When Imitation Stops Being Flattering

adventureawaits

It seems recently that a lot of things in my photography life have been happening in little clumps. All at once I’ll get messages from people in the same country, or have the same theme of ideas in my head, or even the weather staying the same. But with those great things, sometimes the not so great things come in bunches as well which is what I’ve been dealt with this last week or so.

A few days a go a friend sent me a message linking me to another artist’s page on Facebook and right away I felt that familiar tingle of anxiety tickle up the back of my neck. You know that feeling when you’re taken by surprise, maybe you’ve seen a shadow that looks a bit frightening at first. My first glance at the pictures on this person’s page had me quickly go from that anxiety-hair on end feeling to complete loss for words.

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What I was looking at was someone who had essentially built a photography career, copying my photos. From the lighting, to the props, to the locations, to the posing and even down to my signature flatcap hat that I often wear in photos, it was all there. Hanging in galleries, being proclaimed by magazines as creative and original, published in books. All these photos that actually had me second guessing if they were in fact mine, just run through filters. I was lost, even though it’s not something new to me.

 

 

I’m definitely not one to take myself or my images too seriously. I recognize that I put the vast majority of my work online, without watermarks. That’s my choice, my freedom as an artist as well. But that still doesn’t take the sting away from seeing that work disrespected. Almost every time I post something about this topic there’s always the comment that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And to a degree it is. I certainly don’t get upset when up and coming photographers are inspired by my work and post their interpretations with a link back to my work. I’ve been inspired by other artists and have interpreted their style in my work, and always make a point to let it be known that inspiration came from another source. This imitation stops being flattering when there’s no attribution to the original creator.

Like I mentioned at the start, things come in groups and the very next day I ended up finding another photographer on Facebook had been very cleanly, removing me out of my own images and putting himself in as a replacement. He’d obviously spent a lot of time making sure these looked like his photos. There were a couple dozen of these images, all with this other person in place of myself. Again I was totally at a loss. It was like going to watch a movie but all the actors were replaced with other people than you expect, it was just weird.

 

I posted in a group that I’m a part of that helps photographers with a variety of questions or problems. And the reaction was a unified, “Um…what!?” to both of these examples. At first my reaction is to just shake my head, sigh and let it continue but thanks to the support of these friends, I decided to reach out to both of these strangers to hear their side.

Both of them replied, and both replied with very similar attitudes. The first, denied ever having seen my work or knowing anything about me. After I sent him links of the original photos that he had copied, he replied with a generic “there’s lots of pictures on the internet that I like” and then stopped replying. The second person was upset at me that I wasn’t willing to supply him with “artistic backgrounds” for him to share with his friends. An hour after our conversation in which I told him it wasn’t respectful, he posted another one. After another round of explanations, I reported him for copyright violation on Facebook and the images were removed. (thank you Facebook for standing up for creators of content).

Being inspired by another artist is not bad, wanting to create something that you like to see isn’t bad, and even using other people’s work as a motivation for your own isn’t necessarily bad. Many of us have inspiration boards, favourite images we’re inspired by and so on. When that crosses into complete copying and theft, its disrespectful not only the original artist but also continues an attitude of “it’s on the internet, so it must be mine to take”.

As a freelance, self employed photographer I work hard at not only finding opportunities to continue to support myself but also to produce work that I’m proud of and that I feel engages my audience and helps me grow as an artist. When other people take those images without consent it makes it even harder to focus on the things that I love to do and easier to feel a weight of frustration cloud everything over. Originality in art is hard enough without looking through Instagram and seeing poorly redone images without any consideration to those that created them, like going to the library and checking out an off-brand version of a best seller (Larry Motter and the Chalice of Flames anyone?)

Chances are if you’re reading this right now, you’re not one to spend an hour photoshopping yourself into someone’s photos but there is a growing attitude among younger artists (no, not all) that almost anything on the internet is free for use. We as artists need to continue to support each other by fostering creativity not blurring the lines of imitation.

Do you have a story like this? Share it in the comments below.

74 Comments

  1. I did a bunch of blogging when I was younger and I often got comments telling me about people who had either directly copied my work or actually used my photos as their own. I also wrote a lot back then and people would copy my text and use it as their own. It was so weird to see because all of my work is very personal to me so it was like getting my life and identity stolen. I felt very helpless. It was usually 13 year old girls who didn’t know what they were doing so I would usually be able to talk them into deleting and apologizing by sending them an e-mail or commenting on their blog-posts.

  2. This is ridiculous, Joel. What I find shocking is the reaction of the first one, big old image denier:(. The second reaction is infuriating…and then funny. How much is he willing to pay you to provide “artistic backgrounds” for him and his friends?

