s best to leave stuff like Kickstarter campaign aside simply because lots of people will take that as the main issue when it’s not, or rather when it shouldn’t be. After all, she is wrong because she got lots of money, or she is wrong because it’s not her work?
    Ok, back to it – the problem I see here is that the main part of the creative process in those works, the most costly part, the part that makes those images unique, did not come from Chun.
    Regardless of judges’ decisions on other cases (which I also don’t agree), at least from the photos displayed as examples, it’s not the filter or treatment that made the posters or prints unique, but rather the original photos themselves, which are not easy or cheap to make.
    And it’s not like she would’ve reached that ammount of money if she didn’t have the car pics in the first place. I don’t know how backers decided to pay for this, but at least to me it seems it’s all about the cars – not the fact that the images are composed of white outlines on black backgrounds. But I could be wrong.
    Anyways, it’s hard to judge cases like this… as I kinda understand when reasonable cases of creative work on top of copyrighted works arises.
    I kinda side with the author of the “Everything is a Remix” documentary.
    But I can’t agree with Chun’s case of Richard Prince’s case. This is less creative process on copyrighted work, and more using other people’s work with minimal edit to make a profit.
    Worst of all, it’s not like she did the project herself and then decided to sell it… it’s more like she’s telling people to pay her to do it.
    So I don’t know how different this is from paying a printing/framing business to get some photographer work without permission, change it a bit/apply a filter in it, and print it. The only difference is that she only gives one option of filtering and framing, isn’t it?
    The case we’d get if something like this passes is that no business out there, newspaper, gift shops, t-shirt printing companies, magazines, among others would ever need to pay authors and photographers if they only apply a filter on top of the original works.

  • Scott M.

    This should be a lawsuit. Otherwise, there is no such thing as “intellectual property” anymore. Sad. Keep your best stuff off the interenet so thieves don’t steal them. This is outrageous.

  • Burnin Biomass

    I wonder if they need or got permission to sell the Back to the Future DeLorean or the Caddy from Ghostbusters that they have on there too. You would think the studios would have protected the likenesses of those cars.

  • Adam

    She is posing with cars in her photos, but it really doesn’t look like any of her photos could possibly be the photos in her prints.

    The high contrast of the car photos gets rid of a lot of detail, but they all have the telltale highlight from an enormous softbox, implying that the cars were shot in a studio.

    It would certainly be possible to achieve a similar appearance by creating an illustration, but no day/existing light photo of a car at a race track or car show will look anything like that, even in such a high contrast rendition.

  • 9inchnail

    At least the Ghostbusters logo is protected and would definitely have to be licensed. There is no way, she can just use it and get away with it. Even if she just used it to promote the kickstarter and not was actually intending to it, she would still have to pay for a license.
    She can’t be that naive.

  • dikaiosune01

    Reading posts like this, churns my stomach. (a) she removes the 95, changing the picture enough to skirt the law. (b) she signs each photo herself, as if she took the picture (c) she claims to have resolved the issue, but she never discusses it on her blog. (d) her response suggests complete ignorance on copyright law.
    Her appreciation for fine cars is admirable, and the actual marketing and business implimentation was finely excuted (better business sense than most photographers) Yet, I still question her ethics. At this moment, i don’t know if i would brake if i saw her crossing the street.

  • nerdbomber

    I’d really like to see a before and after of one of the photos that she photographed.

  • nerdbomber

    I’d believe her more if she posted “before and after” photos. Until then, it seems very suspect.

  • Greg

    Best ironic moment of the day..

    ‘All images appearing on the Blackprints Kickstarter, website, and
    other social media accounts are the exclusive property of Sabrina Chun
    and are protected under the United States and International Copyright

  • Mark Moore

    This is someone who took other peoples’ images with neither permission nor acknowledgement, did a quick and trivial pass through photoshop, and then started selling them as her own for her own profit.

    This is hardly “progressing art”.

  • ennuipoet

    1. Download photo from Internet.

    2. Desaturate

    3. Profit

  • Sporkguy

    “2) The photos are all mine, as I literally have hundreds of my own car photos.”

    So why not use one of them in the first place?!

  • Sporkguy

    Well spotted.

  • Gavin Thomson

    That’s not what the courts said in the Richard Prince case. The idea cannot be copyrighted, but only the expression.

  • A_Lwin

    I wonder why Kickstarter would even allow this type of project to be started in the first place, I see nothing innovative or new or remarkable about the product being funded to warrant anyone backing it.

  • Gavin Thomson

    For the most part, the law supports that.

    The original idea of a photograph is not covered by copyright. Never has been.

    Only that particular expression is covered.

  • Gavin Thomson

    Copyright law does not preclude an image being “reimagined”. As the Prince case noted, if there is sufficient evidence that the this reimagining is novel, then the new work belongs to Chun. The law is quite clear now.

    Clearly the $65k in sales demonstrates that Chun knows what she is doing with regards to the market.

