Theft, Lies and Instagram
Have you ever been robbed? It’s a horrible feeling. My family was burgled when I was a child. We were on holiday in Wales when we got the news of the house break-in. We had to cut short our holiday and came back to find two men had taken almost everything in the house which wasn’t screwed down: my dad’s suits and work shoes; my denim jacket. And they had even been seen carrying the TV up the back alley at one in the morning by revellers returning from a night on the town. Robbery leaves you with a horrible feeling. That was compounded by them leaving an axe on my parents’ bed. That’s not going to make you feel good about sleeping there again, is it?
The amount of anxiety and anguish caused by robbery is so disproportionate to the joy gained from the few pounds for second-hand goods. The memories in your children’s photos on a stolen laptop or phone are always worth more than the device in a dodgy cash-for-goods shop. I’ve always deeply disliked people who steal. It’s such a gutless thing to do. When I was sent this picture from Instagram I had all those same feelings:
The eagle-eyed Puffin Whisperer had spotted her and my photographs on someone else’s Instagram page.
They’re quite distinctive photographs and you recognise your own photos, just like you would recognise your own children.
There were six of hers and four of mine.
This is one of mine. It took me many days to get one like this. To have a Puffin displaying close and head on, and to catch it just right, means it’s one I treasure. It also captures their essential character.
There’s something different about it, though. It’s not just that it’s black and white and mine is in colour. Can you see what’s different?
Yes, there’s that small watermark on my photo which has been cropped off on the stolen copy. Some people mock me for putting a watermark on my photos, thinking that it doesn’t stop people stealing. It’s true, it doesn’t. What it does do, though, is make it clear that their intentions were dishonest. Someone knew they were stealing when they took my photo without permission, converted it badly to black and white and then cropped my name off it. It’s called ‘The Puffin Roars’. Here, the stolen copy has been renamed ‘Puffin calling!’
What was the reaction to it?
“Almost like national geographic :-)”, dodo trip says.
That’s very kind, but it would have been better if I was getting the compliments and not the thief.
Did the thief reply? No. Not a word, just accepted the compliment.
There’s even a comment on one of the Puffin Whisperer’s shots:
“You get some national geographic worthy shots. Which camera do you use??”
The Puffin Whisperer would have answered. I would have answered. The thief? They ignored it.
And it’s true, the Puffin Whisperer does get some National Geographic-worthy shots because her work has been published in National Geographic in Italy.
Here’s another one of my photos, stolen and placed on someone else’s Instagram.
Doesn’t it make you sick that someone could be so dishonest?
Notice the difference again?
Yes, it’s been cropped and yes, the watermark has been removed.
Here’s another stolen photo. This took multiple visits to pitch up at the right time of the tide, hours to earn their trust, many exposures and painstaking selection and editing.
I haven’t mentioned the £10,000 of photographic and computer equipment I needed to produce it yet, have I? Or the cost of travelling?
I have mentioned that crop and removal of my watermark, though, haven’t I?
Then we discovered that it wasn’t just on Instagram, It was on Facebook as well. And then we found our images on Tripadvisor, AirBnB and Pinterest.
When I was at school my chemistry teacher was obsessed by Agatha Christie and told us that the criminal always returns to the scene of the crime. It’s such a well established idea it’s become a cliche. It is true in this case, though, and the thief returned and started to follow the Puffin Whisperer, either not realising that she was a victim of his theft, or thinking that he would strike again. That was his mistake, because the Puffin Whisperer always looks at people who follow her to see if they’re worth following.
Who had stolen our photographs? The person who was in possession of them is Alan Mackinnon and he runs Cantickhead Holidays at Cantickhead Lighthouse on the island of Hoy in Orkney. Alan Mackinnon was the culprit.
Normally, other people would send a message asking for the stolen photographs to be removed.
I did that, but in addition sent an invoice for their commercial use. Here’s part of my email:
“We have recently noticed that, over the past few months, you have been repeatedly using our copyrighted photographs for commercial use to promote your own business. You have not sought permission to use these photographs, nor has permission been granted. This is a clear case of copyright theft. In the UK this is a criminal offence. This criminal offence is punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a fine.
“The aggravating factors which make your theft of our copyright material flagrant include:
- Your use of our copyright materials by your business for commercial gain, where you knew that the image was protected by copyright. The purpose of your copyright theft has been to enrich yourself by increasing the sales of rooms in your self-catering accommodation.
- Your use of our photographs on multiple platforms such as Facebook, Tripadvisor, AirBnB, Pinterest, Instagram.
- Your unauthorised alteration of the photographs by removal of the © copyright symbol watermark with the origin of the photograph. This action disguised their origin.
- Your conversion of photographs to monochrome.
- Your refusal to acknowledge you were not the photographer when questioned on social media.”
After more reasons why we invoiced him, I wrote:
“We both remain committed to working with you to help promote your business through the lawful use of our properly licensed images, reproduced on your commercial site with full credit given.”
“Please accept my sincerest apologies. Would you please advise which pictures you are referring to as they will have been captured through open source searches?”
In other words, “I found them.”
I replied, reminding him of the invoice and asking where he ‘found’ them.
“As previously stated I found these images online with no copyright information attached, I am surprised that you have waited for two month before confronting me with this.
This is a genuine mistake from which you seem to be profiteering.”
“Profiteering”? From my own photography? Perish the thought!
“I have been trying to promote the beauty of the Orkney Islands with open source content and will continue to do so.”
That’s not true, is it? I’m the one promoting the beauty of the Orkney Islands. He’s the one promoting his holiday cottages. I replied:
“You mention ‘open source searches’ and ‘open source content’ in your messages. Please tell us immediately which ‘open source’ you obtained our images from. Please also tell us immediately how they came to have their copyright information watermark removed and how they came to be converted to black and white.”
And an analogy to help him understand:
“If someone had visited Hoy (searched Google), saw your cottages (saw our images), broke the locks and entered in (removed the copyright watermark protecting our images), stayed in your cottages for three months (used our images for commercial benefit for three months), then how would you feel when you found out? Especially when you ask them for payment for their stay and they accuse you of ‘profiteering’ when you’re only asking for them to reimburse the cost of their stay and not even asking them to pay for the broken lock?”
“I do not know where your pictures originated as the old website has been taken down, as a precaution I have removed all unknown images from the new website. I have asked the previous owner for proof of ownership for all his old website content.
In other words, “Someone else found them.”
My move to Orkney was to start a new less stressful lifestyle due to my health issues.”
In other words, “Feel sorry for me.”
I love writing this blog and sharing a bit of my life, nature and Orkney with you. It’s a pleasure. It’s all here, free for you to enjoy. I just can’t stand being robbed.
He didn’t pay and I haven’t taken him to court. Yet.
What would you have done?
Here’s a Puffin:
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