Custom Photographics … Sucks

Custom Photographics … Sucks

Update: If you’re actually looking for some quality New Zealand photographers, check out the new post on top wedding photographers in New Zealand. Want to read about this chap instead? Carry on …

After much deliberation, I’ve called this post ‘Custom Photographic … Sucks’. It could just as easily have been called ‘Man Blatantly Pisses on Copyright Laws’, ‘Man Taken Down by Angry Internet Mob’ or ‘FFS, Did This Guy Really Think He Would Get Away With This’.

With more and more people using social media, posting images and videos online and sharing content with each other, it can be easy to forget basic copyright laws. We see something online that’s publicly viewable and we automatically assume it’s already been shared a million times and no longer has any connection with the owner.

Google ‘parked domain girl’ and you’ll find a great example of a photo that a guy took of his sister that was ‘adopted’ by the Internet and now is synonymous with a website that doesn’t quite exist.

One group of professionals that truly understand the meaning of copyright are photographers. Taking a photo is a photographer’s bread and butter. This is how they make a living. They train hard, learn tips from other photographers and they buy expensive equipment to help them do the job exactly right. The result is usually a fine image that they’ve put their heart and soul into and anyone would be more than happy knowing that they’ve paid for a job well done. Photographers are proud of their work and would never even think of taking another professional’s photographs and displaying it as their own work.

Unless you’re the guy behind Custom Photographics.

Custom Photographics

Yesterday, a photographer friend of mine pointed me in the direction of a great story that was well underway. I say story but perhaps ‘tactical assault’ would be more appropriate.

A great Blenheim photographer by the name of Jessica Jones happened across a Facebook Page that was advertising photographic services (in Kalgoorlie, Australia) and displaying some examples of their work. Some of these examples looked familiar to Jess. They should have done – they were her own photos that she had previously published to her own Facebook Page.

Horrified, Jess sat back and had a good think about what to do. Exposing this guy immediately might mean that he’d simply shut down his page and start up another, ensuring that he blocked her account from seeing it. No, this guy needed to know that his game was up. That people knew his complete lack of ethics and respect for others. This guy needed to be exposed.

So Jess and a few other Facebook users, many of them photographers themselves, joined in with other Facebook users that were already starting to post comments on this guy’s wall.

One by one they ‘Liked’ Custom Photographics Facebook Page and began to place comments and requests for services on his wall and photos (I say ‘his photos’ in the loosest sense of course) to test his resolve.

Custom Photographic  Wedding Photos

They complimented him on his diverse range of styles (he had taken photos from a number of different photographers).

They asked him technical questions about his camera settings.

They lavished praise on his effective use of the colour red.

It wasn’t too long though before other photographers that all had images stolen by Custom Photographics and knew the story with him and saw the positive comments, not knowing that people were having a stab at him, and commented themselves to say that the guy was wrongly promoting the photos of others.

Knowing the game was up, the photographers came clean and demanded to know why Custom Photographics had taken their photos – in some cases even removing the copyright watermark to hide the fact that the photos were taken by other people.

Backed in to a corner and with his phone number published, Custom Photographics tried to make some pathetic claims about copyright law …

Copyright Laws

Yeah, mate. Try telling that to Warner Brothers and Dreamworks.

At first, not wanting to tarnish his own Facebook Page, Custom Photographics jumped on the pages of some of the photographers that had called him at his game, posting profanity on their own walls.

A change of plan and he instead tried to suggest that his intention was merely to show a suggestion of photos that he could have taken. I guess if he’d had the skill, the education and the means to do so.

Custom Photographics Photos

Finally, the guy appears to have thrown in the towel and removed his Facebook Page. Or has he? There is some suggestion that the page still exists but may have been blocked to all users that are from New Zealand.

Check out the Facebook Page for yourself to see if it displays.

Either way, the page was posted in a Flickr discussion where photographers posted their own insight into the strength of this guy’s character.

How can you stop people taking your photographs online?

Without morons like this guy, the Internet is a great place to display for photographers, videographers and artists alike to display their work and encourage further business.

Sadly, there are people that will not only take your images for their own promotional use such as advertising and other marketing material, but will even try to suggest that they took your photos themselves and that they are a true example of their expertise.

There are some ways to stop, or at least reduce the chances of, other people taking your work. Unfortunately, there are ways around every one of these. The fact of the matter is, if you publish something on the Internet, it can be taken by others.

