Plagiarizing my work?

note: see recent updates below

The number of ‘artists’  copying my work, without permission, without payment, without any reference to me as the photographer and owner of the image, is growing. The concept of intellectual property doesn’t seem to exist in the minds of these copy cats and I wonder what I can do about this flagrant malpractice. For instance, let’s look at Roos van Velsen. This lady copied the photo below and has the audacity to suggest it is based on a photograph she took herself, since she photographed ‘many interesting people’ with ‘mysterious eyes’ during her ‘many foreign trips’. Her paintings are put up for sale, published on the internet and shown during exhibitions.

© Mirjam Letsch Photography

© Roos van Velsen | roosvanvelsen.exto.nl

Roos van Velsen indeed has a vivid and fascinating fantasy, to say the least… What about the image below? She claims the lady in her painting is a ‘female fighter in a country in conflict’, possibly with the intention to suggest she is Palestinian.…. whereas it’s the same Indian woman as the woman in the first image, and, needless to say, based on my photographic work, not hers.

© Mirjam Letsch Photography | © Roos van Velsen | roosvanvelsen.exto.nl

Another ‘artist’,  Margreet Sleeuwenhoek, copied my work. I wonder if the ‘Academy‘ in Vlaardingen, where she studied, taught her the noble art of plagiarism and the breach of copyright.

© Mirjam Letsch Photography | © Margreet Sleeuwenhoek

Mrs. X (see update below) opens her ‘Exto Art Page‘ with a painted version of my image, without any reference to the original source of the painting. Needsless to say she never approached me for permission to use my material.

homepage © X

I don’t know what it is with these copy cats, but X.  also indirectly claims the image is based on one of her own photos: [...] ‘The eyes are the mirrors  to the soul’. When photographing, you notice the personality, but when painting you are are very much busy building the whole image [...] the canvas becomes alive and the face becomes a person with character and a soul.

So much fuss about describing art might be interesting in itself, but X copied my work and not once does she bother to mention the origin of her inspiration. In her case, it’s the more surprising since she claims to be a photographer herself. She should know better! And to make it all the more ironic, on her introduction page it says “The copyright of all the work displayed rests with the artist and shall not be used without prior written consent.” (!)

© Mirjam Letsch Photography | painting © X

Another one, from Natalie Buzaré. from France:

© Mirjam Letsch Photography | Rajasthan (India)

© Nathalie Buzaré | France

It’s really frustrating one needs the internet ‘to be seen’, to show ones work, but on the other hand there are so many people out there who steal my photos, who completely ignore my copyright. Even watermarking my images seems to have no effect. Above, I only showed a few plagiarized paintings, but I could add countless examples of publications where they stole from my website, from Flickr, even from agencies who represent me. I stumble upon my photos in international newspapers (!), in folders and on websites of travel agents …

For now, I will end this blog by quoting Steve McCurry: The concept of intellectual property should be a no-brainer, but I guess there will always be people who use the work of others to promote their own companies or careers.  I appreciate the folks around the world who let me know when they see my work being pirated or plagiarized and let us know. [source: Steve McCurry's blog]

UPDATES

September 15

All artists mentioned above, with the exception of French painter Nathalie Buzaré., have over the last few days removed the controversial paintings from their various websites. I kept the screenshots.

September 19

Here we go again: another photo used without permission. This time the painting is by Dutch artist Wim Wessling:

© Mirjam Letsch.com

© Wim Wessling | www.wimwessling.eu

September 20

Also Wim Wessling . now removed the above painting from both Kunstinzicht and his Exto gallery.

September 24

Both K.S. and Margreet Sleeuwenhoek. removed their site from Exto.  This doesn’t, however, change ‘the case’, for of course I have all the screenshots and witnesses to prove the above accusations.

