PetaPixel

An Open Letter to Photography Thieves

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Dear Photography Thieves,

I’ve always known you were out there, even in the days of film. In a photography world filled with negatives and prints, you crept quietly in the shadows and, let’s face it, it was harder then, wasn’t it? But now, with the digital age and that glorious thing called social media, it’s so much easier. It’s really a boom time for you. It’s like you hit pay dirt. And, after reading a month’s worth of Photo Stealer’s entries, all I can say is: You. Must. Be. Exhausted.

There are so many new entries from people trying to pass off stolen work as their own that I can barely keep up, which means you all must be stealing at an amazing pace. How do you do it? You must live on espresso and Red Bulls, because you simply refuse to quit. I guess that’s what’s called dedication.

And you don’t settle, that’s the great thing about you all. You don’t wade into the gray area of theft. Oh no, that’s for amateurs. You go all in every single time.

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Now, I don’t presume to speak for the entire photography industry. I just speak for me. But I want you all to know that what I am about to say is straight from my heart. Like you, I am kind of an all or nothing gal and I’ve given this plenty of thought. How do I share exactly what I’m thinking in a way that is direct and to the point? After all, you’re busy stealing other people’s photos, so I realize you don’t have a lot of time to invest reading a column like mine. So, I am just going to sum up my feelings in two words:

You suck.

And you don’t suck in that cute way that best friends address each other when one is jealous of the other. It’s not a “You lost ten pounds in 3 days? You suck!” No, it’s more of a “You stole someone’s photos and passed them off as your own? You suck!” kind of way. There’s nothing cute about it. And we all know why you do it…

You steal because you can’t create on your own.

You are incapable of creating original photographic works of any merit so you comb the Internet looking for something to use as your own. And when you find it, you slap your logo on it and accept the praise. And many times, you don’t stop there. Oh no. You create wonderful, elaborate stories to explain the images. You make up scenarios or situations, each a little more fantastic than the next. And your Facebook fans just eat it up. Aren’t you the clever one?

And as I view these stolen images, I wonder what happens when you do fool a client into thinking they will receive what they see — a product you are incapable of delivering? What happens then? What happens to the unsuspecting client who books you for her wedding because she loved what she saw in your portfolio; a client who has scrimped and saved her pennies for this event; and then, after money has been exchanged, is left with something that looks like a 5-year-old took it with a point-and-shoot? What then?

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I guess, maybe, I should feel sorry for you. I know a lot of people do. When finally caught, you will dredge up the same excuses and blame it on one of the following:

a website designer

an intern

an artist

an employee

a marketing director

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And, undoubtedly, the name of the Lord will be used. (Personal note: God must get awfully tired of being used as an excuse) There is usually a very sad personal story told in the hopes that the sadness will blanket the awfulness of the theft. And, the funny thing is, it works. It seems no matter how much you’ve stolen or lied, there will always be those who rush to your defense. “It was just a mistake!” they cry. “Leave him alone!” Much like the Britney Spears fan video of the same name. 

Some will even claim it isn’t stealing; it’s simply copyright infringement.

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Yeah, tell that to the hardworking photographer whose work shows up online with someone else’s logo on it.

But, here’s the thing … photographers who take their craft and their business and the industry very seriously are angry over this, even when it’s not their images being used. They get angry because they know what it’s like to work hard to create something from nothing. Unlike you, they know what it’s like to pour their heart into their work and they want the industry to take a stand against these kinds of dishonest acts. They know that when you steal from one photographer, you steal from everyone, because the very act belittles the industry as a whole.

So, dear Photography Thieves, in spite of all I’ve written, I’m sure that most of this has gone right over your heads. After all, to stop your thieving would mean you’d actually have to get out from behind the computer and learn things, like actual photography and how to run a business, and, well, that’s work. I can picture you shuddering over the very thought.

You will continue stealing from legitimate photographers, but be warned, they are angry. Like, Braveheart angry. Don’t be surprised if they paint half their faces blue, form an army and yell, “You may start a Facebook page, but you will never take our images!”

So be ready for a fight.