Leaping off the Internet


The above photo of Olympian Shane Hamman, who is often referred to as the strongest man in America, was a hard won photograph. It wasn’t a tour de force technically, and it wasn’t days in the making. It was simply, as always, difficult to liaise with an Olympic athlete as he or she is in training for the games.  Anything outside of their strict practice regimen, such as a photo shoot, gets assessed thoroughly, and the time allotted to such adventures is small indeed. The pic of him leaping, for instance, was done in a very short amount of time. He could only launch his massive frame in the air perhaps seven or eight times. That means the whole take is just a few frames, shot on 4×5. He was also gracious enough to give me time to work out another scenario, below. 

The leaping picture was published by Nat Geo, and the magazine liked it well enough that they considered making a poster out of it at the time, and using it as a “subscriber inducement.” I talked it out with them and pointed out that really constituted a commercial application of the photo, and I did not have a commercial release. They would have to go back to the athlete and negotiate such a permission. Ya gotta be careful, and respectful, about this stuff. They eventually opted out of doing such a poster.

Just recently, as happens in the wild and woolly world of the internet, we stumbled across the jumping pic being deployed, without our permission, as a promotional effort on the part of a commercial enterprise. This is hardly a first, of course, in terms of our pictures, or anyone’s pictures. There are those out there in electronic publishing who deem that, as my editor Bill Douthitt at Geographic wryly puts it, “Content wants to be free.” We, uh, don’t subscribe to that theory.

Alerted to the incursion by Lynda Peckham, who has an amazing eye for details and keeps the studio on track, Lynn, our ever elegant and precise studio manager, wrote the offending party a letter, and I thought her explanation was so calm and so lucid that it was worthwhile sharing here. (Lynn is the grown up at our studio, and takes the lead in situations like this, and keeps everyone calm. Drew, Cali and I were already in the chopper, in camo face paint , planning refueling stops, etc. But her civilized, reasoned approach prevailed.) Her letter is below.
Thanks for your email, and for the removal of the image from your website.

You seem to have your own interpretation of the law here. Yes, you are right, there are many other folks who have infringed on Joe’s image of Shane, for their own purposes. But the photo of Shane is a small example of the hundreds and hundreds of others who have committed this crime with other work of Joe’s, and other photographers’ work as well. Just because images show up on a google image search does not mean that they are free for the taking. It’s the curse of the internet.

For someone like Joe, who has a career spanning 30 years, shooting for National Geographic, LIFE & Sports Illustrated, amongst about 100 other clients, and is a well known photographer, his work has of course had wide dissemination. In the last 365 days, for instance, there have been well over two million page views of his website. It’s thus a bit difficult to keep up with all of the rip-offs that are going on whenever he posts images. We can’t be watermarking every single file, given the volume of work he outputs, and in so many avenues for distribution. I’d have to hire someone to just sit here in the studio and do nothing but track down all of the people out there who have technically “stolen” these image files.

Most infringers, like yourself, blatantly feel that they can get away with it, while others are just oblivious to the laws involved. You might think that usage on a blog or website, that isn’t directly bringing in revenue that you are profiting from, exonerates them from infringement. Not the case. The fact of the matter is that the image(s) in question are, in fact, helping the infringer to market and promote their company, or, as you noted, 

“My only intention for using it was to promote the sport and training methods of Olympic Weightlifting…”

Hence, a promotional effort, on your company’s behalf. As a spokesperson for “Olympic Weightlifting”, you are bringing your information to the readership of your blog and website, which they find intriguing and interesting and continue to come back for more. No matter how innocent you want to portray your side of this, it still comes down to marketing and promotion for your company. We have many inquiries from companies who understand the law, and by conducting themselves in an ethical manner, they inquire about the licensing fee to use an image on their website.

When you say that if you posted a photo yourself or someone else online and found it being used in an unauthorized way, my immediate response to that is…. if it’s a photo you took of yourself, or had a non-professional photographer take it and didn’t have a problem with it, well then, no worries. But if you snapped a photo of someone else (hence you own the copyright to the image file) and that image was used in an unauthorized way, the person you need to worry about (other than yourself being infringed upon), is the person you took the photo of. Without a model release from that person, you could very easily be sued by that person – especially if they wanted no association what-so-ever with the company that ripped off your photo.

 I could go on and on, but no need for me to give you an unrequested “photographic business practices” lesson :-)

On another note, I have nothing but respect for your pursuit to educate your clients and blog followers in the world of fitness and strength training. It so happens that I have four family members who are professional trainers and live to promote the field, so I totally have reverence.Anyway, glad we settled this matter peacefully. Not that I expected otherwise. Anything harder than what we did would require time, expense, and aggravation :-(

Best, Lynn

A bit of his correspondence below:


I appreciate you taking time to explain the situation. I am fairly aware and do agree with everything you stated. I guess for us daily bloggers and even worse the FB crowd, we get used to posting and sharing whatever is available and assuming others will do the same. Desensitized I guess you might say. I have been asked to remove a handful of things over the last 5 years and I always do if I improperly used someone else’s material, as I did in this case.

I apologize for the inconvenience  I caused you in having to contact me on the issue and again appreciate your solid explanation.  I will think twice about what I’m “stealing” in the future.

As the parole board said to Hi McDunnough (on several occasions)….”Well okay then….”

The gent in question does seem like decent fellow, and the whole thing was conducted amiably. But in his response there were a couple, well warning bells, I guess you’d call them. The term “fairly aware,” for instance. Just like you can’t get a little bit pregnant, you really can’t be “fairly aware.” When you swipe someone else’s photo for your own use without their permission, that’s a full state of awareness, right there. Likewise his syntax, using quotation marks around the word “stealing,” which presumably softens the term, and makes it kinda, sorta, like, maybe stealing.

Sorry. When you take something that’s not yours, that’s stealing. No quotations marks necessary.

More tk…..