Hey “Emerging Arts Professionals” Thanks for Stealing My Photo

One of the Best Views in San Francisco


Alot of my photos get ripped off. There are thousands of them all over the internet. I personally am a big believer in sort of letting the small stuff go you know. I’m about making art and as an artist the more people that see my work the better — you’ll hear this alot from me. I mean people *should* ask and if they do ask I say yes most of the time — unless it’s a commercial situation and then I’ll ask to get paid, but I’m a reasonable guy who likes to share.

But every so often someone steals your work and they just hit all the right hot spots for you. So I was bummed to find out the other day that one of my all rights reserved photographs (and I don’t have alot of these, almost all of my work is licensed Creative Commons non-commercial which still requires attribution though) was pilfered by Emerging Arts Professionals. Even lamer was their excuse posted above for why they posted my photo without permission, attribution or compensation as required by a license.

“Hi Mike & Thomas: If this photo belongs to one of you, I do apologize on behalf of EAP. We found it, unattributed, on this site. It’s also available in other places online, also without attribution.”

So let me get this straight. The excuse for why an Arts Professionals organization steals my image and thinks it is ok is because they found my image somewhere on the web? These are supposed to be Professionals working in the Arts industry and they think it’s ok to steal images?

Now you might ask why I care as I’ve got a pretty liberal attitude towards the use of my work. In this case though I care because my work is being pilfered to promote a talk given by three representatives of the SF MOMA — (Megan Brian, Education and Public Programs Coordinator SFMOMA, Melanie Hwang, Membership Manager SFMOMA, and Louise Yokoi, Development Associate, Individual Giving SFMOMA).

The very same SF MOMA that threw me out on my ass a few years back for the crime of photography. The same SF MOMA that had their Director of Visitor Relations and two security guards personally escort me out of the museum and boot me right out the door to the curb along with a nice lewd hand gesture towards me. This, when I was a paying and sustaining member in good standing at the Museum which allows photography.

The museum accused me of voyeurism at the time (I was shooting the interior architecture of the museum with a 14mm lens when I was booted, you can see my “voyeuristic” shot I took here). Since ejecting me from the museum, the museum has never once apologized. They’ve never once tried to reach out to me to express regret over the situation. They even had the balls after accusing me of voyeurism of running a specific show at their museum dedicated to of all things *voyeurism*! — you know the sorts of shots that they accused me of taking with my 14mm lens before kicking me out without even giving me a chance to show them my ultra wide angle photos or explain. SF MOMA’s press release for their voyeurism show comes complete with a photo of some woman’s ass by the way — but hey, I guess that’s “art,” unlike my crappy photography which is only good enough for using to promote talks by their executives.

Arts Professionals should know better than to steal photos without asking I think — and if they are going to steal a photo, it’s probably best that they don’t steal a photo promoting a talk by an organization that treated someone so rudely and horribly in the past.

Oh, and SFMOMA? You still owe me an apology for throwing me out of your museum without just cause. I won’t be holding my breath. Emerging Arts Professionals? Shoot me an email and I’ll tell you where you can send the check to pay for the image which I would have told you you couldn’t use to promote the SFMOMA had you bothered to ask.

And just because something’s on the web unattributed, doesn’t mean you can just take it if you feel like it. It takes about two seconds most of the time to use a reverse image search on Google to see who owns a photo. Arts Professionals like you guys really should keep up with the latest technology, especially when some of you work for an organization as “prestigious” as the SF MOMA.

Update: So when I and a few other people commented on the image on Emerging Arts Professional’s blog objecting to the infringement they deleted the comments. These were respectful comments rightfully objecting to the unauthorized use. How forward thinking for a so called “Art’s” organization to employ censorship in addition to infringement and bad customer service. What a fine organization.