    Twice in recent years I have had issues with copycat antics. The worst part? It was done by friends. Well, I say “friends”, because they are no longer. One bought a print ( at a reduced FRIEND rate ) and then proceeded to copycat that exact image and sell it in our local community minutes after I moved ( I did not move that far ). The second incident was weirder. A friend simply copied an image of mine off of flickr ( screenshot? I am not even sure how she did it since my photos are as protected as they can be ) and then submitted the image to critique groups as her own. These were people I spent much time with encouraging their photography, helping them with ideas and sharing so much of what I knew without asking anything in return.

    I was not just frustrated…I was furious. I still am, apparently;).

    I get inspiration. I love being inspired by what somebody does. But what these people are doing is not being inspired by you…it is theft, plain and simple.

    Gah.

  3. Lynne

    so very sorry you were robbed, because that is what has happened. I understand why you are not watermarking your work, but perhaps you should, for protection of your art and livelihood. I love your work!

    • Watermarking doesn’t solve the problem. You can remove watermarks – I mean, just look at the second guy, who removed joel from his own pictures and replaces them with himself!

  4. Gah! This makes me feel ill. I haven’t had anyone directly copy my images…(that I know of), but I have had some people add my images to their website and pass them off as their own. The sense of powerlessness to do anything about it made me so angry. Well done for speaking out – and for reporting them.

  5. Amy

    Joel, I JUST posted about this last night. Here is the text.

    ‘Memes. We all see them. Some people love their inspirational quotes. Some people love the photos they’re superimposed upon. I am NOT a fan. Let me explain why.

    I work really hard to take quality photos. I’m happy when other people enjoy seeing my photos. It is extremely difficult when other people thank that they are entitled to use my photos without my permission to create what seems to be an innocent meme.

    After having an in depth conversation with a person who creates daily ‘inspirational’ memes, I tried my best to educate her on why the use of my photos requires a licensing agreement. The ‘creator’ of these memes was not able to understand that she was stealing from photographers. She was quick to point out that she would have no problem giving me credit for the photo, and she was disgusted to think that I would require payment for the use of my photos. I was quick to point out that credit is the least of my concerns. She was shocked that I didn’t appreciate the ‘exposure’ her usage was giving me, as she proudly pointed out that her memes were shared and liked all over the world.

    Seriously.

    Photographers are tired of being asked to do their job for free. You would not ask your hairdresser to spend two hours doing your hair for free. Telling all of your friends that your hairdresser does great work is not payment. The exposure you provide her by bragging about your free haircut does not pay her bills. You would not ask a chef to create a meal for you without paying the chef for the time, talent, and ingredients. You would not take a bike off of someones front porch, ride it around, and call it your own.

    It is outright theft to take and use images that are not your own.

    I realize most people do not understand the parameters that are involved with photography copyrights, so I will make this a simple as possible.

    If you did not take the photo, you may not use it without permission.

    Even if you happen to be IN the photo, you STILL do not have permission to use it.

    Even if the photo is NOT watermarked, same as above.

    No exceptions. Sorry to sound tight -lipped about it, but this is serious stuff. And no, none of my friends have been offenders.”

    I’m sorry you received the ‘uhhh…what?’ response from people in our community. To tell you the honest truth, issues like these are the number one reason why I am tempted to hoard my pretties in a cave. Your photos are an indulgence for me. Keep sharing. Hopefully the good make up for the bad.

    • Feisty

      Re: You would not ask _______ to do _______ for free. People would and do, in fact, ask all manner of people to do their jobs for free or “exposure”.

  6. I came across that first man’s stream a while ago and wondered if you knew about it. How he could possibly deny it is beyond me. It would be easier to forgive him should he have admitted that he at least drew inspiration from your work, even if he denied actually copying it, but to deny that he has ever seen your work is just absurd!

  7. Lynn Nordhagen

    Joel, that’s awful. I think you should go beyond reporting it to Facebook. The magazines and books and anything else should be stopped. I hope you will get some legal help and go after all offenders. You deserve to own your work.

    • I totally agree, maybe it was my years in a lawfirm, but I would chase them down to the depths and disparage their reputation if they were anything less than apologetic and immediately willing to work with you/compensate to make it right. All those credits they have been awarded, share your story just as you stated to all of those publishers and maybe earn some positive PR features as a result. People who build their reputations on total copyright theft do not deserve accolades and business success. Copyright laws abound, if people start having to pay for their theft, word gets out and your statement and those of other photographers everywhere will be strong.