October 10

Another one…

© Mirjam Letsch Photography | painting Elyane Cottet

October 23

Interesting and related readings:

painted plagiarism of a push-up photograph >>

visual plagiarism: when does inspiration become imitation? >>

March 17, 2011

Mrs. X (see painting above) is very worried for negative publicitity. I am not interested in the individual ‘artists’, but in the act of copying without permission. So I removed her name from my blog. The fact that she copied my work without permission, is a fact. For the sake of the discussion about ‘plagiarism’ and ‘copyright infringement’, I will show the examples here for as long as I believe it serves a purpose.

TO BE CONTINUED

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38 Responses to “Plagiarizing my work?”

  1. lien zegt:

    I can imagine this really bothers you.
    I don’t think people should just copy your work in any way, not without asking you at least. Or not be publishing their work without naming the source.

    I can tell you that these paintings do not even come close to the real thing.
    Your pictures are amazing and the magic stays with the picture, they can’t copy that!

  2. Onno Zweers zegt:

    The NOS Journaal (news bulletin) once used a photo of mine without permission. I sent them a bill with the usual Fotografenfederatie (high) prices with 300% extra fee for not asking permission. They payed.

    Perhaps you can do the same with these people. Just send them a bill. If they don’t pay, even after a reminder and a warning, hire a deurwaarder to collect the money (but collect plenty of proof first).

  3. Mirjam, What are the IP laws of your country? Can and do you REGISTER your copyright? I would certainly put these robbers on notice in writing that the original images are your work. Are you able to track where they obtained the image?

  4. @ Mirjam, @ Charles Carstensen

    Dutch copyright law does not require artists, writers, photographers etc to register their work or to claim their rights in any other way. Copyright simply comes with the artist creating and publishing his or her work. That’s the easy part. The difficult part is to put your right into practice. I think it would be wise for you to seek he advice of a specialized lawyer. Usually, a first consultation is free in The Netherlands. Whatever course of action you take: I admire you Mirjam, for not allowing yourself to be robbed!

    Cheers,
    Pierre (chair, FreeLancers Associatie)

  5. Valerio zegt:

    I am symphatetic.
    I do a lot of music photography and websites steal my photos every other day, it is so annoying.
    I am curious to know how you find the plagiarisms especially of paintings coming from your photos.

    I found you through flickR and got stunned by the indian portraits. Amazing job.
    I have shot Kumbh Mela this year and love India thorughout.

    well done,
    good luck
    Valerio

  6. Johanna zegt:

    Mirjam, you could also perhaps ask the people @ pictoright (www.pictoright.nl) for advice (I don’t know if you have to become a member first).

    good luck,
    johanna

  7. Roos zegt:

    Ik ben me nooit bewust geweest van het verbod op naschilderen, maar begrijp de frustratie in dit geval volkomen. De gelijkenis is zo sterk dat het niet meer om een artistieke interpretatie of eerbetoon gaat, maar het zijn duidelijk slecht uitgevoerde kopieën zonder enige artistieke interpretatie.

    Ik heb jarenlang een schildercursus gevolgd waar constant aangemoedigd wordt om mooie foto’s te verzamelen uit tijdschriften etc. die je kunt gebruiken om te schilderen. Zo wordt het plagiaat al vanaf amateurstadium aangemoedigd, nota bene door lesgevende kunstenaars zelf. Veel amateurkunstenaars (waar ik dit werk ook onder schaar) zullen zich niet bewust zijn van het feit dat een foto naschilderen niet mag. Ik zal toch eens bij mijn eigen cursus aankaarten dat dit een overtreding is van de auteurswet.

  8. First off, glad to make acquaintance with your work albeit because of copy cats. You clearly connect with you subject(s).
    Of course not being credited is more than annoying, but it is also a major compliment and a great moment to promote your own work and what you and your work stands for, a great way to get attention for your art and for The Cause – the women you photograph and their predicament.

    Rights for artists, designers and photographers were protected by registering work through Stichting Beeldrecht, which would provide legal advice/lawyer. In 2008 Beeldrecht became Pictoright. I hope and think you read Dutch for the website not in English but you should be able to talk/ mail in English if necessary http://www.pictoright.nl/contact.html

    By the way doesn’t Natalie Buzaré statement —that it isn’t necessary to leave (home) to travel (abroad)— make you crack up?

