What Happens When a Supermodel Violates Your Copyright

Copyright Violation WTF Blog  copy

This post is something I’ve struggled with for months, and debated even writing. But it’s time to share my story, and explain why I’ve been absent.

Basically, the short version is Karlie Kloss improperly used one of my images. It showed up on her Instagram account last September, without credit. (Point of reference: many of the images before and after mine are credited.)

As readers of my blog will know, I shoot as a house photographer for Oscar de la Renta’s social media accounts and Pinterest page. On September 10, 2013 I took this photo of Karlie Kloss taking a “selfie” backstage at the SS14 Oscar de la Renta show:

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No other photographers were in the makeup area at the time, guaranteeing this was an exclusive shot.

When I got home, I posted it as part of my daily “sneak peek” show recap.

The next night, backstage at the Anna Sui show, I approached Karlie and showed her the image on my phone. She seemed very excited, and mentioned how much she loved it. When she asked where she could find it, I gave her my business card with my blog’s address.

A few days later, Karlie Instagrammed the image, leaving out a photo credit.

Karlie Kloss instagram copy

Not knowing any other way to get in touch with her, I commented on Karlie’s instagram hoping she’d see it in the sea of many many other comments. After a few days, she did, writing me an apology for not crediting me initially.

Karlie instagram apology copy

By that time, 14,000 people had liked the image. That’s 14,000 people who would have seen my name attached to it.

She also apologized a second time on my personal instagram account:

Karlie apology on Rachels instagram copy

Within a few hours, her comment “credit” on her original Instagram post was buried. Made nearly invisible by her other fans’ comments…

At this point, I was sad so many (now it’s about 16,000+) people saw the image without my photo credit attached. But there wasn’t really much I could do.

November 2013: I ran into Karlie backstage at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, and after bringing up the incident during our conversation, she apologized. I assumed that was the end of things.

My pass, and backstage with Karlie, smiling like a fool.

My pass, and backstage with Karlie, smiling like a fool.

March of 2014: I got a text message from a friend. She was at the airport, reading LUCKY and spotted my Karlie Kloss photo in an article about Selfies published in the magazine. I soon found the image on LUCKY’s website as well.

Photo via Sarah Morgan.

Photo via Sarah Morgan.

After emailing LUCKY, they reposted the image with credit, and compensated me for the usage.

April 2014: The image appeared AGAIN on Harper’s BAZAAR’s website (in a nearly identical article, which was in my opinion strange, but whatever).

Copyright Violation-Bazaar USA copy

After a lot of emailing back and forth, my image was removed, and I was compensated for the original photo usage.

At this point, I was relived to have settled the first two cases of improper image usage/copyright violation, and ready to move on with my life. And then I found the image on dozens of other websites, from around the world.

BAZAAR Australia

BAZAAR Australia

Birchbox UK’s Blog

Birchbox UK’s Blog



GQ France

GQ France



VOGUE Taiwan

VOGUE Taiwan

Plus countless other blogs, another professional photographer’s website, a stylist’s website, and more. There are over 19 pages of links for my photo when you do a reverse Google image search.

Unfortunately, this photo is never going to stop showing up online and throwing a wrench into my everyday life.

July 2014: An eagle-eyed friend spied my photo, once again, in an article about taking “selfies” on

Copyright Violation- ALLURE copy

I am currently emailing back and forth with ALLURE editors, but needless to say, it’s not going well.

Why does any of this matter? After the drama involved in constantly policing my work’s usage, and health issues, I considered giving up photography indefinitely. Or at least blogging about it. I’ve been shooting since I was 13 years old (which is now over half of my lifetime), and it’s been amazing to fulfill my dream of photographing some of the best designers and models in the world during the past 5 years of New York Fashion Week. I started to wonder what the point was. If I’m working my a** off, only to have people steal my images and run them in major publications uncredited or compensated, is it worth it???

I do the majority of my fashion week work on spec, meaning I get paid after the fact. No one is giving me hundreds of dollars to attend shows. I work alone, doing all of the requests, scheduling, planning, and post show marketing & publicity myself. I make my income selling images (mostly backstage beauty) after the fact, and shooting editorials and portraits the rest of the year.

