Theft/Stealing Epidemic among Photographers – We have a right to Defend our Clients

I’d like to officially call out to all the public – please PLEASE hire legitimate photographers.  This isn’t a post to ask you to hire me – I’m simply saying look around, really look at who you are hiring.  Make sure that they are real businesses and are ethical.

Photographers:  Remember this the next time you feel sorry for a photographer who got caught in unethical behavior.  We have a right to DEFEND OUR CLIENTS.

The internet is a small world.   I was at work today, ready to go on my lunch break, when I received two messages simultaneously from two different photographers, alerting me to the fact that some of my images were being used by another photographer.   I sighed.  I knew this would be a fun-filled lunch break of battling yet again.
I clicked on the links to find several of my clients’ images were being used by someone claiming to be a photographer.  (It wasn’t limited to just me, she stole from a good number of photographers)  She stole the images off of my blog and cropped out or PhotoShopped out my watermark, and then added her own.  She also added her own editing on some, uploaded them to her Facebook FanPage, and then named the clients in the picture “The Wilds” for this one….

and “Zachary” for this one.  These are my clients, and these are not their names.

Here are the problems with stealing images from other photographers and using them to advertise your business.

You are falsely advertising to the public.  These are not images that you took so they are not reflective of your skill level most likely.  I get it, you don’t have a big portfolio.  I’ll tell you a little secret.  When I was first taking maternity clients 10 years ago, I hadn’t gotten a signed model release on anyone yet.  I had a potential client book me for a newborn shoot and wanted to know if I could do her maternity.  I could not use any of the images I had to show her, so I showed her images from another photographer who had my exact same skill level in another state.  I showed her these images with that photographers’ information attached, and I was CLEAR, TRUTHFUL, and stated, “I do not have a signed release for my current pregnancy images, but I can do images like this photographer does.”  I did not claim those images as my own, and she was well aware they were not my images as they were marked with the other photographers’ name.  This, in my opinion, is far more ethical than stealing.   What’s wrong with telling the TRUTH?  Where did the truth go in the days of the internet?  I’m a 6-foot blond model, right?

You are stealing.    If you take without permission.  You are stealing.  It is just that simple.  If you use an image to advertise, you must either own the copyright, or you must be paying WITH A CONTRACT a usage or licensing fee.  This is theft.

You can face legal action.   If you are using an image that does not belong to you and you do not own the copyright, you do not have a signed model release for a minor child or a contract with the original photographer.  This is absolutely positively a no-no.  You can have legal action brought against you not only by the photographer, but by the parents of the child in the picture.

THE EXCUSES  I have heard and seen every excuse in the book.  They delete the images and pretend to be a victim and say “I don’t know why I’m being picked on, I didn’t steal anything!” (many have no clue that the screen shots were already taken, deleting did not hide the evidence.   “The web designer did it” (and then never produce a name or contact for this web designer, and professional web designers know better!  So stop insulting the professional web designers!).  “I didn’t say it was my image.  I just posted it on my photography page.”  But usually they leave it there for others to THINK it is their picture – why would a random picture with no credit to a photographer be on a photography business page but to represent their portfolio of work.   “It was a placeholder”.  “My assistant did it” and there is no assistant or contact for an assistant or even evidence that an assistant exists.  Most photographers who steal don’t have enough images to share which is why they steal, so why would they need an assistant, because surely they can’t afford an assistant if they don’t already own a vast selection of client images to share publicly.

The most recent photographer to steal from me (and quite a few others) claimed that the images were being used as inspiration.  So is that why she made up names for my clients pretending that they were her clients?  That’s not about inspiration.  How about the fact that she took my name off of the images and put her own name on them – that is not about inspiration.  That is flat out claiming an image is hers by putting her name on it, so that her potential clients will think it is her picture.

This playing dumb is ridiculous.  We as a society are more educated and have more education at our fingertips than any previous generation.  Guess what?  Photographers didn’t get their images stolen nearly as much as they do today.  Now?  it is happening daily, probably hourly.   The public knows that stealing is wrong.   They know that stealing movies and music is wrong – this is similar to stealing photography except stealing pictures takes it a step further – when someone is using another artist’s work to advertise and acquire clients – false advertisement on top of theft.  There is NO EXCUSE.

I have zero sympathy for those who do this.  Yes, the “internet lynch mob” goes out to shame them, and  I don’t really support mean behavior, but I do understand why it exists.  Photographers are sick of it.  The stealing has become completely overboard.  There is no consequence for this type of theft.  There is no photography license to be revoked.  Facebook won’t even take down a business page who is a proven thief.   Heck, I bet if a member of WPPI or PPA, they won’t even kick them out of the “club” – and in fact, several photographers who have been caught stealing, still speak at big professional events like nothing ever happened.    Maybe this public shaming is the consequence that needs to happen?  It seems extreme, sure….  but enough is enough.

You want to run with the big guys/gals?  Grow some thick skin.  This industry is cut throat; it truly is.  (So is the internet, imagine what your kids are going to go through).  Everyone is scrambling for a virtually nonexistent dream, and not many are going to attain that dream…. but in all things that you do.  OWN IT.    We have all done stupid things… me included.   If you are caught stealing.  Don’t dig yourself a hole.  Delete the images.  Apologize to the photographers you stole from and move on.  The more you try to make excuses, the deeper you dig.  Own your actions…. learn from your mistake, move on, and just don’t do it again.  

We as photographers have a right to DEFEND OUR CLIENTS.  Don’t you dare turn the victim table.

Of course, I will get reamed for being the “bad guy” while the other photographer plays “victim”….   *sigh*  This happens to most photographers who out thieves.    I’ve contacted many photographers for stealing my images privately to get them removed, but when I see blatant theft – as in, changing client names and pretending they are his/her clients?  No.  Just…NO.  The victim table cannot be turned.    I’ll tell you who the victims are –  I am the victim for not being paid for the use of my images and having my hard work completely disrespected in every way, but even MORE so…. my clients are the victims as they did not authorize another photographer to use the images of their children.  This to me is the biggest issue of all.  I can take the disrespect of my copyright, but I cannot sit back and let my clients have this happen to their children’s images.

We have a right to DEFEND OUR CLIENTS.

At any rate….. If you want to see how the images were used with fake stories about these clients with made up names, there is a link —– I always give credit to Corey from PhotoStealers (THE SAGA IS HERE) as she is dedicated to calling out the stealing in our industry, as she, like many of us, just want to see it stop.   It’s not going to stop if we quietly tell people to stop and not take a stand together.  



About Jodie Otte

Maryland Newborn Photographer and Child Portrait Artist, Jodie Holstein-Otte, specializes in unique photography of newborn babies, kids, and families. She works on location in Harford, Howard, Cecil, Anne Arundel, Baltimore and other areas throughout Maryland. She uses both both natural lighting and soft studio lighting techniques.

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