  • A_Lwin

    So if it’s not a copyright violation to take a photo belonging to someone else and hash it up a bit and claim fair use, I guess we can take her products and photos and hash it up a bit and sell it too.

  • Robert Akrawi

    if you study the photos on her blog and the stolen photos she is selling, you can tell photographically she is a dud! i dont think she took a single photo that she is selling and further more those photos on her blog is not even taken by her because she is in them, they are more like snap shots. she claims all photos belong to her!!! she should be clear to say all photos are not mine remanufactured by me on photoshop, and now i have duped hundreds of people into thinking i am sweet and innocence and profiting from other people expressions!!! wow what a fluke! i cannot believe she is not being challenged!!!!! as if she is sitting the precedence to what you can do with other people hard work.

  • Gavin Thomson

    Yes. So long as a reasonable person might see that work as transformational.

  • Rena

    So, you guys say that if she draws and sells the car from some movie she has to pay.

    What if you photographed that same car? Would you pay for using the likeness on your picture?

  • Gavin Thomson

    One person’s minimal edit may be another person’s transformational interpretation. In the Prince case the court did send some of the works in question down for separate legal ruling on whether the extent of the transformation was sufficient but with that sending down they court also sent a very strong message that the bar for what is and is not transformational is low. You simply need to convince a reasonable person. Chun has $65,000 worth of reasonable backers. Most judges would not second-guess so many votes in the market. Chun’s probably very close to the line.

    Taking it to court is everyone’s $250,000 lawsuit.

  • Mansgame

    Did you take the picture or otherwise have permission to use it? If yes, then not stolen. If no, then stolen. Was that so hard?

  • Mansgame

    1. She used the picture from the internet.
    2. She took all the photos her self.

    These two statements contradict.

  • Mansgame

    She can justify it however way she wants, but she’s a no good thief in my opinion if she didn’t take the pictures and was profiting from it. It’s very easy. Sometimes life is black and white. I made a pun.

  • Mansgame

    No doubt loser guys trying to impress a “pretty” girl. I hope the IRS is watching her to make sure she reported this income.

  • beigeinside

    The studio lighting alone, which is still a MAJOR part of the resulting “transformation,” is what makes many of the images unique.

    If Ms. Chun took the uniquely-lit photos of these automobiles, then more power to her, and congratulations on some interesting lighting decisions in the auto portraits! But her previous behavior (using internet wallpaper downloads designed for personal use) and her choice in example photos sent in her response cast doubt on her claims.

    Abuse of a photographer’s hard work is no light matter despite its relative ease.

  • Burnin Biomass

    If I was selling it, yes, of course.

  • Mark Moore

    It is a question of “transformative change”. At least Prince was making some attempt at an artistic change.

    This case is more like me taking your photographs, tweaking the colours, blacks and contrast, and then selling them as entirely my own.

    This has about as much cultural or artistic merit as the knock-off Barcelona football strips sold in the shadier tourist shops here.

  • ramanauskas

    “2) The photos are all mine, as I literally have hundreds of my own car photos. For example, on my blog posts […] Additionally, all background photos are obviously purchased stock photos.”

    Uh huh. All yours. Except the “obviously purchased stock photos”. And the ones you claim were “free downloadable wallpaper”. And, and, and.

    You liar. You thief.

  • harumph

    What’s to believe? She’s not even claiming she took the photos, so why assume she did? We already have one before and after that shows what she’s done. I’m not sure what would be the point of seeing the others. We’re beyond “suspect”ing anything. It’s obvious what she did.

  • harumph

    You’re confused. Taking a photograph of a car, and taking someone else’s photograph of a car are two completely different things. Also, she didn’t “draw” anything. I’m not sure where you got that idea.

  • nerdbomber

    Enjoy the surprising success of your kickstarter while you can. If you must use other people’s art in order to create your own art, then you will have a very short career in this industry. Not to mention, your credibility has just went down the drain.

    If you supported her kickstarter and want to get your money refunded back to you.. I’d definitely do it soon.

  • Mark

    If I was Carrol Shelby, I’d be pissed at all the people taking pictures of my cars and calling them their artwork.

  • Ballookey Klugeypop

    There’s no evidence that the photos she took are the ones used in her campaign. SHE provided the links to examples of her copious car photos, so I’d expect that to be the best she can do, and yet none of those photos is close to being able to provide the “Blackprint” result.

    If all she did was scour the internet for photos, open them in Photoshop and adjust the levels, burn & dodge, then as an artist I say that’s not enough of a transformation. Especially when it’s clear that the reason those photographs worked so well for such a transformation is because of the skill and lighting applied by the original photographer. If she COULD use her own photos, she would, but they’re obviously inadequate. So I’d estimate at least 90% of her final product is down to another artist’s work.

