Dealers of cellphone and iPad cases emblazoned with copyrighted news images by Tomas Van Houtryve, Daniel Berehulak, Tyler Hicks and other photojournalists are using Amazon’s marketplace to sell their wares without permission from the photographers. All the images had been featured by TIME magazine on its “Picks of the Top 10 Photos of 2014.” In addition to the cases featuring news images—such as a photo of a child dying of Ebola and a child killed in an air attack on Gaza—the sellers listed on Amazon also sell cases featuring photos of nature, pets, cars, celebrity actors, major sports teams and other subjects.
One of the infringed photographers, Tomas Van Houtryve, had complained that Amazon removed some of the items infringing his photo, but not all. Van Houtryve tells PDN that after he discovered the unauthorized use of his black-and-white image on cases being sold through Amazon, he contacted the online retailer through the email it provides to report copyright infringement. An automated form asked for more information verifying that he holds the copyright to the image. He says, “I provided that along with a detailed list of links to all of the products infringing on my copyright. I also requested the contact information of the vendors/manufacturers providing the illegal cases,” he says. The following day, some of the products were removed, but many remained. He received another automated email from Amazon saying, “We trust this will bring the matter to a close.” He says, “As you can imagine, I’m not satisfied with this response.” On December 20, he took to Instagram and Facebook, posting images of the pages where the products decorated with his image were sold.
A search of Amazon for the names of other photographers featured on the TIME list turned up cellphone and iPad cases featuring Tyler Hicks’ image from Gaza of a boy carrying a dead child, Daniel Berehulak’s image of health workers in Liberia carrying a child suffering from Ebola (who later died), and part of Massimo Sestini’s photo of a crowded boat transporting migrants from Africa to Malta, and a tight crop on a portion of Whitney Curtis’s image of police pointing automatic weapons at a protester in Ferguson, Missouri.
Erik Fairleigh, PR spokesperson for Amazon, declined PDN’s request for comment, except to tell PDN “the item is no longer listed for sale,” referring to the product Van Houtryve had complained about. On December 23, however, products made with images by Berehulak, Hicks and Sestini remained on the site.
JP Pappis of Polaris Images, which represents Sestini, says that purusing the makers of the cases would be too costly, since they would be difficult to identify and locate and, if they are overseas, would be beyond the reach of U.S. federal courts. (All the cases “ship from China,” according to the delivery information listed on Amazon.) Sarah Lochting of Getty Images, which represents Daniel Berehulak said the agency is “pursuing the matter. We find it particularly egregious given the content of these images.”
The cases sell for between $12 and $15 through Amazon’s third-party vendor system, which allows any individual or company that fills out an online form to sell their products on Amazon. Amazon’s only requirement is that the seller pay a fee, agree to let Amazon take a cut of sales, and agree to the “Amazon Services Business Solutions Agreement,” which includes a clause indemnifying Amazon against “any claim, loss, damage, settlement, cost, expense or other liability” arising from “any actual or alleged infringement of any Intellectual Property Rights.”
Take a look. And if you see your photo on one of the cases being sold, let us know.