    My suggestion to you Mirjam and to visitors of this blog: seize the opportunity, make this blog post viral, spread the URL with the help of twitter, tweet, FaceBook, Stumble, Linkedin etc.

    This is a moment to act.

    @Roos, studying painting by copying photographs is common practice and a good way to learn about light and darkness, negative space etc. It is not illegal to do so, but not crediting the photographer and worse insinuating you’re the one who took the original photo is infringement of copyright.

  9. admin zegt:

    Thank you all for your advice and reactions. I will update you soon.

  10. Nelleke Smit zegt:

    Sorry Mirjam, ik was mij er ook nooit bewust van dat het illegaal is om foto’s na te schilderen,(totdat jij mij erop wees)ik dacht altijd dat het schilderij er toch heel anders uit kwam te zien, dat het niet ging om een copie van de foto, maar een ondersteuning voor mijn creative expressie. De voorbeelden die je laat zien gaan veel te ver en hebben naar mijn mening geen enkele persoonlijke toevoeging van de kunstenaar.Bovendien is het behoorlijk doortrapt om hiermee naar buiten te komen als “jouw creatie”. En zoals hier boven al vermeld: jouw foto’s zijn niet te copëren!! Ik weet dat op veel opleidingen wordt gestimuleerd om foto’s te verzamelen, ik weet ook dat er hier en daar foto’s van mijn schilderijen gebruikt worden om na geschilderd te worden, ik vind dit iets zieligs hebben: wat denk je daar van te leren? Wanneer ik copies van mijn schilderijen tegen zou komen, getekend met een andere naam, ja dan zou ik het meer dan zielig vinden en frustrerend voor mijzelf.
    Veel succes ermee!

  11. admin zegt:

    Nelleke is an arist who asked me permission and contacted me before she started painting. So not all artists are the same! Nelleke was inspired by some of my work from Vietnam.

  12. Nelleke Smit zegt:

    It’s very nice of you to say this, but I use magazines as well.(as a base of my painting only) What I ment to say is: You made me realise more/better the value of a photo.

  13. George Wedding zegt:

    Mirjam:

    Kudos to you for publicly calling out artists who violate your photographic copyrights. Technically, this is not plagiarism, but copyright infringement, fancy words for a thief who steals the intellectual property of art owners. In the U.S., copyright is covered by federal law, though some state laws also can be applied. It is common practice for professional photographers who follow sound business principles to simply send invoices for a normal reproduction fee plus triple damages when unauthorized (unlicensed) “published” or “derivative works” are uncovered. I have done this several times — and been paid.

    A few years ago, one American real estate Web site reproduced seven of my landscape photos more than 70 times on different URL pages. I documented each offense and sent a cease-and-desist e-mail with an attached invoice for about $13,000 (US), which represented the fees I would have charged for each-and-every Web reproduction — plus the triple damages. An invoice with triple damages is a legal tactic that gives an infringer the option to pay what could prove to be a smaller fee instead of going to court and potentially face much higher fees. Using this technique, I’ve managed to avoid court so far. In this instance, I negotiated with the violator’s lawyer and eventually settled for $5,600 due to what seemed to be real hardships the realtor faced. He also removed my images from his Web site. Another video production company once used two images in a nationally broadcast cable TV video and eventually paid about $1,600 for the unlicensed broadcast.

    To collect, you should have a standard, publication price list that you can refer to, be patient and professional, and throughly document all communications. You should send a dated invoice with the payment due date listed on the first notification, and then send updated monthly statements (with a standard re-billing fee for late payments) until the violator agrees to pay. This applies pressure. It is very distasteful to do all this, it can be very time-consuming and you really have to be prepared to actually go to court should your billing efforts fail.

    But the reality in the U.S. is that courts frown upon the unauthorized publication of creative works for commercial gain. In the U.S., all creative works are covered by federal copyright law from the moment of creation. However, American photographers currently must register their works with the U.S. Library of Congress to have full copyright protections and be eligible to recover court costs, attorney fees and higher punitive damages. Unregistered works only are eligible for lower statutory damages (which only cover “actual” losses). this makes it impractical to mount a legal challenge for unregistered works. Hopefully, the federal registration requirement eventually will be dropped. In recent years, new laws have simplified registration and allowed for “batch” and “electronic” registrations, which represents a positive change for artists.