  8. Something really similar happened to me, only the other way around. I made a picture that was totally unplanned, spontaneous and I loved it. I published it and soon after that, somebody commented on it with a link to photography by an artist I didn´t know. When I opened the image, my heart sank- it was the exact same image I made, only it was made like two years sooner. I was really upset because it surely seemed like I copied that image- the composition, the props and the pose was almost identical except for the lightning and colours- and was thinking of removing it from my facebook page although I considered it as one of my best works so far. I wrote to few photographers to tell me what to do and they told me that these things happen and as long as I´m being honest its okay. Since then I search the internet before making anything new to see if it isn´t already “taken” 😀

  9. Uuuugh don’t even get me started. This has been happening to me more and more lately. Very often people DO link back to me and talk about how I inspired them and and that’s so great. I love to see that. But I’ve run into many that just recreate one of my images, from the lighting and pose, right down to my “signature dust particles.” I know I put myself out there and tell people how I do things on my blog, because I want to inspire and teach. I don’t however want to people to flat out copy my work and pretend they are the mastermind. I actually wrote a blog post about “borrowing” ideas a couple of weeks ago! But I wasn’t brave enough to call anyone out like you did and show the copies..perhaps I should have. but so far it’s only been one image recreated here and there, never a whole body of work, thats just ridiculous…some people.
    Here is that blog post if anyone cares to read more on this subject 😉
    http://www.robertcorneliusphotography.com/blog/10-tips-on-how-to-borrow-ideas-politely

  10. How sickening that people seem to think it is ok to this! I did have another photographer use some of my work (along with many others) on their website as their “portfolio” to try to gain more business. I guess I just cannot understand how someone can do that and feel ok about it!! My conscience would eat me alive if I tried to do something like that.

  11. Love you Joel! Love your work, and it kills me when I see your (and other artists), straight up copied with blatant disregard of the original artist! Whenever i find one, i take the time to tag the original creators in the thieves post…and report it 😉

  12. The first guy is in a Photoshop group I belong to on Facebook. I recently posted that his work resembled an artist that I follow (and posted a link to your work). Now I know I was right. *smile*.

    I have had people try and copy my work and generally I don’t mind and find it flattering but as you stated only if credit is given. A few years back I had a phone call from my daughter telling me I needed to come downtown and check out a tattoo shop. I asked out why? I was told a load of my drawings were in their flash book, they were offering my designs as their tattoo designs. They had never contacted me about this, but simply had downloaded them from my website and placed them in their book.

  13. Fer

    Well Joel i’m surprised that someone dare to steal your images and put himself into them! honestly the first time i heard about a case like that! must be really annoying, i think the second guy takes seriously the phrase of Pablo Picasso “The art is theft” haha, but don’t worry , those who knows who you are and follow your work since a while, we can recognize your style and say with totally security that is YOUR idea/work, i’ll keep the idea that inspirations is try to do the closer possible BUT with your your resources (places, accessories, knowledge, etc) and ending up making something “new”, keep inspiring us Joel! :)

  14. As artists we all steal the ideas but it should not be replica of someone else’s work. I am a big fan of your conceptual photography but keeping that as an inspiration I have been working on my own stories. Copying your work doesn’t take much effort but creating our own needs some creativity. It is sad to see your dreams and vision copied and reproduced from some other artists. But still one thing I tell you Joel, your images are already in the minds of people..

  15. Mary Bell

    This is making me feel the anxiety I felt back in the day when I was younger and posted my fine art on the internet and find person after person who would take my photos and claim it to be their own work. Now for the most part will only post commercial work to protect my fine art from being stolen or copied. But I don’t think we artist should HAVE to do that. People make me sad.

  16. Hi Joel,
    I love your work! I’ve been following you on FB for a while.
    I create digital art photography as well as regular photography. I get a lot of followers on Flickr for my digital art and I see some ‘inspiration’ in others images where you can definitely tell where that came from, but it’s not exactly the same. But I know how you feel, I’ve seen and heard a lot about this and it really is exhausting, to say the least, to see how many people feel they can take and use as they wish.
    What I find confusing is the artists you have posted here are obviously talented, so why not use that talent to find their own niche, unless what they lack is imagination, which I assume must be the case here. Even if a person lacks imagination, they could start paying attention to daily happenings around them for inspiration, take a photo of the daily activities and twist it up a bit even. I don’t know…..this type of thing comes naturally to me, but I do have a friend who often says, “I wish I could think like you”. So in my mind I find it hard that people can’t come up with something that is a bit out of the norm. Haha.
    I hope you get this issue solved. Keep posting your amazing and inspiring images!