The sad thing is? This happens all the time. And the attitude amongst many magazine editors (many, not all) is that it’s ok to just say “oops sorry” and delete the image. That’s not how copyright works. I worked as a photo editor for 4 years at multiple magazines here in NYC. Had I implied that it was ok for me to use a photographer’s image without payment or credit, I probably would have been fired.

There are also plenty of celebrities and models who think using images without permission or even a credit on their blogs/websites/Instagram accounts is OK. It’s not. If this has happened to you, I encourage you to check out Photo Attorney for great advice. And yes, before anyone asks me, I have contacted a lawyer.

If I had been credited in the first place, I would have received what amounts to major publicity, and had publications contacting me directly to license the photo.

In the end, the fun fact of all of this is that right now, I’ve lost what amounts to hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in image licensing fees thanks to one Instagram post. Add onto that potential legal fees, and it’s one giant headache that will probably be continuing on for months of my life.

All because Karlie Kloss used my photograph and neglected to credit me properly.

About the author: Rachel Scroggins is a NYC based fashion and portrait photographer. A former magazine photo editor, she has produced celebrity photo shoots, and photographed over 300 fashion shows for some of the world’s most prestigious designers. You can see more of her work by visiting her website and blog. This article originally appeared here.

  • Jeremy Taco Patterson

    Looks like a “mirror” selfie. Those are EVERYWHERE.

    Love the smart ass reply though! :high five:

  • Johnnie Butters

    First of all this is great exposure for your photography but the problem is your lacking a Watermark. A Simple logo on the bottom left or right will save you a lot of stress.

  • Lincoln Ladrillo

    The real problem here is that photographers around the world are individual and there is nothing that represents them. That way photographers are just a mere speck of dust against big corporations.

    Second, Rachel, let it go, that’s it, just try a different kind of photography before giving up maybe. Just think that the fashion industry is always shrouded in a foul mist of sexism (sex sells), and all editors are strong & independent “women”……..I believe you are getting my point at this moment.

    Good luck!

  • GeniusUnleashed

    It’s not that it was made, well it is, if she’s really a professional it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. She should have pulled the image and reposted with the proper credits. She failed at every step of the process. I would never work with her after seeing how she handled it.

  • GeniusUnleashed

    Oh god. Just stop talking and listen for awhile. You just made the dumbest comment, and I hope for you and your families sake, you don’t make a living off of shooting.

  • GeniusUnleashed

    Exactly. She failed at every step along the way. Not only did she cause damage to Rachel, but to her own career as well. I’m sure there are a lot of photographers who will think twice about working with her or letting her see their work before they get paid.

  • Lincoln Ladrillo

    You are a very bad choreographer then! There is much more than movements in choreography, they way you push you dancers, the emotions you make them portray, not just the steps, but the content, that, Amandita, is unique. Maybe you’re just a McGregor-Duato kind of bul…it lover, black background, tight simple desses and shrieking violin music for a dancer moving like a chicken. I expect you to tell me anybody who has become successful copying MacMillan or Ashton.

    Release your frustration with the wall and good night.


    Haha good point, I just care for selfies so I didn’t even think of that.

  • Roy Hubbard

    You’re doing a disservice to anyone who practices photography for a living with this kind of sentiment. I suggest you google “Picasso’s Napkin” and fill yourself in.

  • GeniusUnleashed

    The best thing to do from an industry stand point would be to sue the model and her agency for releasing your work into the public domain without your permission. If more models faced law suits, their agencies would be sure to educate them on proper social network etiquette before and after all shoots and things like this wouldn’t happen. The only problem is, the first few photographers who took this route would surely be blackballed till it was common practice. And who knows if they’d ever get work again after it was adopted.

  • Jeffrey Dowell

    Sounds like you should have had a lawyer handle this earlier, so you could reap the rewards. Who cares about the instagram shot, I would be taking dough from all of these million-dollar companies using your photo.

  • hdc77494

    Part of the problem is that w/o the model’s likeness, your image is virtually worthless. Your tactic of publicly shaming her in her comments feed was pretty boneheaded too. I’s day you’te lucky shestill allows you to photograph her.