23 Replies to “Hey “Emerging Arts Professionals” Thanks for Stealing My Photo”

  1. I hope you are able to get a check out of them. Good luck! Its been ever so hard for me to get money out of people/businesses/organizations who illegally use my photos. Thus the reason I’ve watermarked my images many times (business related images). I’m in a niche advertising market.

  2. Amazing story. That’s a “voyueristic” image?? That is really nonsensical. It’s just a photo with some people in it. Sounds like that museum is run by insane people. Not sure watermarking is the answer. They look pretty bad and most of them would not be too difficult to remove. Good luck in your battle with that rogue crew. It would be awesome if they lost tons of paying members over this.

  3. So funny you should post this. Last week one of my colleagues at my day job went on a night photography course run by a company set up by photographers. I asked him to let me know how it went as I was thinking of posting a third-party review of it on my blog.

    The day after the course when I was quizzing him about what they did he showed me the worksheet the attendees had all been handed the previous night. In contained several photos and one I recognised as my friends work. After some checking it appears they used two of my friends images, even going as far as cropping off the copyright watermark he’s added at the bottom of one of them, and also used photos from other local photogs. They had no permission to use any of these shots.

    I won’t mention the company as my friend is now trying to get them to pay up but considering they are run by photographers they should really know better.

  4. When the business of art is more interested in business than in art, crazy things happen.

    Keep us updated on the story. Sounds like an interesting story – not yet finished.

  5. Hey Thomas,

    I had lots of my images used illegaly in the past and never did something against it. Now I started writing nasty emails and some even paid for the use. I guess thats the only way to handle it. Why should they be allowed to earn money without paying for a photograph of a photographer who also wants to earn money.

    What will you charge for this use?

  6. Did they think the image was spontaneously generated by the internet? _Somebody_ took the picture, how could they think it was okay to just yoink it?

  7. …too bad I’m not in SF….wish I was….I’d buy you a beer and we could swap horror stories…but this is the sort of thing that is so prevalent in the mindset of many today… apparently people do not realize that behind a piece of artwork there is a human face that worked to make it, most of the time with zero direct compensation and solely at their own risk in hope of some eventual reward, which sadly, others think they have the right to pilfer for their own interests.

    Artists, photographers, etc. are the LAST people that need someone stealing crap from them…and the whole notion that they think they will square the deal by giving you a tagline after the fact only magnifies their condescending attitude.

    I consider photography to be an ‘art’ whose tool is a special box instead of a brush. Anyone can own art supplies, but not everyone is an artist…that being said, ‘real’ artists have rarely been recognized nor appreciated by their contemporaries, and as well often as not, the institutions that say they do. Art is this esoteric thing that is publicly justified and elevated by someone wielding the appropriate power, not necessarily someone wielding taste or good judgement.

  8. I suspect someone did a total *facepalm* this morning when they checked their email. Or I at least hope they sure as hell did. I’d love for their to be an aware response to this situation but I suspect that they’ll likely not. It’s a strong indictment on the state of their values vs what they claim them to be.

    And so it goes that those who walk based in principle always brush up against and in conflict with those who so easily let such things slide.

    Thanks for walking your journey of principle Thomas. It is appreciated and impactful.

  9. Well, you know your options. If you’ve registered the copyright (as all creatives really should), then a nice damages and punitive settlement would serve in lieu of the apology, mabye. At the very least, it would remind the perpetrator that we all have to play be the same laws.

    You are very correctly upset at the alleged infringement and would be well within your rights to seek redress. *ESPECIALLY* when the organization really can be expected to know better. We are one big community, and need to respect how we each decide to distribute and protect our work–it’s really sad when an organization dedicated to showing and moving that work gets caught with its hand in the cookie jar, so to speak. That nice lunch in the fridge at work? It’s not yours; don’t take it. That “unattributed” image that’s not public domain? It’s not yours; don’t take it. Make an effort to find the creator. *sigh* I do hope that in the future, when others are similarly or more egregiously infringed, you will consider offering your support, or at the very least remaining silent on the matter, regardless the resolution pursued by the victim.