    I imagine that the layperson might not see it that way, but open an example image in Photoshop, show them how to achieve the Blackprint result, then ask again if they think it’s proper for her to sell them as her own works. Run the same workflow on one of her photos by way of comparison, to show how much the original photographer’s work contributes to the result.

    The fact that this was backed to the tune of $60,000+ doesn’t mean that those people think it’s right – they’re probably under the assumption that she did take the photos.

  • Erik Vesteraas

    I did some googling and quickly found the source images for both the Model T and the Delorean.

    Model T:


    Original Delorean image overlaid hers(just to make it obvious):

    With the amount of money on the Kickstarter at the moment she should just come clean and hire a photographer.

  • Todd Gardiner

    Why mention the UK orphan works bill when this has not become a set of statutory instruments yet. There are no rules in their law for what defines and orphan work or what sort of search is legally required to make use of the orphaned work. The actual implementation of the law remains in the future.

    Further, the use of orphan works will still require paying a license fee, not the photographer directly since they are unknown, but into a fund for orphan works in case there are claims.

    Not really sure why this irrelevant plug for one of your other posts was made on this article.

  • A_Lwin

    Except there is nothing transformational about what she is doing.

  • A_Lwin

    I say lets all take the photos she posted on her blog, rehash it and sell it claiming we own the photos. Give her a taste of her own medicine?

  • A_Lwin

    Yeah but notice almost all the photos she uses as examples of “her own car photos”, the photographer was someone else….

  • foggodyssey

    I just find it funny how she took others work, then states this at the bottom of her Kickstarter page. WTF comes to mind!!!!!

    “All images appearing on the Blackprints Kickstarter, website, and
    other social media accounts are the exclusive property of Sabrina Chun
    and are protected under the United States and International Copyright

  • ksporry

    First of all, kickstarter should take the ethical highground and refuse ethically controversial projects, such as those that can be perceived as copyright violation such as this. Note that I specifically state “perceived”, and “controversial”, because although its easy to label something “copyright infringement”, the rule fornicators in a court of law could actually declare something as not in violation of copyrights as indicated in the article above. Having said that, it only takes a pair of eyes to know if something is indeed a potential copyright infringement (again I say potential because the artist may actually have permission in which case it is not…).
    Secondly, many people are probably not aware they are violating copyrights (either by law or perceived), and are not aware they should obtain permission fo rteh us eof other people’s work, or perhaps they are just reluctant to ask either due to laziness, or out of fear of rejection, even though in most cases you can probably come to some sort of agreement with the original copyright owner.
    Thirdly, and this may be a bit controversial to some of the readers, I can’t help noticing that the project initiator appears to be of chinese origins. As someone who has been living and working in China for several years, I am also aware of the chinese way of doing business as a culture. Unfortunately the chinese business culture is one of the quick buck and prefer to steal and copy other people’s work and ideas and use those as their own, rather than take more time and money and actually make something original. If this has rubbed off on her, then that could explain her choice to select other people’s work for her project.

    Now, in her defence, something that is not known and should be considered, is that she may actually have planned to provide due credit to copyright owners. She might also by now have obtained permisison from the original copyright owners, we don’t know.

    As an advice to artists like her, if other people’s work give you inspiration for a project, you may want to A: consider creating the work from scratch yourself,
    B: select work that does not require permsission due to copyrights, or if you really lack creativity and can’t find copyright free source materials, C: obtain permission from the original copyright owner. The last option does make you subject to contractual negotiations with, and even refusal of the original copyright owner, so prepare for that.

  • ksporry

    you would be surprised how many are that naive. Considering her profile my gues sis that this is soemone who would like to be an artist but simply lack sthe skils and creativity to actually be one. You know how some people are amazingly good at chit-chat conversation, doing a lot of talking but if you analyse what comes out of their mouth, they actually don’t say anything. Some people are like that. This ciuld be no different, just with art rather than words… (based on interests such as print designer (create one and you are one…), animal lover (most girls), fashion blogger (most girls…), music connoisseur (yeha, i go to Jazz performances and rock concerts too…), and writer (I just wrote a whole bunch of stuff on this webpage…). or as i would summarise: spoiled brat…

  • Ewen Rankin

    I’m growing tired of Photo Blogs drawing the latest UK legislative developments for ‘Orphan Works’ and suggesting that all online images or those without EXIF or IPTC Data are instantly Orphans. Its completely untrue.

    Image data is one facet of identification of and image and where it is perfectly obvious that it is the same image or that it is an evolution of an image, intellectual property would stand. The new legislation may even HELP with the upholding of intelectual property by making it clearer that which is truly orphaned.

    Further, the signing away of rights to Social Image sits in their terms and conditions is looking more and more like an ‘Unfair Contract Term’ and provided MORE protection within the UK for Online Photo IP

  • eraserhead12

    hey, it’s a hell of a lot better than the garbage Richard Prince makes. apparently, taking a photograph of a photograph makes it his own. Oh, and adding a couple paint blobs to someone else’s photo lets you rake in $10mil