Thursday, September 02, 2010

Trial by Social Media & A Resolution - Of Sorts

What a week it has been. In the midst of a trip to Ohio to see my husbands family, I was made aware that an image of mine was illegally entered into an amateur photo contest last year. And it had, in fact placed second and so was posted on the contest sponsors website. I was immediately infuriated. What nerve of someone to not only swipe my photo...but to enter it in an International contest as their own. You have to be pretty ballsy to do something like that.

My first action was to notify the sponsoring company, Dover Saddlery. I sent an email to customer service, as there was no contact info on the actual photo contest page. And then the next day, I called customer service and told them my issue. They immediately put me in touch with the head of PR for the company. I explained the problem. She was quite sympathetic and believed me that it was my image. I was not completely unknown to her through my own dealings with the Ex Arte Equinus art competition that I am the director of. That gave me a bit more credibility I am sure. She said that she would contact the offender.

Meanwhile, since the original notice about this was posted on Facebook....conversation about it became heated. I have never known such wonderful support from my fellow artists, photographers and horse friends. I had to leave the next day for our trip to Ohio, so I expected to hear from the woman at Dover soon via email. By the time we returned, several days later...there was still no word from Dover and my image was still on the website. Still with the wrong attribution.

At this point I was really angry and started planning meetings with lawyers. I could not make a case against the submitter, because I did not have his contact information. I was beholden to Dover to supply that to me. Lots more conversation on Facebook ensued. And the thing went viral, with my supporters posted in Dover's FB wall and emailling them directly. Soon we discovered more work by other pros that was illegally entered!

I was not sure what my next step would be, but it seemed that my only target would be Dover, since they had not seemed to respond to my concern. Finally, a week after my initial contact with them, Dover changed the attribution of my image on their website at least. But that was not what I wanted. I wanted the image removed, as I would not have entered one of my images in a contest for amateurs. And note in it's place saying that it had been removed due to investigation of copyright infringement, would have been appropriate.

A day after it was changed, I finally spoke again to the PR person at Dover. She said that she had sent 3 emails to the perpetrator. Two phone calls were made, where she had spoken to his girlfriend. But he still had not responded. Her next step was going to be to send him a certified letter. I told her that I was unhappy that she had not kept me more informed and that the image was still on the site. Truthfully, I don't think that the people at Dover understood how serious an issue this is and how strongly we photographers would object to seeing our images stolen like this. That, I think was their first mistake. Although they are not responsible for the copyright infringement....they needed to respond immediately to deal with it. And I understand that she was giving him an opportunity to respond to them and to me...But the image should have been removed right away and information shared with me as she went along.

So here is the resolution....

A few hours after she finally got in touch with me...she received an email from Pascal Cantin of Montreal, saying that his sister had entered the image, thinking that she was doing something nice for him, assuming that all the images on his computer were his. And that he did not know. She forwarded to me. Now, let me explain something...he received an email last year telling him that the image won 2nd place and he received a $25.00 gift certificate from Dover. I am assuming that the "sister" used the GC??? And did not tell him that he won??? I don't believe it for a minute. and what was he doing capturing my image and keeping it in his computer anyway??? So he has apologized to Dover....But Not To Me!

You may wonder why I am not immediately suing the pants off him. Well, he is in Canada and I am here in the US. So we are talking about intellectual property agreements made between the two countries. And for what I might get from suing him...I would have to pay out a whole lot to a lawyer just to investigate the International laws. I will compose and send a nasty email to him. I can do that, because thanks to the wonderfully subtle way she did forwarding his email to me...I now have his contact information! But for now....I am taking a break from the hoopla. And I hope that the people at Dover have learned how important this is and how a speedy response on their part would have saved them a whole lot of social media pressure. This was an amazing test of "Trial By Social Media".

But if there are any copyright lawyers out there who want to pursue this to a higher level and work with me on some International intellectual property rights and the internet legislation??? Let me know. I am open to talking lots more about this.



Pamela said...

First of all, I honestly doubt that Pascal even has a sister! And now I am even more infuriated that this idiot won't even take responsibility for his very serious actions. Can you say civil lawsuit?

Juliet said...

Since this a cross border case...the cost of even getting a lawyer to do some research into it would be more than I have or could get from such a lawsuit.

Karen Thumm said...

The unfortunate facts are that it is, in most cases, prohibitively expensive for artists/photographers to sue for copyright infringement even when the case is undeniable.

But, Juliet, if you mention his name (Pascal Cantin of Montreal)a time or two more in your blog or on Facebook, maybe he will get some bad publicity when anyone searches on his name in Google. Like a prospective employer or customer.

I'm glad you pursued this, Juliet. You've done us all a favor by standing up for our rights.