Every photographer that has ever uploaded their image to the internet to share it with friends, family or clients, has at one time or another had their images stolen (whether they know it or not). Its not a very good feeling when you realize that after you took the time to prepare, arrive, properly capture the shot, edit it, watermark it and then upload it, that an unknown thief grabs it and claims it as their own. Trying to pursue them can be very challenging and makes most individuals gnash their teeth and curse the invention of the web for image sharing in the first place! Some victims have been known to morph themselves into the NSA, looking for and tracking any leads on Bing or Google that pop up….. it quickly turns into a lesson in futility. Trust me I know , but I digress…………….moving on to my story.
Over the past few years, every time the U.S. National soccer team comes to Florida, I am always the first to sign up to shoot them, no matter if it’s the Men’s or the Women’s team….they both ROCK and the games are always action packed with tons of screaming fans in attendance and top quality play! It truly is one of the highlights of my photo career to capture these athletes on the field and to experience the actions of the game on the pitch. I’ve had a few images featured on both the ESPN and the Sports Illustrated websites after International friendlies and the CONCACAF qualifying games……and its just awesome to be able to share these scenes with the world, when its on my terms!
The first weekend this past November, the U.S. Women arrived in Orlando to take on their futbol nemesis, the Brazil National team. Just to be clear, there is no love lost between these teams and the players know each other as well as one can know a rival. Though it was an international “friendly”, no one on earth expected the game to be played with kid gloves, this was serious business with bragging rights and National pride on the line.
(Side note)- Local media picked up on a story a few days prior to the match where the U.S. team bus broke down after a scheduled practice session and the players actually caught rides back to their hotel with their fans. The Twitter and Facebook worlds were all abuzz and other social media platforms stressing just how relaxed the U.S. girls seemed to be. Smiles and happy spirits seemed to be everywhere if you could believe what you read…but that changed come game time.
The Florida Citrus Bowl was packed with about 30,000 spectators and the decibel level of the screaming fans was actually quite high. Though fireworks and flares were not allowed, the U.S. faithful seemed to have a pretty good time as they were videotaped live for the NBC television network, performing the wave, chanting and beating on small drums and tossing rolls of colored toilet paper onto the grass.
As for the media, all of the wire services and broadcast teams were in attendance and the assigned photo areas were pretty packed at the beginning of the game. It was about 10 minutes into the match that I decided to pack up my gear and change my camera angle….I caught a quick golf cart ride to the other side of the playing field and set up shop behind the endzone boards. Within minutes of arriving, I was connected wirelessly to the internet with my MacAir. It was Game on!!!!
It couldn’t have been 3 minutes later that Sydney Leroux scored her first of two goals on the day, and the crowd went absolutely nuts! All time leading scorer and recently married team Captain Abby Wambach raced over and jumped onto Leroux’s back as she stretched her arms out in celebration, facing the crowd and the national TV audience. The moment was fleeting and I happened to be in precisely the exact spot to see it, 8 shutter clicks later I had captured what I had come for, the perfect emotional frame. I quickly pulled the card from my camera, inserted it into the card reader and grabbed the one frame that I wanted to transmit. I really didn’t do much in the way of image manipulation, just a simple tone, crop and added the caption/metadeta. Less that 2 minutes after the goal was scored, the image was already visible on the AP Images website. Just as quickly as I had settled in, Abby was tripped in the goaltenders box and a penalty kick was assessed, she scored easily on the shot and the score was now 2-0, in a matter of minutes. Brazil kicked it into overdrive and the elbows started to fly. By halftime I was walking back to the media room, having already uploaded 10 images….
The game ended 4-1 with the U.S. winning and everyone was happy. Days later I was thrilled to see that my first image had been selected as one of the ESPN “Images of the week”!
It was on a different job a few days later that my world came tumbling down. I searched “Alex Menendez” and “U.S. soccer” on the search engine and low and behold, my image was EVERYWHERE! Literally. There it was, on hundreds of tumblr sites, with full credit given “COPYRIGHT AP IMAGES ALEX MENENDEZ”, but interestingly enough, more than half of the shots still had the AP watermark placed right across the shot that was there to prevent illegal use. They were stolen…..plain and simple.
