iStockphoto’s user vulcanacar = Photo Thief

say WHAT??, originally uploaded by _rebekka.

_rebekka, one of Flickr’s most popular users, is out with a photo post today of a screenshot where some user named vulcanacar is selling some of her photos on iStockphoto.

From _rebekka: “I thought i’d bring this to light as a warning and wake up call to folks. I’m not putting the blame with iStockphoto per se, but still, this is a problem that is becoming increasingly annoying, for everyone that uses the internet to showcase work. I mean for crying out loud, out of 31 images this particular user has on his “portfolio” , 25 of them are mine, and at least 3 are of me..

I have contacted a copyright lawyer about this, and will be doing what i can to tackle this problem in the best way possible, (please, nobody start sending any angry letters or anything of that sort, this needs to be dealt with in a level-headed way) but i wanted to tell people about this as well, because this is always happening, and your photos could be on there illegally as well. You never know.”

iStockphoto of course is owned by Getty Images, the largest provider of stock photography in the world. It will be interesting to see how their lawyers handle this one.

digg here.

Update: More from Stephen Shankland over at Webware here.

22 Replies to “iStockphoto’s user vulcanacar = Photo Thief”

  1. This flickr screen shot you are posting about is copyrighted all rights reserved. Did you get rebbeca’s permission? That makes two stolen photos if you didn’t.

  2. Gary, while Rebekka holds copyright to the image on the screenshot, iStockphoto likely holds copyright to their website as displayed.

    In either case I think the use if fair use as reporting on news. Certainly if _rebekka had a problem with my blogging this iStockphoto screenshot I would remove it, but I think she’s interested in getting the word out about this at the present time. I did shoot her a link to my post on the comment to her post. I’ve blogged her stuff in the past when she’s had similar copyright trouble and she’s thanked me rather than expressed concern over the use.

  3. Thanks Rebekka and sorry this has happened to you. I hope it gets resolved to your satisfaction in the end. I’ve contacted some higher up contacts that I know at iStockphoto with this news as well so that the matter can hopefully get the attention and resolution that you deserve.

  4. Sorry, Thomas, I admit I was having a go at you. I should have used a smiley face.

    I just imagined that if it would have been easy for me to blog about something like this without worrying about Rebekka’s feelings.

    I’m glad she doesn’t mind, because it is a prime example of an issue that photo sharers have to be aware of.

  5. Pretty sad :s
    btw, just wondering how this guy manages to sale 2400x1616px version of the picture when the only size available on Flickr is 500x335px ??
    Is he just resizing the pic (so gets hugly) or does he really have a hight reso version??

  6. This is rich.

    Do you have gaps in your memory? Does your stance on issues change as the winds change direction, or depending who you personally like or dislike?

    Your exact words:

    “As a photographer, producer and publisher of content I probably, pretty much, technically, in a round about way violate copyright every single day.”

    “Sometimes I violate copyright. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I publish these shots to Flickr and Zooomr and Pownce and my blog — where I make money selling ads — and sometimes I don’t.”

    “Our time on this earth is too short to get petty and spend hours worrying about people who might steal our imagery.”

    “A lot of thrashing about has been taking place in the internet over the past few days over unauthorized use of digital imagery. Scoble wrote a post up about it and says, “steal my content, please.” Mashable has a post out regarding a recent YouTube take down request for a Web 2.0 video published by The Richter Scales. The video in question, by the way, used at least one unauthorized photograph of mine, specifically a photo of Om Malik.

    My response to this unauthorized use of my imagery? Who gives a shit? I certainly don’t.”

    At the time, many people commented on your support for Rebekka when her imagery was stolen awhile back, and also how you insisted Valleywag remove your Creative Commons licensed work because you didn’t like the way they talked about you and your company.

    Hypocrisy, thy name is Thomas Hawk. It surprises me that anyone even bothers to listen to you. Apparently, other’s memories are just as short as yours.

  7. Hypocrisy, thy name is Thomas Hawk. It surprises me that anyone even bothers to listen to you. Apparently, other’s memories are just as short as yours.