    I wish you luck getting the situation resolved.

  10. I think this is yet another example of the overall disdain large portions of the “art” community hold for photographers. We are not “artist” but simply “press a button.” Never mind they use images they themselves could not create even if they had the same button to push.

    Sue the pants off them. Demand server statistics to determine the number of times the images were viewed. Make it hurt.

    Amazing that one of their feature articles right now is titled “How Not to Get Screwed When Signing a Contract.” Really? Giving advice on how not to get screwed by “the man” while ripping off someones image. Nice.

  11. This is actually very stupid of them. They call them professionals and this is how they behave. I have seen a lot of such incidents. One of my image was ripped off from Flickr.. that also the smaller resolution version. People will go to any extent.

  12. Bravo! I try to avoid museums that abuse photographers. Thanks for informing us of this one.

    Don’t settle for a check – demand they both pay for unauthorized use and then that they take it down. Then that they ask nicely.


  13. “Adam” from EAP has posted the following:

    Hi everyone: Thomas and I are now in touch directly, but I want to respond here, too. We made a mistake in using the photo without doing due diligence, and for that I apologize and will not make excuses. We’ve removed the photo from our posts and materials and will cease to use it. -Adam

    Somehow he forgot that the excuses have already been made.

  14. The world is full of people like this…unfortunately, they always seem to ‘get ahead’…I guess that’s the motivation…’positive reinforcement’.

  15. LOL, my reply to Adam was apparently removed:

    But just saying “we made a mistake” really doesn’t suffice and the excuses are well documented:

    1 – you knowingly use an image without permission believing that just because it had been posted somewhere on the web, it was free

    2 – once it was pointed out that you were using the image without permission, your reaction was to give an excuse and offer to credit it – as soon as TH proved it was his. Never mind that you STILL didnt have permission to use it, you felt that merely adding credit made it better. Your actions indicated that you didnt think you ever needed permission and were only offering credit because you got caught.

    You had an opportunity for a teachable moment – one that would benefit MANY of the emerging artist you claim as your audience. You could have openly discussed the chain of events that lead to the use and subsequent identification of misuse and pointed out how it could have been avoided. You could have highlighted the dangers of using “found” content without due diligence. You could have discussed the tools to find unauthorized use and how the community is the strongest tool for stopping unauthorized use. Instead you hid behind excuses, censorship and lack of accountability.

    Saying “my bad” does not make thing better.

  16. I went to a talk at the Apple Store on Stockton Street yesterday. It was by two San Francisco street photographers, Brad Evans and Travis Jensen. Their talk was all positive – people asked what they did when they had problems, and they said “move on.” That’s good advice to any photographer. In addition, rather than screaming about the personal injustice on the web, they talked about how they donated all the proceeds from their published work to the Larkin Street Youth Center. It takes more time to set that up than being a bleating sheep on the internet, but it seems it’s been worth it.

    And that’s a lot of bile being spewed over a postcard shot. I don’t get it.

  17. Thomas, I loved this rant so much I picked up the thread and blogged about it on my site and shared it on G+ both in my own page and in my biz page. I’m a photographer, too. Made my living shooting and showing and teaching photography for a couple of decades. Then other things took me in other directions. These days I help boomers make sense of social media…and I’m sharing some of my iphoneography.

    The simple skills involved in doing reverse image searches aren’t rocket science but they’re not obvious yet. Then there’s the social skill of quickly contacting a photographer you don’t know – and probably won’t ever meet face to face – and asking for permission and/or a price. Lot of people are still scared to do these things and Google images doesn’t make them mandatory. The number of people who contacted me on G+ yesterday – privately – to thank me for the post I made was a big surprise. They really just wanted a simple step-by-step way to do the right thing and didn’t know how.

    Certainly arts organizations get it. That’s another story. And for that, I applaud your rant!

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