$60K Stolen Photo Settlement!

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff Harmon3 Comments

Jeff hosts with Connor at the roundtable to talk about stolen photos, copyright, the $60K settlement that the Northrups recently talked about, and the steps to copyright your photos.


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Welcome to the Master Photography Roundtable part of the Master Photography Podcast Network!  We have made it, the rebranding is complete as the Improve Photography Podcast has now become the Master Photography Podcast!  Thank you all so much for sticking with us as we have made that transition. We are so excited about the future of all the shows on the Master Photography Podcast Network.

You are joined by thousands of photographers who are all on the same journey to master their photography.  I am Jeff Harmon, the host for this episode and joining me at the roundtable today is my friend and co-host of the Portrait Session podcast, Connor Hibbs.  How are you Conor?

$60K Settlement for a Stolen Photo

  • Connor we are going to start of the topic for this episode by talking about the recent story of well known photographers Tony and Chelsea Northrup getting a $60K settlement for a photo of their that was stolen.  It sounds like a lot of money, but it ends up not really being a lot for the photographers.
  • In case listeners aren’t familiar with the story, let me recap it a bit.  The Northrups have a very well done video that is part of their twice monthly Picture This! Photography Podcast that I will put a link to in the show notes if you are interested (https://youtu.be/DUEbi4r8Pg0).
    • The Northrups do a lot of really great work between podcasts and other shows on YouTube, books and training, and other projects.  Seriously good photographers who are very down to Earth. I love the content they produce, plus Tony used to work for Microsoft and has a pretty geeky side so that appeals to me as the geek of the Master Photography Podcast.  Anyway, they are pretty well known photographers with all of the content they produce. They have a pretty good international audience and sometime in 2016 they got sent a photo from a listener of theirs in Australia.
    • The photo was of a mobile phone case with Chelsea’s face on it.  This particular photo was very distinctive because it was the result of a big project and team effort to create a portrait that would be used on a book they were publishing.  The portrait included a catch light in the eyes that was custom built for shooting this portrait. They didn’t sell the photo in any way. It wasn’t put on stock sites, it wasn’t licensed to anybody for any purpose because they used it on the cover of their book and they wanted that to be the only place it was used.
    • So here is this photo from Australia of a phone case with the exact same photo on it.  There is no way anybody could argue it wasn’t the same photo, just no room for doubt at all because it was such a unique shot.
    • So Tony finds out who is producing these things and writes an email to them saying that they have stolen the photo and he wants to know how many of these cases they have manufactured and how many they have sold.  Kind of getting the discussion going for compensating the photographers for the stolen photo.
    • Weeks go by and Tony finally gets an email back, but it isn’t from the company, it is from a lawyer.  They were hoping to keep lawyers out of the discussion because it always gets more messy as soon as lawyers get involved and the money the photographer gets almost always seems to go down with the lawyers taking their cut.  The lawyer says the company outsourced the design of the case and were unaware that the photo was not properly licensed and they are going to recall and destroy the cases.
    • Let’s pause here for a moment on the story Connor and talk a little about this first exchange.  I want to ask you about your experiences with this Connor but I wanted to share a little story I have that isn’t about a stolen photo, but similar with this aggressive response the Northrups got from this company.  This is a story from building the house I am living in now. First time I have ever built a house and I hated it so much I don’t plan to ever build a house again. As you all know I am a computer guy doing information security in my day job and then I do photography as a hobby, and have nothing to do with home building so I know I have to hire a contractor to do that for me as most people do.  There is a lot more to the story, but it turns out the contractor doesn’t pay all of the sub-contractors for their work. I don’t think it was criminal, just building so many houses at once with not enough staff and they struggled to keep everything straight. Anyway, after living in the house within about that first month or two there are two sub-contractors who contact us and tell us they were never paid for their work.  It sucked for us, but they were never paid and were not part of the mortgage we have on the house, so legally we are responsible to pay them and so we did. We worked it out. Well, like 3 months later there is a knock at the door and standing on our porch is an armed police officer. Something that is not at all usual for us. He says he has a paper he needs me to sign. It is an affidavit that I have received a formal complaint that I haven’t paid a sub-contractor for their work and that I have 30 days to pay or I will have a lean on my house.  Now unlike the other subs that contacted me directly, without getting the police involved, this was the first time I had ever heard from this sub. Their first contact with me was with an armed police officer. So I signed the document and was immediately fuming and instead of looking to pay the sub I started to research the situation. Turns out that at least here in Utah the law is that subs have to file any leans for unpaid work within 90 days of the house owners getting a certificate of occupancy. I can’t remember exactly how many days it had been since we had that certificate of occupancy, but it had been more than the 90 days, making this lean illegal and I had no obligation to pay the sub.  The law also says that if a lean is placed illegally you can sue the company that placed the lean for twice the amount of the lean. So I found a template with a bunch of legaleze in it for responding to illegal leans that stated if they don’t cease and desist I will get a lawyer and sue them for that amount. I included a copy of the certificate of occupancy in the letter I sent back to them. A few days later they call me on the phone, no police officer this time, and they say that we are right and they won’t file the lean on our house but this isn’t the only time they weren’t paid from this contractor and they want to file criminal charges against them and wondered if I would testify. If they hadn’t come at me with such aggressiveness I might have considered doing that, but I only wanted to be done, so I told them no.
    • I tell that story because it illustrates how people respond when you get super aggressive up front.  The Northrups did a good job of saying this, and I agree with them, that most of the time people don’t steal your photo on purpose.  They truly don’t set out to steal photos. In the case with the Northrups the maker of the product is more worried about how to get it manufactured, packaged, and distributed to retailers with a low enough cost that they can make money from the product.  They are still responsible to make sure all of the art involved with the product is properly licensed and should do their due diligence and ask the designer they outsourced to if that was the case, but this can happen pretty easily without anyone deliberately stealing your photo.  I think you do have to be assertive as you start the communication with the person or company that stole your photo, but it seems like a good idea to me to start it on your own instead of jumping straight to having a lawyer be involved.
    • Conner, have you ever had to start that conversation with a person or company about your photo being stolen?  How did you find out it had been stolen and how did you open up a discussion to talk about it?
    • To continue on with the story, Tony responds to the email from the lawyer now by saying that he needs his questions answered.  He needs to know how many of these cases were manufactured and how many were sold. They go back and forth a lot without getting this information, being told all along the way that they are recalling and destroying the cases.  Tony has to find a lawyer to take up the case, which turned out to be hard to do with it being international, and as this is stretching on for weeks and months, listeners continue sending them pictures of these cases in various retail stores throughout Australia and New Zealand – proving that the cases have not been recalled and destroyed.
    • Finally, more than a year later, the lawyers have worked out a settlement.  4 payments of $10K Australian dollars are going to be made, so $40K Australian.  Tony got to $60K by adding on top of the settlement dollars what he assumed to be about $20K in lawyer fees.  After their own lawyer fees and fees paid to a middle man that had to get involved with the international part of the case, the Northrups only got 13% of the settlement, about $7.5K.
    • Connor, this is a really sad story to me for multiple reasons.  Getting such a small portion of the settlement amount is crazy. There is the principle of the thing, that we need to defend our rights as photographers, even if the financial gain is not great.  But this was like a year of their lives working with lawyers and doing back and forth pretty continuously and it certainly makes you wonder if it is all worth it?
    • The other thing that makes me personally sad about this story is feeling like as a hobbyist photographer I have no chance at something like this.  The Northrups said it multiple times in their podcast that if their audience in Australia and New Zealand helped them make their case so much and they don’t know that they would have won a settlement without that.  Well most photographers don’t have an international audience to help them like this, so what are we to do Connor?
  • U.S eCO (Electronic Copyright Office)
    • Anybody can sign up with a login.  
    • Have to follow some pretty specific requirements and there will be a link to the full detail in the show notes (https://www.copyright.gov/eco/help/group/grpph.html#reqlist)
      • All the works in the group must be photographs.
      • All the photographs must be published in the same calendar year.
      • The group must include no more than 750 photographs.
      • All the photographs must be created by the same author.
      • The copyright claimant for each photograph must be the same person or organization.
      • The applicant must provide a title for the group.
      • The applicant must provide a sequentially numbered list containing a title, file name, and month/year of publication for each photograph in the group. The Copyright Office has developed a template that may be used to create this list. We strongly encourage you to prepare this list before  completing the application.
      • The photos have to be JPEG, GIF, or TIF
      • You upload the photos in a zip file and that zip has to be less than 500MB.  If you were to put 750 of them in a zip each one can only be about 650 bytes in size, which is tough to say in megapixels since that is what most photographers can relate to, but it is probably somewhere between 4 and 5 megapixels in JPEG format.
      • Have to include an Excel spreadsheet or PDF document that has all 170 photos itemized with title, filename, and date of publication.
      • Each group you submit is $55.
    • Connor, I have never done this.  Why would a photographer go to this effort?  Do you make this part of your workflow? Photographers want to do this so that it makes infringement cases more appealing to lawyers should you need to because you can recover up to $150K in damages without having to prove actual damages.