    Anonymous, there is a big difference between someone lifting photos and selling them as stock and someone including a brief snippet of a photo in a non for profit mashup parody video.

    The fact that you can’t see the difference between the two and that you feel the world is so starkly black and white isn’t my problem.

    I shoot neon. A lot of neon. I’ve shot the Coca Cola sign in San Francisco here. Is that copyrighted? Sure. Is my shooting the Coca Cola sign and violating Coke’s copyright the same as someone ripping 25 of Rebekka’s original photos and selling them for money on iStockphoto? I don’t think so.

    I think that there is a difference between artists who’d remix content to create content and outright photo theft.

    I also think that a lot of the corporate copyrighted stuff we see in our world is fair use as popular culture. I’ve got sets of imagery from McDonalds, Fedex, Disney, etc. These are pop culture to me and my shooting them (even though copyrighted) is art. Not the same thing as someone ripping Rebekka’s shots at all.

    In terms of your comments about Valleywag, I got tired of them lying all the time. Not just about me, about lots of other people. I had some significant people telling me that me letting them use my imagery reflected poorly on me. Like people might think that I shoot for them. I probably wouldn’t let the National Enquirer use my photos either.

    That is not hypocrisy pal. It’s common sense.

  8. LOL Gee I wonder where Anonymous came from?

    derivative use != sale, there is a huge difference.

    and as far as taking pictures of copyrighted corporate logos and premises – assuming you’re not claiming a right to the logo – well, isn’t that called advertising? help me out here.

  9. Thomas,

    Theft is theft. Thomas Hawk doesn’t get to decide. There is no difference…when a work is marked “all rights reserved” it means the author wishes to decide on how the imagery is used. Like you decided that you didn’t want Valleywag using your photos, (which you’d already given up alot of your rights on, by the way), you got to make that call and they respected it. Rebekka doesn’t want her work on istockphoto, you don’t want your work on valleywag, someone else doesn’t want their work in a for profit mash-up video. If you wish you stand up for your rights and Rebekka’s rights, you need to respect other’s rights as well, even if you don’t necessarily agree with every detail.

  10. @Anonymous,

    Uhhh … You’re not talking about the law here. You’re talking about Thomas Hawk’s integrity which is quite different from what the law says about copyright. Of course, I’m not suggesting that Thomas Hawk does not have integrity. I’m sure he does, but that is not the issue here. =D

    Thomas Hawk is correct to state that the guiding principle here is fair use, and that changes according to the intent and damage to commercial value by the user. If whatever I use is for the purposes of education, comedy, parody, news reporting, research, criticism, or commentary (like the ones Anonymous conveniently cited from Hawk’s blog), that’s all covered under fair use. It provides people, photographers, and especially teachers like myself, a shortcut to avoid the obstacles regarding copyright protection.

    I can even take the recent posts by Anonymous and discuss his/her sentence structure, grammar, logic, coherence, and argumentative style in my classes, and that will be fair use. I can even psychoanalyze, theorize, and deconstruct it to my heart’s delight and it will still be fair use.

    However, my defense of “fair use” is abrogated IF I start charging money without paying credit. For instance,

    1) I charge students for a personal course reader that includes your posts, and keep all the profits.
    2) I start charging people access to my website that features your posts and keep the profits.

    These two examples are not covered under fair use. Here’s another example. I take a photograph of the Starbuck’s logo. Is fair use applied when: 1) I post the logo on my website and blog how I had a wonderfully productive writing session at Starbuck’s, or 2) I post the logo on my website to advertise a new coffee shop that I’m opening for cool smart hip people? Without a doubt, the second one is not protected under fair use.

    The dude who appropriated Rebekka’s photographs is attempting or has sold her photographs for profit, and has done so without her explicit permission. She can: 1) demand that the photographs be taken down, or 2) allow the site to sell her photographs so long as Rebekka gets the profits.