    Finally, some groundbreaking U.S. court cases have established precedents — once a copyright infringement is proven, the derivative work actually may be “owned” by the original creator of the infringed work — not by by the infringing artist. In some instances, the courts have ruled that a derivative work must be turned over to the creator of the original work.

    For copyright laws to be effective in the digital age, and so that we can protect our work from future infringements, professional photographers MUST aggressively protect their copyrights. Depending on the laws in your country, you should be even more proactive about seeking payment from these thieves.

    Finally, in most U.S. fine art schools, it IS common practice for student artists and designers to be taught that it’s OK to copy the work of photographers, and I assume, other artists. I suspect it is the same across the globe. Of course, this is the polar opposite of what documentary and commercial photographers are taught.

    Besides copyright notices, watermarks, price lists, payment demands, legal threats and actual lawsuits, the only other way photographers will stop this disgusting practice is to systematically challenge colleges and universities — especially the biggest art schools. Professional photographers should be complaining to fine art schools about the questionable ethical practices of their graduates. Also, photography teachers regularly should be teaching and debating fine art teachers and students on this topic and even informing deans and presidents of the real-world laws and the questionable ethics that are being taught in art programs.

  14. admin zegt:

    Dear George,

    Thank you for your reaction. Here in The Netherlands, there is no need to register my (photography) work. I am the creator, and thus my work is copyright protected. And yes, I agree that fine-art teachers should teach about real-world laws, so in future, I can put my energy into work, and not into claims!

    Regards,
    Mirjam

  15. [...] hele verhaal is hier op Mirjams website na te lezen (link opent in een apart [...]

  16. Ronald zegt:

    Ach.. censuur.
    Je hoort liever niet dat het je alleen om het geld te doen is?
    De waarheid is hard he? ;-)

  17. Pradeep zegt:

    Goeorge, thanks for letting us know about the courts have ruled that a derivative work must be turned over to the creator of the original work. I really think that is groundbreaking.

  18. laurence zegt:

    j’espère que vous comprendrez le français !

    si faire de la peinture et trouver parmi vos photos des inspirations pour peindre… c’est plutôt flateur pour vous… ce d’autant que les peintures ne sont souvent que des essais…, d’amateurs…. pour leur plaisir !!! alors où est le mal !!!

    pensez vous que des artistes tels que Rambarndt, Picasso, ou… n’aient pas eux même copiés des oeuvres pour s’entrainer !!!! et c’étaient des oeuvres de peinture… alors il faut peut-être relativiser !

    je crois que c’est le lot de tout artiste connu de se faire copier… aller ! c’est la rançon de la gloire ! rassurez vous…

    et un peu d’humilité…

  19. admin zegt:

    It was not for inspiration, put pure copying without any (own) creativity. And even then, my permission is needed. Besides, most of these paintings were offerend for sale: so a commercial activity. My work is copyright protected and none of these (so-called) artists mentioned me as the owner of the images. This is copyright infringement. I hope you understand English.

  20. laurence zegt:

    pour ma part, ce n’est en tout cas que pur passe-temps…
    je pense qu’il y a bien peu de peinture que vous trouverez sur flickr qui n’ai été largement inspiré de photos !

    en tous cas, combien croyez vous que ces “artistes ” gagneront de leurs oeuvres… ? Pour ma part, on est loin d’oeuvres d’art que j’achèterai !

    car une oeuvre, c’est avant tout de l’originalité : l’originalité du sujet (je vous rejoints, là c’est bien celle du photographe)… et l’originalité du peintre… qui mettre lui aussi de sa personnalité à rendre l’image… et la copie exacte n’est pas forcément le mieux… Je pense qu’au final l’artiste s’éloignerait de votre photos pour créer !

