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The President of Chechnya stole my photo

baby_newborn_yawningSmall business owners like myself have to wear many hats to run the business. I won’t go into detail about what that it all entails, but one of the unexpected sectors I didn’t think I would have to deal with on a semi-regular basis would be copyright infringement.

Over the past few years I have received many tips from other photographers about my work being stolen and used without permission. Some of the infringements have simply been people using landscape photos from my website as their personal Facebook cover photo–not that big of a deal. Others have gone out of their way to steal my photos by downloading them from my website and then removing the watermark so they can claim THEY took the photo and promote THEIR photography business.

Last year I received an email from a blogger that sent me a link to a group Facebook page called “Welcome Home“. They had taken a photo of my son from my website and posted it as a status update. The status update read

Goodnight every one. God Bless and sweet dreams until tomorrow. See you back here in the morning for coffee.
~Marty

That status update garnered more than 3,000 likes and nearly 200 Facebook shares, whoa. I was shocked. Why does this random Facebook page have a picture of my kid and why are they passing it around Facebook? The picture of my son has never been uploaded to Facebook so it’s not possible that it spread from my Facebook page — either my personal page or my business page. So I contacted Facebook and sent them a link to the post — they responded by basically saying we don’t give a sh*t. Get over it. As upset as I was, I was glad Welcome Home didn’t remove my watermark — after all, the page currently has nearly 1/2 million followers, good advertising I thought. I decided to let it go.

I wondered if that photo was on other websites so I did a Google Image Search using the photo of my son, and that was when I really got butterflies in my stomach. The Image Search revealed thousands of websites and Social Networking sites that were using my photo. Click on the thumbnail below to see my collage I put together of just a few of the pages. Many of the sites were in Russian so I had Google translate them and was stunned to find out that people were enamored with my son, they were writing poems about my son, making jokes, and one lady even claimed he was his son — and people responded with sayings like “He looks just like you”. It was was wild… and creepy. All the photos still had my watermark on them and I was getting a lot of traffic to my website. So I decided to let it go.

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Months passed and I spent the summer taking wedding pictures, high school senior pictures and newborn pictures until one day I got an email from a Russian journalist. He sent me an email with the subject line “The President of Chechnya has Stolen your photo:” The email contained a link to President Ramzan Kadyrov Instagram account. I clicked the link and sure enough, there was a photo of my son, the same photo that made its rounds months ago. President Kadyrov has 265,000 followers and this photo was “liked” more than 13,000 times. Its was remarkable, but this time my watermark had been removed. I was never credited as the photographer which meant no free advertising, but also meant I wasn’t involved in any Russian propaganda.

I contacted a couple copyright attorneys but the predicted fees would have been too expensive for me to pursue. Also, did I really want to start something with Russia? Our relationship with Russia isn’t exactly peachy at the moment. So I’ve decided to let it go.

I recently saw a picture of President Kadyrov with President Putin while at the Winter Olympics in Sochi and I felt obligated to add a little unrelated commentary so I wrote up this post.

P.S. If you are reading this President Kadyrov, please provide airfare and tickets for my family to the closing ceremonies in Sochi and all will be forgotten.

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