  17. Akira

    Hi Joel,

    I’d like to say my piece of mind, since I can totally relate to you in some way. I used to be on instagram and became quite popular at the time when it all started, I was one of a few to get 400+ likes & 5k+ followers(I don’t want to sound all mighty just laying out the details).

    One of the reasons I quit was related to this imitation issue. Most of the community didn’t understand how it felt to have your work plagiarised and kept telling me the same thing, how “imitation is a form of flattering”. To be honest I got a bit paranoid and started getting so many warnings of “copycats” by people, so I started blaming them directly. But this issue somehow backfired & I started to get “bullied” by a few people just because fingers started being pointed.. and so I slowly started to lose this urge of expressing myself through this media. I was so flattered when so many people where encouraging me to keep creating, but my motivation by then was already broken into pieces. It’s hard I know, but keep strong!

    You know that feeling when you think, “alright lets do this”, and ideas just start flowing and you get all excited, its a sort of love and attachment.. hard to explain! What I’m trying to say is that don’t let go of this ability you have, and remember that this will always happen no matter the work you do and create.. and unfortunately there is not much you can do.. Just keep expressing yourself the way you have done until now and let the rest of us enjoy your art 😉 . Fight for your rights but don’t let others take you down.

    You know it, they know it & everyone else knows it.. How these people have just blatantly copy you is outrageous.. Keep up the good work, seeing your work gives me the motivation to one day start again.

    take care

  18. It happened often to me that I had ideas but was too slow realizing them, so other people who came up with very similar to almost the same ideas and made them books, performances whatsoever. Things like this can happen. But then I went to a Party and told my sister about the newest thing I was up too. About 4 weeks later I got an email from an agency seeking extras for a mocumentary. I thought I was St the wrong planet reading that email. It was exactly my idea – every little detail of it. If I’d realize this project now, I would be the person copying this, because someone stole my idea and is already working with it. It just sucks ass. I know now you feel.

  19. Alex

    I had a very similar encounter where a girl had done my photo like for like , as in placed the objects in the same place as I had and done the colours similar. And like you said it was a half arsed attempt at doing my photo… So I messaged her saying how her photo looked familiar and she saw it in my portfolio and said “Ohhh you’re that photographer…” And it made me think…

    Yes I am flattered that you have taken your time to study my idea and creation, but I fell a bit offended that you spent so much time looking at every detail of my photo without an ounce of consideration about who made it …

  20. I have been lucky enough (?) to not have had anything taken… at least, not that I’m aware of. Blissful ignorance, but it would be painful enough if I found out that some things had and they were making money off of it while I was struggling to pay back crippling student-loan debt. This doesn’t make me untouched though ~ I have seen my writing plagiarized and used by professional publishing houses (and not a cent when I called them out on it, just an automated and flat apology with the content being pulled from later print runs). I have friends who are artists and animators from varied fields, and they have *all* found their things ripped off (some without any editing at all) and sold online – one animator friend discovered a person through an overseas company contact who wrote to her and said that they just received HER demo-reel as a part of another artist’s demo… we have only to look to Deviant Art to see this happen every day.

    In my studio arts classes, even in my other arts based classes, we are told that if we use an image, we MUST change at least 60% of it. It cannot be the same. Even then, while it isn’t necessary with that much change, we’re strongly encouraged to grant at the very least a nod to the original artist.

    My mother has been a graphic artist (silk-screening, design, ink-work, etc) for my whole life, and as fastidious as she is at covering her bases, even she sees her work appear in the wild under someone else’s name.

    It’s sad, that this even happens, but theft is common everywhere. I believe it’s in the way arts, most especially in North America, are given a complete back-seat to everything academic (most especially money)… with the cultural philosophy “it is better to ask forgiveness than permission” driving us, it’s no wonder it happens. Perhaps we need to subvert the metaphors to effect real change?

    Anyways, thanks for the blog about this, it gives me a non-anecdotal reference to show to others. I hope that you find yourself enjoying your freedom as an artistic photographer, without the bitterness that comes from experiencing this feeling from time to time. I, and I’m sure I’m among many, love your work. Thoughtful, evocative, inspiring, and imaginative.

    • Ah, oops, I should say “I’ve not had any of my photography / art taken” ~ I think of my writing a bit differently (since it’s a different creative process, but a creative process all the same).

  21. This Aschraf-person really makes my stomach turn. He’s soul must tip he on the shoulder every hour reminding him of stealing.
    Images-thieves: way to many uses images that they havn’t shoot themselves or bought as stock.. they have simply “lent” it from the internet. I can’t let it be to ask them and them and others often gets angry and call me “police”. But what do you do about your first copy-cat. Will you proceed contacting all the newspapers and magazines and galleries who have praized him for his uniquesness??? If you do not do so, you can risk that he will winn the battel of your signature art!