If you want to do a frame grab or a screen grab its quite simple, you just find the shot you want online and grab it. Once its on your computer screen, you can pretty much manipulate it any way that you want to, and this is just one of the things I saw being done to my soccer photo. This image had been cropped, toned, over saturated, brightened, sharpened or simply turned to black and white. Somebody else had actually grabbed the un-watermarked version (most likely the large file from ESPN’s site) and created an Iphone screen saver and was passing it out like candy at Halloween to any of his followers that wanted it. I was less than thrilled at this discovery and the feeling one gets once they’ve realized that they’ve been violated sunk in….I was way more than mad.
Immediately I sent a quick list of sites to my editor who didn’t know what to say…..what could he say?
One by one I started following the long rabbit hole, down this way, right, left and back right again, only to discover 50 more violations. The few main sites I had discovered were being followed by hundreds of people, who in turn were being followed by hundreds more, and then more behind them…..all of them sharing or linking my photo, I was at a loss. Due to the fact that I was on assignment in California, and using the incredibly slow hotel internet connection, I felt handcuffed as to how much trolling I could actually get done before my daily shoot was scheduled. I managed to contact the first 30 sites and sent a take down notice, but only 4 of them agreed to take the shots down with a written apology. My next move was to contact Tumblr directly…..but that proved to be a joke.
Here is the response I received:
“If you are the copyright holder for the content that you are reporting,
or their authorized representative, please complete the following
DMCA notification form.
or their authorized representative, please complete the following
DMCA notification form.
(form here) Once we receive your completed request we can proceed
with removing the material you’ve reported.”
The problem with doing as they command in their
policy, is that you need to fill out the entire form
for EACH OCCURRENCE with the listed
website users web address. In essence, I would
have to fill out over 1000 DMCA forms and
include every single link, and a copy of the
pilfered image with the link. It would take weeks
to complete this method. They seem to trust their
own users more than they would trust me, the
original owner of the shot, whose name by the
way appeared under most of the images stolen.
Most of you who are professionals know about
copyright registration, but to those that may not,
let me kinda, sorta fill you in.
Once you snap the shutter button and the image is
captured, you own that image, you are the
copyright holder. It belongs to you and you can
call it yours.
There are certain restrictions on what you may or
not use the image for, whether you can sell it
or not, based on its contents and the location of
the shot, and who the people are that appear in
the shot. I won’t get into this as this is a whole
other can of worms and we could talk for weeks
about responsibility and usage.
What I want to talk about is the fact that the
Associated Press watermarked this image with
an AP Images logo so that people who wanted
to use it in their editorial content could license
or “rent” the image for presentation or publication
without the logo covering the scene. I captured
the image, and then via my contract, provided the
shot to the AP site for licensing, for a set fee.
ESPN, among other publications, paid for this
image on a rental basis and then uploaded it to
their websites for worldwide use. They did
nothing wrong in this instance, in fact, it was
done by the book.
The theft began when a fan, (I can assume)
grabbed the image from both the ESPN site and
the AP Images viewer site, and downloaded a
lower resolution image to embed on their personal
They attempted to give me credit under the image.
I am not sure if they thought that this would
free them from paying for it or what, but it means
nothing in a court of law if you’ve stolen the
image in the first place.
Keep in mind that once I register this set of
images via http://www.copyright.gov/, and I
receive my registration
receipt number in the mail, I am bonafide.
I can prove that my image is registered and then
if I send an invoice to the guilty party for stealing
my image, and they refuse to pay, I can then take
them to court for copyright violation. This is the
norm and I am having to do this for a lot of images
that I have recently discovered.
Its not fun, nor is it how I would like to be
compensated for my hard work, but realize this,
every assignment that I go on, I have to travel there.
My costs include gas, perhaps airfare and hotel,
My gear is worth tens of thousands of dollars and it too
needs repair at times. I could go on, but won’t…….
Every image that I upload, there is a chance that it could get
stolen, I know this and it seems to be the norm these days.
Once upon a time, a sportsshooter would walk into a flea market
or a shopping mall and see illegal prints of theirs for sale
to general public, nowadays, when a stolen image goes viral,
there is no way to stop it. This once profitable industry has
changed, there are still ways to make money at it, but you
have to outsmart the trolls…..
Let me know your ideas or thoughts on this if you have any,
but when you contact me, don’t try to do it through Tumblr,
I wont be there.
Follow me on Twitter: @InstinctFilms
Blog Copyright Alex Menendez