Some methods include:

Displaying watermarks on your photos

A watermark is effectively an image of text or a logo that is displayed on a photograph itself. They’re often made slightly see-through so that they don’t distract from the image.

However, if they are discreet and placed in the corner, they can be easily removed by cropping the image (Custom Photographics did this). If they are large and cover the entire image, they can ruin the photo itself.

There are a few ways to add watermarks to your photos. One way to add a custom watermark to a large number of photos at once (as well as bulk resizing) is through some software called VSO Image Resizer. You can download this from download sites like afterdawn.com.

Removing the right-click function on your website

A typical way to take photos from a website is to right-click on the image with your mouse and save the image to your computer.

Removing the right-click function is one way to make saving your images harder to do. We’ve done this with Christchurch wedding photographer, Heather Ellis’ website.

Disable Right-Clicking on a Photo

However, it can reduce the usability of your website (other functions such as ‘Open link in a new tab’ are also removed by doing this) and, again, there are simple ways around this.

Luckily, many people that steal photos, like Custom Photographics, aren’t quite up with Internet shortcuts so if you do want to disable the right-click function on your website, you can add some code within your website’s header – for example, if you have a WordPress website, go to Appearance -> Editor -> header.php and paste the code somewhere within the text (back up the file first in case you make a mistake as this could ruin your website!).

One version of the ‘disable right-click’ code can be found on the Dynamic Drive website. Note that you can replace the alert text with your own.

As mentioned though, there are ways for a user to disable this function.

Don’t upload photos to Facebook

Facebook privacy laws really leave something to be desired and are not always enforced well. Facebook themselves actually state that once you upload a photo to Facebook, you give them permission to store it on their own servers and use it for whatever purpose they like. That’s why, when a person goes missing, you’ll often see that person’s Facebook profile photo in the news. Facebook have given that news source permission to use your photo.

However, Facebook is still a great way to promote your business and why should you miss out simply because some people actually believe they can take your photos and display them as your own?

Hopefully the story above will show that the number of people with ethics outweigh the number of people without. Power to the people!

Use a service such as Flickr

Again, Flickr isn’t foolproof and stealing photos from there is quite easy. But the difference between Flickr and Facebook is that Flickr is made with professional photographers in mind.

On Flickr, you can assign licenses to your work and, should court proceedings actually be necessary, your rights will be much better protected within Flickr and within Facebook.

Don’t bother!

I had a great conversation with Gareth Robins of Shot By Robins about this whole story yesterday. Gareth is a professional photographer in Auckland and was one of the photographers fighting to take down Custom Photographics.

As a photographer, Gareth has experienced others taking his photographs and displaying them on their own Facebook albums, although only as the photos happened to feature that person rather than the person was trying to take his work.

Gareth suggested that perhaps it wasn’t worth trying too hard to protect your photos as people will always find a way around your protection.

The precautions he takes are mainly just to not upload a lot of his photos to Facebook, other than a few key examples of his work. He points out that Facebook isn’t too great at maintaining the quality and colour of a photo once it has been uploaded and, while he admits that he would rather people purchased his photos correctly, he did see a photo of his that was taken and used as a Facebook profile photo once but it actually brought him more business!

The user’s friends all commented on how great the photo was and asked where they could get a similar photo taken of themselves.

The morale of this story

In summary, if you’re going to advertise yourself as a photographer and take other people’s photos to display them as your own, don’t be surprised when those photographers upset and don’t be surprised when a letter from a lawyer turns up on your doorstep.

And to those photographers and photography fans that all joined together to take this guy down … nice work ;)

  • Brian

    As a photographer in Ireland I was posting works on Flicker thinking they were protected. But after some research and testing the results that I found, I was able with Firefox to download and if I wanted to edit any photo that was supposedly protected by flicker. I have posted my findings on flicker and some advice for fellow photographers that may be posting on the same service. i can be found under aviewphotography ireland
    Brian

  • Hi Brian. Thanks for your comment. As far as sharing online goes, Flickr is the most protected your images can be while still publicly displaying your photographs. Basically, if an image displays on screen, anyone can get a copy of that image by simply taking a screenshot and cropping the image. The only real way to protect your work is to display a watermark across it (and even then, someone with basic Photoshop skills could do a fairly good job of removing that watermark).

    As another photographer once told, the best bet could simply be to either not worry about it too much or to not post your photos online at all. Rather just post the sample photo from time to time as an example of your work.