  22. LeAnna Moore

    Joel, you are an insanly awesome photographer, and don’t you forget it! What those people did is way wrong. As I am just starting to dabble in the world of photography, I have not yet had the unfortunate experience of having an image stolen. Don’t give up on and doubt your ideas, they are creative, original, and yours. I know that, because you always have a little story to accompany them, that relates to events in your life, or how you have been feeling. No one is the same, and therefore can not share the exact same life experiences that lead to the exact same ideas that leads to the exact same photograph as another artist. What they told you, was a total line of crap, as you already know. Just keep your head up and remain positive and creative. That’s one of the things I really admire about you, how your positivity and optimism towards life continually shines through you and into your photos.

  23. David B

    I just can’t believe this!!! What out and out audacity , how can these people shrug it off and carry on regardless. I am at a loss for words.. I can fully understand how you felt. I myself try and create original imagery and sometimes see others work that sometimes has me scratching my head as to whether they got their ideas from me, but this is on a whole new level. I feel terrible for you, I hope these peoples efforts ultimately come to naught and peter out.

  24. That is absolutely insane! How could anyone even dare cover that up as being inspired – that is literal theft! And perhaps you’d have let off one ‘copy’… but a whole gallery of near literal photocopies… I cannot fathom how these people never felt a slight tinge of guilt in the process of pretending that all the work you put into your photos that they stole is theirs.

    I would have never thought there would be people as shallow as that. On repeat occasions.

    On the bright side, since a couple of awesome photographers I follow linked this journal on their respective facebook pages, I’ve discovered you. Of course, I certainly won’t be copying your work – but your stuff IS insanely original and well done. :)

    The copies are just sick… and in a bad way.

  25. I went to an art opening last year and saw one of my self-portraits intricately and exactly reproduced by a painter. I showed the painter my original image and she denied ever seeing it, claiming her husband “sourced all her material.” At one point during our conversation, she volunteered to paint over it. She knew she was caught red-handed. I recently attended another art opening across town, and guess what? There was her painting AGAIN with my self-portrait untouched. What to do? I have no idea….

    • She should have asked you first, without a doubt. I had a painter ask to paint one of my self-portraits, I agreed, and he linked back to the original picture. I thought that was amazing. What that girl did to you though is soo wrong!

  26. If you have the means, get a lawyer to draw up a cease and desist letter. If you have the proper meta data from the original photos, when they were taken, it should be no problem proving your case in court. Sometimes the cease and desist letter is enough to frighten the infringer into submission. If not, take them to court.

    I’m no lawyer, this is just my understanding from working at large corporations that deal with DAM systems and copyright infringement on the regular.

    Good luck. It’s a shame people can’t make it in this world on their own merits.

  27. Lia

    You should name and shame. This has happened before and the copycat was named and shamed and her Facebook page and websites were bombarded with messages from outraged photographers. Her Facebook was closed in a day and so was her website. As a photographer he should know that this is not ok. You have to have your take even on inspiration.

  28. sarah

    Joel, thanks for sharing your story, your work, and so much of your life with us. I am not an artist and have no story to share that’s similar. I just want you to know how much I admire you and encourage you to keep doing what you do. You have put countless smiles on my face. Keep being awesome!

  29. I completely feel for you and other artists alike who’ve had things like this happen to them. This same thing has happened to friends of mine, as well as myself. I haven’t seen my work recreated, but I have had people take credit for my pictures. The one that really sticks out I for me is a case where I had taken a candid, backstage picture of a relatively well known band, and years later, they posted it on their social media pages giving credit to their sound engineer. I left a comment stating that it was actually my picture, and the band was quick to apologize… The sound engineer however, well, that’s a different story. He outright told me that my picture was just a copy of his. After publicly arguing about it with him, I sent him a private message with links to my original (posted on my personal facebook page), as well as my watermarked original. (Posted on my photography facebook page.) Both pictures were posted more than 24 hours before the image that he claimed was “his” was posted on his social media page. Even after confronting him with the evidence, he refused to admit that his image was the copy; he simply left it as “they’re similar.” It is frustrating and outrightt ridiculous the things that people will do. I hope that more people will stand up for themselves like you have.

  30. Dan

    I have never had anyone use my work and claim it as theirs, but… I did go through a stage where other local photographers would crawl my online work and then reproduce the styles, poses, locations and editing and claim it as their unique style/ branding, this also included marketing, branding and website design :( When the hobby photographer does it you kind of get a little puff of pride knowing that obviously you are on the right track. When competing business does it (especially business with more clientele) it can be shattering to see all the unjustified praise and subsequent work that they get for the hard work and inspiration that wasn’t theirs to begin with. Sigh! I even went through a phase where I stopped displaying my new work online, but thats counter productive.