    c’est pour cela qu’au vu des oeuvres présentées, vous avez en face de vous des personnes qui se cherchent, plutôt que des artistes… et ça ne vaut financièrement pas grand chose

    alors rassurez-vous, et je serais vous, je serais plutôt flatée que mes “oeuvres” servent de modèles à d’autres

    mais à défaut d’être rassuré, dites nous clairement que mettre lorsque nous diffusons certaines de vos copies !

    cordialement

  21. jeroen delft zegt:

    Wat ben jij een zielig figuur, zeg. Een paar hobbyschilders (!) hebben wat foto’s van nageschilderd en meteen sta je op je achterste benen. Ok, vraagje: hoe zit het met het portretrecht van de mensen die je hebt gefotografeerd? Kregen of krijgen die een vergoeding? Ga je schamen.

  22. Yaheli zegt:

    Your photos are so much better than any of the here presented paintings, which are poorly carried out at best.

  23. buzaré nathalie zegt:

    bonjour , je viens de voir votre blog , dans lequel je suis moi même citée ci dessus, je suis désolée , d’être perçue comme une “voleuse d’image” ou pirate , je ne vois pas les choses comme vous, je suis peintre amateur et je choisie une photo pour sa beauté et pour ce qu’elle dégage je tente de le peindre ,en aucun cas je ne veux et ne peux “plagier” , dans le sens ou une photo restera toujours une image et une peinture reste une interprétation de l’image,c’est uniquement de la transmission d’un message visuel à une une autre forme de travail d’Art , pas toujours réussi je vous l’accorde , mais au fond, le message et pourtant bien le même, transmettre aux autres la beauté des êtres d’horizons différents.
    pour ma part je ne vend pas sur mon site et 90 % des fois je demande l’autorisation des photographes avant de commencer une toile (qui en général me l’accorde), mais il arrive que je ne sache pas d’ou vient la photo , on en reçoit tous les jours de belles images , par mails ,dont celles-ci effectivement, mais cette jeune fille avait tellement un beau regard, que je n’ai pu résister à la tentation de la peindre .voulez vous que je la retire de mon site ? avec toutes mes excuses, si je vous ai contrarié , ce n’était certainement pas le but .N B

  24. Malcolm Arnold zegt:

    My friend , I have been a professional artist in Australia ,new Zealand , Bangladesh , India n cambodia for 34 yrs . take it from me these works are from people who love drawing and they are also inspired by your magnificant images (especially Bopu ) Take this as a compliment as I am sure they are not making any money from this type of drawing . You just continue your great work for all of us to admire

  25. admin zegt:

    Dear Malcolm,

    Thank you for your reaction. Several paintings were for sale on commercial websites. And even if they were not, my permission was needed, as well as mentioning my name (copyright). People, also artists, can admire my work, but not copy it without permission. By the way, I gave several artists permission and never asked money for this.

    Mirjam

  26. admin zegt:

    Dear Nathalie,

    Please remove the painting from your website. Thank you.
    Mirjam

  27. @dokajunk zegt:

    Hang ‘m high! (figuratively)

  28. Ja, Jeroen, die krijgen een vergoeding. En een aantal van deze hobbyschilders (!) hebben hun werk voor een aardig bedrag te koop aangeboden. Ik denk ook dat je het begrip portretrecht niet begrijpt. Degenen die zich moeten schamen zijn degenen die mijn auteursrecht schenden.

  29. Chota zegt:

    Mirjam,

    I know from personal experience that is tough, time & energy consuming to fight copyright violation. But it’s worth drawing a line and I wish you lots of success pursuing these cases.
    As suggested before, seek advice and assistance from either Pictoright or the NVJ/NVF (if you are member of this trade union).

    @Jeroen, even if photographers do not take the initiative to pay for making portraits in (mostly) non-Western countries, the people involved there usually ask for a payment themselves. In other words, they are very much aware that taking their picture is not for free ! This happens in even remote areas and with illiterate people and in countries that do not have any copyright laws themselves.