Doodads of the Week

  • Jeff: Backblaze ($5/mo, $50/yr, $95/2yr).  It is the cloud backup service I have personally paid for and used for several years now.  Perfect solution for me because it is something I don’t have to think about, just runs in the background and works.  I have even done a test restore just to make sure it was all working. Lots of listeners of my Photo Taco podcast have been asking me about the service and if I have an affiliate link or promo code.  Backblaze doesn’t do any promotions like that, they are hyper focused on making sure they keep the business profitable and they have the price set as competitively as they can make it for everybody. Though if you do sign up with the link that will be in the show notes (https://secure.backblaze.com/r/01q583) they will add a free month to my service through their referral program, which is open to everybody and isn’t specific to me.
  • Connor: Carbon Copy Cloner by Bombich ($40) https://sites.fastspring.com/bombich/product/ccc5




  1. I would recommend that you visit thecopyrightzone.com for easy to understand information on copyright for photograpers.

  2. Great podcast as always. Just a note that some might be confused a little as the discussion about registering photos with the copyright office was referred to a couple of times as “getting copyright” on your photos instead of “registering” your photos. Not sure if I worded this in a way that makes any sense.

    Also agree with the above mention of thecopyrightzone.com; they have a great book also that is a big help.



    1. Author

      True enough. Tough to make sure you don’t slip on wording like then when recording, but exactly right. Connor did mention that the photo is copyrighted as soon as the photographer click the shutter but we could have done a better job making sure we talked about registering your photos rather than copyrighting your photos.

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