  • Jeremy Taco Patterson

    Yeah, not a fan myself. It’s borderline terrifying how much kids (and a saddening number of adults) obsess over taking a photo of themselves.

  • Andrew Richardson


  • Lincoln Ladrillo

    You are plain crazy. The editors didn’t check the source of the photo and they are to blame! Had they checked with the “supermodel” and she’d said it’s her picture, then she is in real trouble.

    You should also release your frustration with a wall in your room in mummy’s house.

  • fr75006

    Even if the model doesn’t have deep pockets, all those magazines do, especially if they have American owners. A lawyer ought to give you a group rate to pester them, since it’s cheaper for them to pay you to go away instead of getting sued. However, unless you have made a timely copyright registration, you don’t have much actual standing in court for statutory damages, might have added up to a couple mill here.

  • Guest

    you’ve never heard of mirrors?

  • zintax

    And that story comes to mind…. about an Engineer that was called on an emergency plant shut down. The guy shows up, went to the main switch board, and after looking at the circuit and who knows what other complex array of technology, pulled out a screw driver and tightened a screw. Voila! everything was back to power.
    Owner was crazy happy, until the engineer handed him a bill for $5,000 dlls for an hour’s work.
    Owner: “$5,000 for tightening a screw???”
    Engineer: “It’s not for tightening the screw, it’s for knowing what screw to tighten”.

    It’s not how long it took to get in position and press the shutter, it’s knowing when and how to get THAT shot.

    And that kids.. is what it’s all about.


    Yeah you are way late with that. And really that picture quality could not be confused with a mirror selfie anyway.

  • Bill Bradley

    I highly doubt that…

  • maverickmage

    I think the bigger issue here is why these major publishing sites that should know better using pictures found online for free without contacting the the photographer?

    Also, if having the credit be in the instagram post was so important, should have asked to delete and reupload the picture with proper credit in the description. Just as many people would have probably seen it again, although I doubt that this issue would have been prevented.

  • Bill Bradley

    Tons of horrible complaints from models about working with Terry Richardson yet all the major fashion houses still hire him. He is still shooting September covers. This after NY Magazine did a major expose on him and his criminal activity, which boils down to rape. I don’t think anyone is going to stop working an international supermodel b/c she accidently failed to credit a photographer in an instagram post and apologized profusely. She didn’t license the photos to all the blogs and magazines they just copy/paste it. To think that photographers or clients will stop working with her beacuse of this is far fetched and implausible and frankly ridiculous.

  • Margie

    You are talking about students. She talks about professional press. I don’t think we can compare them.

  • Bill Bradley


  • Adam Cross


  • Margie

    We don’t talk about the same thing : dance and photo. How to credit a step of dance ?

  • Lori Hoddinott

    watermark – simple solution to online photos

  • Margie

    People usually cut the watermark.

  • Khalid Aziz

    in my point of view, it wasn’t Karlie’s fault and you don’t need to blame here. It’s the fault of the publishers and photo editors. If i want to use a photo I have to ask the photographer for permission and if i do not know him/here i have to do some research (one of the most important task for photo editors). But this lazy bastards think it is ok just to put on the link of a twitter/Instagram profile. and they really think the can get away with it. Copyright hasn’t changed but the publisher business they think the internet is a “for free self-service market” like normal people used Napster for free music and movies. Know it is important the professional Photographer stick together and fight against this lazy and stupid mentality. And we have to offer a easy way for licensing pictures.

  • Vin Weathermon

    I hope that this additional exposure helps offset your loss Rachel. If nothing else, a whole lotta other folks know what a great photographer you are!

  • Stephen S.

    That’s impressive, Rachel. And for the record, no one is disparaging your work. The Kloss shot is terrific. I did look at your Chanel post, and those are great shots. I recognize one of Karl’s photos from the “Portraits” folder on your website, which I had already checked out earlier today. You do great work.

