What is Going on With Photo Stealers? A $100 Million Lawsuit, Conspiracies, and Aliases

Photo Stealers Logo

Photo Stealers, a website that has investigated and identified people who steal photos for over a decade, has become embroiled in increasingly expensive legal battles and was even brought offline by an alleged photo thief earlier this week.

Note: This story is heavy on text and light on images. This is an intentional decision because, as will become clear, a major player in the situation claims ownership over allegedly stolen images. While there is a legitimate “fair use” case here, the decision has been made to not test those waters. There are links in the text where readers can go view the images in question. We recommend you do so.

What is Photo Stealers?

Through her Photo Stealers operation, wedding photographer Corey Balazowich, known professional as Corey Ann, has uncovered many instances of photo theft, including some involving high-profile conspirators, like long-time Creative Live host Jasmine Star in 2013 and again in 2016, and Doug Gordon in 2014.

In some cases, those caught stealing photos have apologized and attempted to make amends. Everyone makes mistakes, and many people learn from them. However, in other instances, the accused becomes furious and sometimes litigious.

Who Is Aellis D’Artisan/Obtenebrix/Jason Bourne/Templar?

Earlier this year, Balazowich was named a co-defendant in a lawsuit filed by one of her targets who goes by Aellis D’Artisan and a litany of other identities, including the incredible “Jason Bourne Templar Ellis,” per Balazowich.

black and white illustration of masks scattered around someone's feet

In her initial blog post about D’Artisan, Balazowich showed many examples of photos stolen by Aellis D’Artisan under his “business” Seaside Boudoir, based in southern California.

The archived version of Corey Ann’s initial blog post that includes numerous image examples is located here.

I say “business” because tracking an actual business listing through the state of California has been oddly challenging. Judges haven’t had much luck extracting this basic information through court requests, either.

The only potential hit seems to be Enchanted Fae Realms, LLC, which sort of lines up with Enchanted Realm Images that D’Artisan uses as his website URL and his Instagram account, @dark.realm.of.the.fae. This business was registered in California on October 19, 2023, and its address corresponds to a rather odd company, Small Business Marketing Solutions. This company, based in San Diego, where D’Artisan claims to live, offers marketing and business growth services. It’s a vague, odd website.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter that much if or how the business is registered, but the ambiguity surrounding it provides some context and serves to illustrate that many things about “D’Artisan” is obfuscated by smoke, mirrors, and layers of detachment. The information that does exist is carefully curated, although no less weird.

The registrar for his website is yet another example of how D’Artisan goes through life. It’s like peeling an onion. The Seaside Boudoir website has an Enchanted Realms web address and is registered to Obtenebrix Family Trust.

This “company” doesn’t seem to exist in any real way except as a publisher of two books on Amazon. The first, Heaven Is Like…: (What God Says About Heaven . . .) is authored by “I AM,” but AEllis Obtenebrix is the narrator. AEllis Obtenebrix is also the author of Bible Economics & Personal Finance 101: A Primer on The Biblical Principles of Acquiring & Maintaining Wealth.

The $100 Million Lawsuit

Back to the current lawsuit, Corey Ann and others are being sued for an outrageous sum of $100 million — $25 million for “permanent harm, emotional distress, mental anguish, loss of business, loss of income, loss of opportunity, and loss of reputation” due to “public and false attacks,” and $75 million in punitive monetary damages, plus legal expenses, of course.

lawsuit screenshot

screenshot from recent lawsuit

Balazowich wrote about this lawsuit on her Substack in February, and the situation proved far from static. It escalated after Corey Ann responded to the legal action by adding nearly 300 sources showing the extent of Aellis D’Artisan’s alleged image theft.

How Photo Stealers Went Down and Came Back and Could Go Down Again

This week, the website’s host, HostGator, took down the Photo Stealers website in response to a claim D’Artisan filed concerning copyright violations that Corey Ann had allegedly made. Basically, Corey Ann published images from D’Artisan’s website that she claimed were stolen, alongside original sources. D’Artisan says they are his images, so Balazowich has no right to post them.

“From my understanding AEllis initially filed the first claim with HostGator on 1/15/2024 which they ignored, so he followed up by railing on Twitter on 3/7/2024,” Corey writes.

She then received a DMCA notice from Host Gator on March 8. HostGator demanded that all “infringing items” be removed and said the site owner, Balazowich, should resolve the issue directly with the complainant. For reasons that should be obvious by now, that is not an option in this case. The path to any sort of resolution seems rocky, at best.