    Anyways, I’m pretty sure what I say is pretty obvious and there’s probably a bunch of other scenarios, but it is an issue that can be solved. At least, one can hope for the best. =D

  11. Well, well any time original work is copied or parodied under the fair use and as long as it ain’t making bucks its ok. I agree with disorientated, but what this iStock photo dude is doin is selling the work without even acknowledging rebbeka, thts a shame! I feel Sorry rebbeka! I am studying her work aswelll, but i guess thereis a line between copying for sale and refering for research, this iStockphoto dude must and i am sur will pay!

  12. I couldn’t care less about copyright issues anymore, but slagging valleywag? Yes, it’s like the national enquirer, but I used to always say that the National Enquirer was invariably right.
    Since they got rid of Kevin Rose’s pet Nick Douglas, I have found the reporting about has been very accurate.
    Just because some rich people dislike what’s being said about them, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

  13. but slagging valleywag? Yes, it’s like the national enquirer, but I used to always say that the National Enquirer was invariably right.
    Since they got rid of Kevin Rose’s pet Nick Douglas, I have found the reporting about has been very accurate.

    hmmmmm… interesting Owen. I’ve found inaccuracies coming from Owen Thomas as much as Nick Douglas. I’m not a big fan of the shoot first verify facts later approach to the publication.


    Theft is theft. Thomas Hawk doesn’t get to decide. There is no difference…when a work is marked “all rights reserved” it means the author wishes to decide on how the imagery is used.

    I disagree. There is such a concept as “fair use.” It’s long been upheld by the courts. Yes, Major League Baseball holds copyright and gets to decide how their work may be used. But… I also have a right to record their game on my TiVo at my house *and gasp* zap the commercials out of their broadcast that represents their very livelyhood. Do you think that they want me to zap the commercials out of their broadcast, their fine work of sports/art? Of course not. And yet the courts have ruled that I can modify their work for my own private viewing pleasure.

    The point is that it is near to impossible to completely live within the letter of the law with regards to copyright. Every logo, every advertisement, etc. etc. is copyrighted. And yet I don’t go out of my way to get approval of a copyright owner before I shoot and publish my own versions of their copyrighted material.

    This is not theft. The world is not as black and white as you think it is anonymous.

    What happened to Rebekka *is* theft and it’s something very different than parody or other fair use.

    If Weird Al decides that he thinks it’s funny to rip off Michael Jackson’s tune to “Beat It” and change the words instead to “Eat It” (all the while keeping the same notes and melody), this is in fact legally permitted as fair use. It doesn’t matter if Michael Jackson hates the song and hates the fact that his original work of art has been mauled by some nut job named Weird Al.

    I think especially when works of art are derivative or even better social commentary on popular culture that copyright doesn’t mean dick. Andy Warhol ripped copyright all the time. His most famous work of art ripped Campbell’s soup. Richard Prince rips Marlboro and the photographers that shot for Marlboro ads when he creates his art. These are not theft in my opinion. These are repackaging and social commentary on our culture.

    What happened to Rebekka is very different. This is outright theft with no redemption socially or artistically to speak of.

    I have a set of images called “So This is America.” Most of the images in this set violate copyright. The set is a commentary on how invasive advertising and popular culture is in our lives as Americans. It doesn’t bother me one bit that I’ve violated hundreds of copyrights with this set. I don’t consider it theft at all. I consider it art.

  14. That photo has been online at Istock since October 06. Will be interesting to here what deal iStock agree to or whether they just pass blame straight onto the contributor.

    The problem with the interest stock sites (not just microstock) is that it is almost impossible to monitor this to stop it happening.

    Hopefully you will get an update on this

  15. God I hope we find out these were uploaded by Richard Prince.

    Haha, somehow I doubt it. I suspect he’d want to get paid a little more than 20% of $3.

  16. I am curious how Rebekka ended up finding the images. If you think about this, it could be happening to any of us photographers and we might never even find it because really it is a vast internet out there.

    Also, it is obvious that some people need to take the time to look into copyright law and fair use information. Gah.

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