    If you are negotiating fees for the Kloss photo that are markedly less than you would have charged those publications up front, I’m not sure what to say. Maybe there’s a reason why you are making that decision. Expounding on that would give this article a lot more weight. Everybody has an opinion about copyright, but there are far fewer people talking in frank terms about the economics. If you would consider talking more about that aspect of this experience in specific detail, then I suspect you could redraft this article into something that (no offense, PetaPixel) a more major publication would pick up. And you might elevate the conversation, regardless of whether people agree.

  • Margie

    Yes, you are totally right. The issue is more about the use of her photo in professional press without contacting her (to avoid paying her of course).

    You pay your hairdresser for a haircut. You pay your baker for breads. You pay your chemist for drugs. You pay your waitress/cooker for your meal. Why ? Probably it’s because it’s delicious / pretty / useful and you need it and you like it. Why press did not contact her in order to pay her ? They seem to like the picture though.

  • Rachel

    Sorry this posted twice. My original comment appeared to not be going through! :)

  • Stephen S.

    I saw an article in the Guardian last week where the photo credits read, “Photograph: Facebook.” I laughed.

  • Margie

    Yes, but Karlie could have acted as an intermediary so that photo editors reached Rachel thanks Instagram. She is not responsible for the whole issue, but she has a part of responsibility.

  • Ruben Delgado

    Let’s say she credit you, the image gets popular and you get the money for the use. How much of that would have gone to the model? How much of the money of the pictures you take goes to them? Because you are using their popularity and identity to make money. People see the pictures not because of you, but because they like the models, so, wothout them, nobody would see your pictures.

  • RussBurlingame

    You don’t really “get” how copyright works, do you?

    Creating the photograph is generating a work under copyright law, and the work is protected, with the photographer its copyright owner. People who are participants in the work, especially in an organized capacity like a professional shoot, can negotiate these kinds of things ahead of time if they’re looking to get paid.

    A publicity shoot like this probably means that the models were paid by whomever was arranging the shoot, and/or that (as the name of such an event implies) they were being paid in kind with publicity for whatever they’re promoting, or just themselves (in the same way actors and comedians appear on late night shows, essentially working for free as part of their contractually-obligated publicity, which is covered by their salary for the project). The kind of wide exposure this photo got would have benefited Kloss, for instance, whether or not Scroggins was compensated for use of her copyrighted work.

    Do you not think events like this come with their own implicit and explicit agreements? Of course they do, and nobody including Kloss is suggesting that she was in any way wronged, whereas Scroggins clearly and repeatedly was.

  • RussBurlingame

    Yeah! That’s right! You TELL that stranger what their dreams should be!

  • Renato Murakami

    Honestly, I don’t think the model deserves full responsibility for it. Partial, definitely.

    But it’s not like these big publications can claim any ignorance about copyrights. It’s the culture that surrounds it and how people perceive photography these days.

    And then comes the secondary problem that lots of public figures these days are handling PR by themselves… which can be good for some (specially fans), but extremely bad from professionalism point of view. It’s people who had minimal media training if any, probably don’t know a whole lot about copyrights and licensing, and limits themselves to reproduce what others are doing.

    We’ve been through this. Several of these very big publications, online or not, adopted a very specific modus operandi for photos taken from the Internet.

    They yank it, use it however they see fit, and then if they get caught red handed they deal with it the best way possible. If threats are light, they either offer credit or some measly compensation. If a (good) lawyer becomes involved, they’ll settle it the best way possible for them. It can become far worse too… if whoever gets the first contact either is an asshole or just plain ignorant, it can become a legal fight easily. And I gotta be honest: I’m not shure if editors who are assholes to photographers he/she stole the photo from ever gets properly punished. But I think they don’t. Not to the extent they should.

    This is specially true these days when a big part of news is composed of things that happens online… news agencies and publications limited to collecting and compiling content made on the internet. How much original content is made these days? I’d say the minority.

    Since most of the times they don’t get caught, and usually photographers are not equiped to fight their lawyer team, they keep doing it because it’s the most logical/profitable way for them.

    The legal system is basically against photographers. And it’s a complex situation because it’s hard to envision a system which would effectively stop editors from doing what they knowingly do. Harsher – way harsher – penalties could be a start, but the problem is that this practice has become so prevalent that it’s very hard to think of a way to monitor things… I bet several big magazines these days have a good part of it’s content stolen from photographers.

