A Pirate in the Midst
Yesterday, I signed into Facebook and was surprised to see a friend had been tagged in a photo of a photo – specifically, “The U Pro Bowl” photo we posted on our blog back in February shot by my assistant, Eric Espada.
The photo had been enlarged to what looks like a 16×20 print and professionally matted and framed. The text below the photo stated prints were available for $25 and framed for $85.
We have never authorized this image for reproduction, other than to UM for inclusion in their website and media guide. Only a couple of prints were made for close friends, and not at this size and ratio.
A little investigation revealed the offender’s name, high school, college and employer. Further talks with people involved with UM and the autograph business revealed he was a former ball boy for the Hurricanes. So how did he get the image? We believe he got it from someone inside UM, and this wouldn’t be the first time this has occurred. Because it was likely carried out by someone inside the Canes family it is all the more insulting and offensive. It’s also not the first time a graduate of Cooper City High School pirated our work.
Even though UM helped arrange this shot, in the end, the copyright lies with the photographer, Eric Espada.
I have fought the piracy of our photos for years. I have seen our photos many times on eBay. The pirates have copied our images from magazines and have even somehow acquired original files from an insider at the athletic department. I once caught a former Hurricanes baseball player doing it. I also caught someone doing it who, after being suspended by eBay for these acts, implied a threat of bodily harm against me for protecting my own work. That person now works for an nationally-known autograph and trading card authentication service!
I have also seen our images pirated at memorabilia shows. In most cases, when called out, the dealer/seller usually claims “I bought them at a card show” and when pressed for more information they “can’t remember” where they got them.
Now it appears the new excuse is “I got it from Getty.” It was the first excuse our pirate from the University of Central Florida used in his defense of the Pro Bowl photo.
Many pirates buy and share passwords to Getty and other wire services and steal all the files they want. The company, which has almost single-handedly destroyed the sports stock and editorial market, appears indifferent to piracy of their photographers’ work.
My contention concerning pirated works on eBay and at memorabilia shows is, “If the photo is pirated, then why would you trust that the seller acquired the genuine autograph?”
So how can we tell the image is ours? Sometimes the images just stick out because the other crap being offered on eBay and other venues is horrible. I always cross-check those images I believe are our property with our archive, looking for minute matching details in the images.
You may have also noticed we only offer 8×12’s instead of 8×10’s of most images from the “revenue sports” at UM. The reason is twofold: The images come out of our cameras at a 2:3 ratio (8×12) and also because a familiar image, made into an 8×10, on an auction site immediately catches our attention. We do supply 8×10’s to Allcanes for their annual player signings.
In another example, I had a shot from the 2002 Miami @ WVU game of Willis McGahee running between two defenders. Even though the print was originally sold as an 8×10, I have only sold the print as a limited print signed and numbered by Willis. The print offered on eBay was apparently unsigned, telling me it was a pirated work.
“People will pay if you make it easy, convenient, and a good value. Marketing 101.”
That model has worked for Apple and their iTunes music store. Apple cut through the nonsense and figured out a way to reach a middle ground between piracy and compensation. Customers have downloaded billions of songs in response.
The difference between the music and photography industries is most music pirates are grabbing files for personal use and not trying to resell the material to the general public. In our case, the pirates are making an often-inferior product and selling to the unsuspecting public for profit.
Instead of spending time and energy on a guilt message, we are trying something more focused on becoming a partner with the customer. So last year we started offering digital downloads for $2.99 with the freedom to use those images for your personal use, such as on blogs and social media pages. We also post compelling images on our blog and Facebook page, which you can use personally in electronic form as long as you don’t remove our credit line at the bottom or the IPTC data. We are also dropping the price of an 8×12 photo to $14.99 this fall. We hope these actions are a “middle ground” for most of you.
One thing we will not knowingly condone is the blatant piracy of our images, especially from a Scoop Orlando bartender who is trying to profit off our hard work, sweat and expertise.