Tales of Image Ripoff: True Photographer Horror Stories

Written by Viki Reed

aNewDomain.net — Millions of people who share, pin and link to photos online are violating copyrights. YOu are probably one of those people. Photographers face a monstrous task in the effort to protect their work.

It was bound to happen. It only took a generation to phase-out rotary-dial phones and now, with this Borg-like high-tech culture, we’re fast approaching an era where everyone will understand fair-use practices. But for now trying to control an image on the web is like trying to lift a buttered octopus.

Meet Christopher Boffoli. He’s a successful photographer. He also is the Lewis — and maybe the Clark, too — of image copyright infringement exploration.

His photographs are familiar to any net surfer or art dealer: miniature- people and artifacts operating in a world of giant food landscapes and scenarios.

His signed and limited-edition prints are managed through galleries, private sales and other commissioned efforts. He registers all of his work with the United States Copyright Office in order to protect his right to control his work.

boffoli plagerized for small
Image credit: Christopher Boffoli, used by permission one-time.

As Boffoli told this publication, the Internet teems with people who don’t get that point. Some are enthusiastic fans. Others outright steal his images for profit.

And because of the scaled potential for copyright disaster and endless applications for his delightful imagery, Boffoli spends part of most work- days strategizing with attorneys on retainer, issuing DMCA Take Down notices, searching the web for unlicensed use of his photos, and suing or settling with such firms as Twitter.

The Twitter lawsuit was settled once the communications giant yanked unauthorized images and posted apologies in their place.

This is a photographer who’s on a first-name basis with Pinterest’s community manager, Enid Hwang. You’ll find Boffoli’s name in Google Transparency Reports and such databases as ChillingEffects just about as frequently as you do the big corporate names.

“I’ve been thinking recently that Pinterest in particular might be interesting to take on,” he said. The service has “been good about taking down links as soon as I report them … Pinterest would say (it is) indemnified by their users certifying they have the rights to upload the material. But in a way (Pinterest is) continuing to receive stolen goods and just claiming (it) didn’t know the goods were stolen.”

For more on Pinterest’s current copyright policy, click here. )

Boffoli also faces the global problem of image theft. “I have to put the site link into a machine translator just to be able to scour the site to find someone to talk to,” he said. “Then I have to waste time writing a message and translating it into something that (site admins) understand you have to sort of invert the sentence into some kind of weird Yoda speak, so that the translated sentences make sense … (for example) ‘the right to upload my photographs you do not have. In violation of international laws you are. Remove them you will please.’”

Sometimes a stolen image starting online doesn’t end up online.

I was contacted by a woman at a food flavorings company in Connecticut. She told me (the firm has) another office in Europe and that the CEO … recently bought several of my photographs at an art fair in Spain. She said they are in the process of renovating offices here in the U.S. and wondered if they might be able to purchase a number of my works… a nice inquiry, no? Except for the fact that my photographs are not sold anywhere in Spain as I have no gallery deals there.“

His work has been published in 85 countries — that he knows of.

The phenomenon at once makes him more famous and easier for others to make money off of his work, a point that isn’t lost on him.

“But what does fame get me? Nothing. It is an empty goal,” he told me. “It doesn’t put food on my table and it certainly doesn’t pay for camera equipment.”

He’s fairly certain that the common reason for stealing his images is to drive traffic to other sites and blogs — like the hot trainer who wants you to join their gym or the Porsche parked in front of the used-car dealership.

Still, Boffoli says it’s best to approach people with the benefit of the doubt and ask them nicely to do the right thing. If they respond with sincerity he says he is amenable to sharing some of his images with full attribution.

Boffoli portrait of artist in color
Image credit: Chistopher Boffoli with permission to aNewDomain.net, onetime

Yet he doesn’t see his upstream battle as a success. It is, he says, “rather more like winning a bunch of little battles and skirmishes and probably losing the overall war. I’m definitely not winning over hearts and minds.”

Boffoli fans don’t often know his name as the repin and link and post. It’s not enough that he makes his work accessible on his own online pitstops, which include BigAppetites.net and his site on Facebook.

Boffoli portrait of artist
Image Credit: Christopher Boffoli, used with permission to aNewDomain.net

It’s about ethics, photographers say. Someone who breaks into your house and takes your TV would get arrested and charged. But when someone steals and misappropriates your artistic property, disseminating it or even plagiarising it for their own profit is easy to get away with.

Photographer and Photoshop Action Creator Shana Rae Rosengarten relates — she says she experiences it all the time.

florabella flower
In 2012 she had a personal family photo from her blog — it was a shot she took at a Christmas tree lot — stolen. It was available via Google image search by a salesperson who was selling coupon ad books to local retailers, including one Christmas tree seller with her image on it. The contract stated she had full usage rights.

Rosengarten has also discovered an online Polish clothing store featuring shirts decorated with her textured flowered photographs.

Shana Rae and the others use free tools to find their photos anywhere online, some are just apps that install to your browser, like Google’s TinEye.

For a list of photo searching apps try this helpful post at moreOfit.com. .

Brad Templeton, the founder and software engineer behind ClariNet Communications Corp, posted a breakdown of copyright law myths on his Renaissance Man style site. that everyone who uploads photos online should memorize.

Myth No. 6 refers to copyright exceptions of parody and criticism — Templeton defines the rights involving derivative works, like the Polish shirts, the Christmas tree flyer, and Boffoli’s images I mentioned above.

“Make no mistake, it is up to (the copyright holder) if they want to (allow fan fiction and other derivative works to exist) do that,” Templeton said in the referenced Myth busting article.

Noam Galai is more than happy to do just that. His random image — it’s called The Stolen Scream — was globally disseminated and reinvented.
Image Credit: Noam Balai

Galai uploaded a few random selfies to his Flickr account and proceeded to see his face all over the world. The graphic of his screaming shaved-orb became a graffiti template. Find it spray-painted on the crumbled walls of war-torn cities, apparel and decor, poster art, national and international magazine covers and even a book cover that won an award … all without his permission.

Galai said he did make a small amount of money from one of the front page pubs who used The Scream image but for Galai, it wasn’t about the money.

This runaway train of image theft gave this young photographer a life and career he could never have created with will alone.

To look at Galai now, he may now be in Boffoli’s position in terms of his career, with a need to keep his own TinEye open.

For , I’m Viki Reed. Watch for Part II of this series — it’ll focus on how better to get a grasp of your rights and those of other artists online.

References and additional related suggested reading:









shana rae rosengarten

zesty mower 800px

Photos of Christopher Boffoli, courtesy of Christopher Boffoli
Photos of and by Shana Rae Rosengarten are from her own Facebook page “Florabella Collections.”
Photos of Noam Galai’s scream courtesy of his website, www.thestolenscream.com