    Unfortunately, it’s a harsh reality that these changing times have not been good for the freelance photographer. Well, they have not been good to professional photographers overal… those with contracts are getting the boot, having their work compared to occasional amateur photographers, and even replaced by non-photographers with iPhones. Freelance photographers gets their work stolen all the time, and find themselves between a flurry of bad options – big ugly watermarks, not publishing online and getting thrown into oblivion because they can’t market the images, or just accepting the current sad state of publications and letting their hard work go for nothing – not even credit.

    I’ll be honest here. I’m not a pro photographer. At a given point I had the intentions of going that way, but I gave up. It’s not only because of the current state of publications… for the most part I guess it’s lack of confidence. But yeah… getting photos and ideas stolen online definitely plays a part. I wouldn’t tell Rachel to be discouraged and to give up, because I don’t know her and I don’t know the situation. But it’s pretty clear to me, that much like being a teacher in Brazil, professional photography became something you do for loving it – not because you seek recognition, or because you want to guarantee a living. Specially because part of freelance photography these days is hoping that your photo goes viral and then having to go through an endless stream of legal battles to get what you deserved in the first place.

  • RussBurlingame

    You are literally the stupidest person in this thread. Congrats.

  • Khalid Aziz

    Do you really think that the editors woud have asked here who the photo made? Photo editors know better way how to get the photographers information without asking or using a model as intermediary. The know very well what they are doing. And if she would have posted the name of the Photographer, the wouldn’t had printed that because it’s a story about selfies and the do not want to tell their readers that “hey. do it like a model and look good on self made photo, without having a pro photographer around”

    It’s not a Job of a model to act like a intermediary, and as a photographer I have to know that too. And If I show a model a picture that I took of here and she want’s to know where she can find it . It is my responsibility to tell here my name and publishing restrictions. Else i have to get along that she will post this on here social media accounts.

  • RussBurlingame

    …or Chromebook or phone or literally any device that accesses the Internet, as far as I know. Including smartphones where you can take up the whole screen with the image and avoid the need to even crop or do any work to steal.

  • Logan S.

    Wow… Talk about snowball effect, this is the best example I’ve seen of a cautionary tale for people who just either post photos they were privately messaged (as in this), or just plucked from a site or other (IG, Twitter etc) user.

    I cannot directly relate to the scale, but I have definitely had this happen…

    Totally feel for Rachel Scroggins

  • Logan S.

    Ummm… and without someone TAKING the image, it wouldn’t exist.
    What is your point, that photographers who take images of famous persons shouldn’t get credit for their timing, people skills, and overall work?

  • Sebastian Lee

    From the article “All because Karlie Kloss used my photograph and neglected to credit me properly.”

    This is perhaps one hind sight point of view. Perhaps the only reason the photo got as popular as it did IS BECAUSE KK used your photo? Frankly, to the overwhelming majority, the photo simply looks like a mirror selfie.

  • Logan S.

    Mirror selfie… of a professional model,
    …in make up,
    “No other photographers were in the makeup area at the time, guaranteeing this was an exclusive shot.” …
    …by a professional photographer…

  • beezskis

    I think it more likely that models will have second thoughts about working with the photographer after catching wind of the tone of this post after giving what sounded like a gracious, sincere apology. It’s an unfortunate situation all around and I feel for the photographer. Copyright is an unfortunate battle that photographers must fight vigilantly in the digital age. But the photogs choice to villianize the model more than the publications that sought to profit from their theft is short sighted and a bit petulant.

  • Benoit Evans

    Choreography is fully protected under U.S. Law. Like a musical composition, choreograhy can be registered if it is reduced to tangible form using a notationsl system for the steps. You can’t put a watermark on a live or recorded performance but you do have legal recourse in case of infringement.

  • Logan S.

    ” To his credit, he contacted me about using the photo on his Facebook page. What was I going to do, charge a student a licensing fee?”
    Uh…. Yes, you could. Or whatever compensation is worth it to YOU. Otherwise don’t use this as an example. Model and Photographer might be friendly, but that’s not the same thing at all.

  • Logan S.

    Or simply take it off…