Another Copyright Infringement Ends In Charity Donation, Good PR For Infringer

A friend tipped Theron Humphrey that So Delicious had used one of his images without permission or credit.

A friend informed Theron Humphrey that So Delicious had used one of his images on Facebook without permission or credit.

For the second time in a week a photographer has settled a copyright dispute by getting the infringing corporation to make a donation to charity. Yesterday So Delicious, a maker of dairy-free foods, agreed to make a $10,000 donation to an animal shelter as a mea culpa for using one of photographer Theron Humphrey’s images without permission in a post on their Facebook page.

Earlier this week, street photographer Brandon Stanton discovered that clothing retailer DKNY had used his images without permission in a window display at their Bangkok store. Stanton called the company out on Facebook and got them to agree to donate $25,000 to his local YMCA.

In comments made to PDN, both photographers cited the cost and tediousness of pursuing infringements through the courts as reasons for pursuing what they view as a more positive approach to dealing with infringements.

Humphrey found out through a friend that his image of his dog, Maddie, sitting in a diner booth had been lifted by So Delicious and used on their Facebook page. The company had even Photoshopped one of their products into the image. They made no attempt to credit Humphrey or seek permission.

Humphrey shared a screen-grab of the So Delicious infringement via Twitter, and encouraged people to write messages to So Delicious asking them to make a donation to an animal shelter. By the end of the day the company had apologized, writing on their Facebook page that they had “used some poor judgment in terms of aligning [a photo they found on Facebook] with our brand without identifying the photographer and first seeking out his approval.” In a later post they said they would make a $10,000 donation to a worthy animal shelter at Humphrey’s suggestion, and solicited shelter suggestions from their followers.

While the violations proved expensive for So Delicious and DKNY, the companies certainly haven’t suffered much negative publicity, if the reactions from their respective social media audiences are any indication. So Delicious received more than 800 suggestions for shelters to support, and more than 900 likes from people in response to their post announcing the donation.

But are these situations “win-win,” or do they perpetuate the overwhelming lack of respect the general public has for photographic authorship?

“There are dozens of people commenting [on So Delicious’s Facebook page] that I’m being a jerk and it’s not a big deal,” Humphrey notes in an email to PDN. “Those same comments often have 30-plus likes. That in itself is an interesting glimpse into the minds of a lot of folks.”

Humphrey, who was inspired by how Stanton handled his dispute with DKNY, says he’d rather “be a part of the dialog and pathway to creating change versus using the heavy hand of the law and courts.”

“Brandon Stanton had a solid approach that helped a ton of kids,” Humphrey notes. “It felt right. It felt connected. And a lot of good came from it. I’m not sure if So Delicious feels the same way, but I think they got an amazing deal! They got a ton of love [yesterday]. And maybe when I’m out in Oregon we can collaborate.”

After seeing what progressed yesterday, Humphrey says, a lot of individuals who had used his images without permission wrote and apologized. “I would never go after an individual,” he explains. “I want to make connections and foster community. But when a bigger company with a full-time marketing department steals work, that becomes a rad opportunity to dialog about intellectual property. A lot of people learned [from what happened], all for the better!

Humphrey says he’s constantly discovering people using images from his “Maddie on Things” Tumblr, which features photographs of his coonhound Maddie standing on odd structures in locations all over the United States. Humphrey is currently on a tour of the country to promote a new book based on the Tumblr, and to create images and tell the stories of people who have rescued animals for a documentary project called “Why We Rescue.”

In some instances in which people have used his work without permission, Humphrey’s simply asked them to create a mention of his book and tour rather than demanding they remove his image from their sites or add credit to an image that’s already been shared several thousand times without credit.

“Educating folks to respect images and give them proper credit or ask for permission” is “way more interesting” than “slamming people with DMCAs,” Humphrey says.

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