  31. I have had similar experiences as a writer, even being accused of plagiarism of my own work and debarred from publishing sites because someone had reproduced some of my old articles in the Indian Times!

  32. MichaelBee

    Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but it happens all the time. I’m glad you brought that up, it’s one thing to get inspiration but plagiarism? YouTube is full of it. I’d ask these people to give you response photos similar to response videos on YouTube. You should watch “Some terms and conditions may apply” available on Netflix. Most everything you post on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, all become the property of the site. Instagram can even sell them for their own profits. I’d post to Getty Images and StockPhoto.com and make a time stamp for the upload so you can go for civil damages. Your images are artistic and marketable. Make it so you can prove you were the original creator. I’d be sick if they did better professionally than you, karma is a bitch and they will get their dose.

  33. This happebs to me a lot. I make hats, and have had many, many people flat out copy my work for profit. The worst instance was when I was working at a retail clothing/accessories store in Seattle. I was selling my hats there, and another employee decided to start selling poor quality, glue gunned together copies of my work right next to mine. After one day of being expected to sell his poor copies to customers, I pulled all my work from the store and quit the job. :/

  34. J.Smith

    Publicly shame whoever does that. Immediately. Through any/all ways that exist. If theyre stealing your credit, they are also stealing some shame for their actions. When they get reviews of ‘originality’ from press, they will also receive the stigma of thievery. Its in your duty to publicly name those who directly copied from you. To protect artists in the future and put a stop to this. Making imitation something to never ever be considered. I would have put that photographers name in big bold letters in those pictures of that show your work and theirs. I want names. I want their websites. Its the duty of any artist to call them out. Now.

  35. Norman Cooper

    Have you ever thought of taking legal action? I know people can get funny over that little three legal word but if it effects your business and brand I think you got every right too.

  36. I published three pages of Achraf Baznani’s images, after the CEO of the association I publish for flagged up his work. Having seen now that they were completely copied from yours, I regret that we gave him credibility and it’s worth commenting that had he submitted this work for a qualification, only the rather low pixel-level quality of the images would have bee a barrier (to making large prints suitable for assessment). You might assume that as a photo magazine editor, now 40 years in the seat, I would have seen your work but I had not – while for one reason or another, Baznani managed to reach his target audience. I do sometimes use Google images to look for similars, if I have major doubts about photographers – and it’s fair to say that I am suspicious much of the time, sometimes without justification. There really are people who can produce incredible art and retouching in a matter of an hour or two, like Vicki-Lea Boulter, and who don’t hide the tools and resources they use or deny their influences.

    What annoys me is that I validated this Moroccan ‘artist’ by corresponding with him, discussing the images, selecting images and reproducing them with some commentary. I have in effect been duped and he was prepared to go along with the deception to the point of using it to secure publication, print sales and perhaps gallery space. I am not sure.

    Equally, knowing that some of the settings are distinctly Moroccan, I assume that Baznani has created some work which is not a slavish copy of yours – except in general concept and important details like the flat cap. Regardless, I would not have used his work had I known this. http://www.baznani.com. I used his portfolio in Master Photography magazine. My apologies to you.

  37. Sam

    Ah, I’ve had this happen before but I’ve also had the same thing as Mitsu (a commenter on here) happen to me. I searched for years for this perfect location. A friend posted an image of the location and I fell in love. He told me where it was and I made my image based off a famous quote. I finished the image and loved it to death only to receive a message saying I stole the idea, which I didn’t. I continued to get messages from this person claiming they felt it was hard to believe that I’ve never seen the other image before. Sadly, it happens. I don’t keep up with many people’s work, if any at all. I only know about this blog post because a friend sent it to me. I do photography for myself and sometimes more than one person has a sumilar idea. In your case, the first photographer clearly used your ideas and didn’t even really add anything to make it his own. The second person was just wrong in every way imaginable. Good luck with this!!

  38. I can’t report him because I don’t have the rights for it :( You should get his site taken down on facebook, that dude doesnt deserve 115k likes for your work!

  39. Sadly, I’m not surprised. We’ve been teaching kids in schools for two decades to steal images, music, and words from the internet for their homework. No attribution, no guilt. Assignments to create powerpoint presentations or to build a book depend on stolen content. Is it any wonder that as they get older they have no qualms about stealing for other purposes? We have a cultural problem now. Sorry about your experience–I know first hand just how crummy it makes you feel about your work and your relationship to humanity that what you have done can be devalued so easily.