  30. Charlotte zegt:

    Ik gebruik heel vaak foto’s van internet om na te schilderen. Zoals eerder aangegeven vaak om te oefenen, maar ook omdat ik de afbeeldingen gewoon heel mooi vind. Ik heb nooit toestemming hiervoor gevraagd maar dit komt voornamelijk omdat ik er nooit bij stil heb gestaan. Het werd mij altijd aangemoedigd om plaatjes uit tijdschriften of van het internet te gebruiken. Nou is mijn werk absoluut niet te koop en hangt het voornamelijk bij mijn moeder in de woonkamer. Schilderen is iets wat ik doe voor mijn plezier en niet voor mijn werk en als het ooit in een expositie terecht zou komen zou ik zeker niet claimen dat het een origineel werk is. Maar in de toekomst zal ik proberen contact op te nemen met de fotograaf omdat het toch zijn/haar werk is. Als ik jou was zou ik zeker actie ondernemen omdat deze kunstwerken als 2 druppels water (maar dan een stuk minder mooi) op jouw foto’s lijken. Voor de rest is het gewoon achterlijk dat bepaalde personen claimen dat zij de foto’s ook daadwerkelijk gemaakt hebben. Heel veel succes ermee en ik hoop dat je je gelijk krijgt.

  31. Alex zegt:

    You are not the only one!
    look here
    This guy stole my website http://www.hamidqureshi.com/#Home and this is my website http://www.intelligentdimension.com

  32. Wow…. so frustrating! What will you do about this?

  33. Alex zegt:

    DMCA to host company ,google,Bing and so on …Not much you can do

  34. Michelle zegt:

    Hi Mirjam,

    First, I am totally amazed by your works. I would LOVE to see more of them. I am a first-year university student, although not majoring or being excel in art, I really enjoy them. And I truly understand your feeling. I get frustrated too when people copy my art work, even though I am not a expert like you or have legal copyrights on my work.

    with respect!
    Michelle

  35. Wilma Downing zegt:

    Mirjam,
    First of all, I am very impresssed with your beautiful work. Your pictures are obviously the result of the hard work you put into getting to know your subjects well and you clearly have “an eye” for beauty in our world. I hope you realize that the fact that people feel compelled to paint your pictures is a compliment to your work. The only wrong I see here is when they claim to have taken the pictures themselves. That is an outright lie and you deserve apologies from these artists and these false claims must stop. I hope all this nonsense doesn’t detract you too much from your mission. Ignore the petty “copycats” and keep up your wonderful artistry and good works. The more famous you become, the more people will want to imitate you,it’s inevitable; but don’t let it bother you and know that the truth always comes out in the end.
    Wilma

  36. Lise zegt:

    Hi Mirjam,
    I just saw this article, and I feel quite embarrassed. I have actually been using two of your photos on my Skyblog ; they perfectly fit my fiction’s universe and that’s why I chose them to illustrate it.
    The first I used was this one : http://ae.img.v4.skyrock.net/2302/85392302/pics/3118010777_1_3_JPJS9UD4.jpg, and I used another one to make a photomontage (this is the photomontage : http://ae.img.v4.skyrock.net/2302/85392302/pics/photo_85392302_4.jpg, and this is the original photo : http://imggot.com/img/indo-aryan-rajput-woman-101629-530-352.jpg).
    I thought that writing a reference quoting your name as the author would be enough, and it is what I usually do with every other pics – even if nobody knows the author of several ones.
    I really liked the two photos you did, so I went to your website to see more of your work, and I finally saw this article.
    I feel bad seeing how plagiarized you are ; I would be angry as much if people were stealing parts of my own fiction. My blog has nothing to do with money (it is only for my fiction and its aesthetic universe) and I didn’t litterally plagiarize, but I can’t pretend I didn’t see this.
    Sorry for my bad English, I’m still a student ! If you want me to remove the pictures from my blog, just ask, I would understand.

    Regards,
    Lise

  37. Saneesh zegt:

    It is really Sad to hear about this..It is something like someone’s creativity and eventually credit goes to someone…Some laws should be there to protect photgraphers..

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