“I did [remove] and renamed the images (since his nebulous claim appeared to have something to do with his name being the file name of the photo) which pissed AEllis off and he sent a second DMCA,” Corey Ann says.

HostGator responded by taking the Photo Stealers website offline.

Perhaps because of support from her followers, HostGator then brought Photo Stealers back online, and it’s still online at the time of publication. Corey Ann is frantically searching for a new hosting platform to prevent her site from being taken down again.

The situation remains fluid, and Corey has emailed to let PetaPixel know that further attempts to take the site down are in motion.

Potential Threats

Against this background, Corey Ann says that D’Artisan has posted some stories on his Instagram, including celebrating the site initially being taken down and talking about how society needs other avenues of justice beyond the courts (1, 2, 3).

“In my opinion, it’s a threat that he’s going to kill me in an act of ‘service’ for the greater good,” she writes on her substack about D’Artisan’s Instagram stories.

She tells PetaPixel over email that “I think this may be the first thief I’ve ever outed with such a violent history (which I was completely unaware of prior to posting). He is a felon a few times over and is currently on probation after serving time for felonious assault.”

“Had I known of his history, I would probably have opted to guide the photographers in how to get the images down and pursue litigation with CCB.org versus making my own post about him.”

screenshot from lawsuit

Weaponizing the Legal System

It is easy for someone to weaponize DMCA takedown requests. By their very nature, the bar for a legitimate copyright holder to file a complaint is relatively low. That’s great when a person has a leg to stand on and is a genuine victim. It’s vital that people, no matter how big or small, have a path toward resolution when they have been wronged.

However, the ease with which someone can abuse copyright is far from ideal when someone uses the system to bully others into submission. It gums up the works, and can make it significantly more challenging for people with legitimate claims to seek and receive recompense.

A cease and desist can feel daunting to many. A takedown request, likewise, is scary. Being named in a lawsuit? That’s downright terrifying.

Lady Justice illustration

“After going through so much trauma in my life, stuff like this seems minor,” Balazowich says.

D’Artisan maintains that Balazowich’s claims that he stole images are unfounded. His other allegations are perhaps even more serious. He claims to be the victim of a widespread conspiracy by competing photographers to undermine his ability to generate revenue. He asserts that some of the things people have been saying about him online are patently false and designed to harm him personally and professionally.

If those claims are demonstrably true, he has every right to seek compensation through the legal system.

However, the archived version of the Photo Stealers blog post that started it all, which still includes many of the offending images, shows that at least some of Balazowich’s claims, namely the ones made about image theft, appear anything but unfounded.

Disentangling allegations of image theft from other claims about D’Artisan’s personal and legal history and character is a monumental task that must be handled through the courts.

The Latest in a String of (Failed) Lawsuits

Although, speaking of courts, this lawsuit probably won’t reach the point where a jury can deliberate on who did what and what anyone is owed.

Barring specific and narrowly-defined motions, of which there is no record of one, people cannot file lawsuits using a pseudonym. If Aellis D’Artisan isn’t his real name, then this lawsuit will be tossed.

It wouldn’t be the first time, either.

For one example, Obtenebrix v. Connor was filed last year in the Southern District of California against Kelli Marie Connor, et al., defendants — some of the same players as the current lawsuit, minus Corey Ann. This case, filed in April 2023 by AEllis Obtenebrix, was ultimately dismissed in December for numerous reasons, including the plaintiff’s failure to provide proof of legal identity and other legal names.

“[T]the only name or identity that I am aware of or recall having been used by me with government authorities since May 3, 2022 is as filed or as shown on my ID: AEllis Obtenebrix or AEllis D’Artisan,” the plaintiff stated.

Per court documents, D’Artisan also claimed that “government actors” and others had “deliberately misidentified and misrepresented” his name.

The judge wanted all these purported misidentifications listed and seemingly did not receive such a list, given that the deadline for amendments passed and the case was dismissed.

There were also inconsistencies concerning whether the plaintiff received government benefits, had a bank account, or how, precisely, he operated his alleged photo business.

black and white illustration of a gavel being hit

Other more substantive issues with various lawsuits have been identified by defendants’ legal representation numerous times as part of motions for dismissal filings.

Suffice it to say, there have been issues with multiple lawsuits, not that these have prevented more from being filed.

Regardless of what happens with the latest lawsuit, by his own admission, Aellis D’Artisan appears perfectly happy and willing to distribute justice in his own way, whatever that means.