  40. While the fellow in the first set of images is at least creating work that is legal to make I tend to see it as similar to painters who copy the masters. It’s great practice and can be beautifully done. He’s completely within his rights to sell and make a profit from it. However, ethically to be doing all this it should also be acknowledged that he’s not the first to shoot this scene, and he was not being creative in making the images. He certainly would be subject to humiliation should this come to light in broader artistic circles, it is definitely a shameful thing to pass off ideas of others as your own.

    The second guy….ugh. I guess he just thinks it’s cute, but what he’s doing is in direct violation of copyright laws.

    You’re well within your rights to send both cease and desist letters, since the first could be confused with your own work and the second blatantly stealing it. Goodness knows that the first fellow looks to have talent enough that if he really wishes to pursue making similar work to your own he’s now got enough experience that he can do the work of finding his own ideas for new pieces.

    I can understand not wanting to put watermarks on your images though. I hate doing it myself, and feel it distracts from the work itself.

    Also, I wanted to mention I’ve seen your work on the internet, but it was never associated with your site. I’m glad to have stumbled across your site now thanks to a Facebook suggestion. Your work is fantastic, and I wish you the best!

  41. Nicole

    … I’m really surprised at all of this. >.< I'm definitely part of the culture that shares images without ever wondering where they came from. From that picture of that cranky cow to that image of the grumpy baby… I never gave a thought to the photographer because it was just such a huge part of the internet culture I've been indoctrinated into.

    One thing everyone can agree on? Copying someone else's work, even if you change it a bit to make it more your own, is wrong.

    I'm very sad you're going through this and rather shocked that these people are so blatant…

  42. You have my sympathy, Joel. This is theft, pure and simple, and must’ve made your blood run cold to discover it. And I hate it when these thieves (and the idiots sticking up for them) come back with “So what? Get over it!” Something I experienced recently. It’s a complete lack of respect for other people. Period. It’s the ‘entitled’ generation getting their kicks by plagiarising, because they think that anything uploaded to the internet is ‘public domain’… It isn’t. It’s both frustrating and deeply saddening that so many people lack ethics and respect these days.

  43. I had a photographer actually poach my clients AND my work. No one has a copywriter on a process or certain look. But I had an area photographer sell herself to my client base – which is fine – but with the style and effects I spent two years developing. I was becoming quite popular in the area and she liked my work so went out and started to market herself with this new distractive approach. What could I say or do. I have no right to the creative universe but my two years of development was taken from me. My only recourse is to be better… and stay much better. watermark and rise above. You can buy a knock off Patik Phillip but if your have a real one you’ve got something. They can take my work, but they can’t DO my work.

  44. One other place to watch is online shops. I have heard of a couple sites somehow taking screen shots and selling your work on their sites. The only issue I have had was with Etsy.
    I photographed a product line of handmade items for a shop, which we did not watermark, and someone stole EVERY image and tried to pass it off in their own etsy store as their product, so not only was she stealing my photos, she was stealing the product idea from my client and representing the goods as her own as they looked “similar”.
    I had to resend all of the photos with my client’s watermark to update on their etsy page. Not a big deal but frustrating. The lady did come clean and fixed the issue right away though.

  45. Joel,
    your work is very inspirational, but that does not justify anybody to copy anything so bluntly and shamelessly like the examples you pointed out.

    If you would sue these people in a copyright trial, you would win.
    Is it worth the effort? Yes, I think these impostors need to be stopped. For one: for artistic reasons, secondly: for your own, professional sake – you DO earn money with your art. And after having seen, that the first guy obviously even SELLS YOUR art by copying it and distributing a book on Amazon (and most likely other ways of distribution as well), you really should take all measures possible to stop him.

    I would first try to contact Amazon’s legal department and try to make them remove the book from their “shelves” by pointing out copyright infringement. See what happens and from there on, proceed.

    You definitely should neither feel impolite nor be “ashamed” or hesitant in any way: you deserve any right to protect your ideas, your work and your intellectual property. Hopefully, among your readers, there might be people experienced in the field of copyright, who might step up and help you.

    Kind regards
    Joerg

  46. I enjoyed reading that, because it’s one of those situations where if you say anything or show it to other people, they won’t understand. In the first of your two scenario, it must hurt that that person (who is obviously been looking at your work) doesn’t give you the originality credit. He must have spent loads of time on these shots, and it’s really well executed, but he’s got to learn the difference between being inspired and copying. The second case is just pure copyright infringement.
    I don’t agree about the young people part though… I’ve been in the same situation in the past when someone was copying my work on Instagram, but she was much older than me and had much more followers, what hurt the most was her getting recognition and comments like: that’s a great idea, when I had been the one inspiring these shots. And you feel useless and there is nothing you can do.
    But that’s the risk when you put your work out there, and some artists, like Sherrie Levine made a carrier by not producing their own work and re photograph other people’s work.
    I think with the Internet age it’s something we are going to face more and more and websites that share photographs need to show much better guidelines and make people aware what is wrong and what isn’t…

  47. […] About the author: Joel Robison is a photographer based out of a valley in British Columbia’s Rocky Mountains. You can find his work on his website, Flickr, and Facebook, and prints of his are available through his Etsy shop. This article originally appeared here. […]

  48. Oh, Joel, I am just gutted for you, to find out this is happening. :( I absolutely think you should take legal action against both photographers, especially the first one. I support you in whatever you decide. You are one of my very favorite photographers. Your creativity is admirable, your images are wonderful and charming and magical (even the “dark” ones, though maybe charming isn’t the word for those), and you are an outstanding being. I will always be a fan, and so will 5×5. We adore you and wish for you a positive resolution to this experience. I’m so sorry you are having it.

    Jenie Clark

  49. Hi Joe cheers for the fav tweet to :
    Most Photographers works are original and that particular photographer recognise’s their own work in a world of other photography To directly copy another photographers work , is to cheat and to cheat is cheating yourself of your own originality.The individual knows he has cheated so is cheating oneself , and those around them. The photographer who’s work is original and is copied by others can take comfort in the fact that he or she thought of that original idea first .
    your work is original

  50. Skye Harper Photography

    Wow, how awful for you. People are pathetic.

    On the other hand, your work is amazing!!!

  51. i took a photo of a newborn baby, lying on his dad’s back which had a tattoo of angel wings, a couple years ago. the baby looked like an angel and had an especially inspiring pose because of the scar shown on his belly. within a week, the image had been liked almost a million times and had been shared over 45,000 times. unfortunately, it had also been stolen, shared (with my watermark cropped) and copied hundreds, if not thousands, of times. i very much know that anxiety that grows in the pit of the stomach. every time
    a friend or liker shares with me another copyright violation, i cringe and wonder how many don’t get reported. it drives me mad if i allow myself to dwell on it. I really am thankful to facebook for backing me up in every attempt to report an offender and i appreciate and very much depend on those who follow my work to be my sentinels.
    you are wildly talented and inspiring! and if you would like a bright side of a really irritating experience, i never would have heard about you, the original artist, if this blog hadn’t lit up my newsfeed (i had to wait days before being able to simply view this blog)! now i follow your page and very much enjoy your work. keep it up! you definitely stand apart from those who stoop to simply being a copycat.

  52. Earl

    I’d never be lame enough to photoshop myself into someone else’s photo and pass it off as my own. I would, however, parody a well-known work in a second and include the info on the original. Something like using the Polaroid as a blanket or a seriously distorted picture of my face in the magnifying glass.

    All my selfies have a parody theme.

  53. Maria

    What I’ve learned about copyrights is that only actual pieces of artwork can have copyrights, not ideas by themselves. Once you publish an idea, nothing stops someone else creating their version of it. Yet the second guy is not just borrowing ideas to create his own work but stealing someone else’s work.

    And I checked out the Baznani guy on amazon and was appalled at his replies to people commenting on the books and on his work. He is actually accusing Joel Robison of stealing art work: http://www.hebernews.com/un-photographe-accuse-de-plagiat/

    Then he tries to bribe a reviewer who pointed out that his works were copied: “Achraf Baznani says:
    Hello,
    I know that you don’t purchase the book yet, the artworks in the book are so creative and original!
    I can send you one copy for free, you can take a look to all published artworks!”

    I’m shocked that someone calling themselves an “artist” and “photographer” can behave like this. I guess he has never heard of integrity.

  54. This worry some greatly, not only the theft but also the lack of thought for our original artistic skill, getting inspiration from others work is a given, it’s what we do, but we use our own interpretation of a rough idea not a straight copy, where is the skill or integrity in that.

    Last week I started using this http://www.imagerights.com, it’s free to a point and it dose seem to work.

    Give it a go, it won’t work in this case, but it will help with the straight stealing of our work, and I guess we have to start somewhere.

  55. Only just seen this thread…..
    But wanted to say Joel – I FEEL YOUR PAIN!
    I am all for sharing and helping others find their own styles and ideas, but blatant copying isn’t flattery it’s plagiarism. There is a lot of it going on right now, I see it everyday – Hell, I’ve lost track of how many Brooke Shaden copycats I’ve seen this week alone.
    But on a different note – huge fan of your work here, and don’t worry I wont be ripping it off! 😉

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