The photography industry can be a place where happy moments are captured or a starving arena by overpopulated photographers in the newborn and children portraiture industry. We have heard, all too often, of photographers “stealing” clients from another local photographer. Some can get downright dirty and contact a fellow competitors clients in an attempt to get them to use their services in the future. I am sure many of you can relate, whether it has happened to you, or someone you know.
The average person, who is not familiar with the photography and photography prop industry, would be clueless as to how intense and competitive it can get. Oftentimes, when we mentioned to an average Joe about our company, they think it is a creative and new market. They have no realization, that even in the photography prop industry, there is competition everywhere. Thousands upon thousands of prop companies are out there to design and create photo props to the millions of portrait studios in the world. Just like with prop companies, there may be several portrait photographers servicing one town.
Photographers not only have to deal with the threat of a local studio capturing their once client, but they also have to deal with untrustworthy citizens who take their photo and claim it as their own. Photographers can watermark their image, which is incredibly important, but with a thief on a mission, as well as Photoshop, these watermarks can be removed from the image.
Unfortunately we have similar situations and we thought it would be helpful to share our story with you. Yes, we may only sell props but it’s not all fun and games.
Twice in 2011, we discovered a photography prop company, with a similar name as ours, was putting up listings on their website as well as Etsy claiming to sell a handmade photography prop that WE actually made. The company even used our description and title, almost, word-for-word. It was clearly our product as we, at the time, were the only company that manufactured these blankets and they had a very unique design. There were over 50 yarns, many hand spun wools and discontinued yarns that have been off the shelves for years. It was ours. There was no denying it.
We confronted the prop shop and asked them to take down the image that was of our prop, after-all it would be impossible for her to duplicate that prop 100% to sell it to a customer that were to buy it from her. The legal term for this practice is referred to as Bait and Switch. The owner denied that it was our product. Upon her failing to provide us with the types of yarn used, we contacted the photographer. The photographer confirmed that she did not give this prop vendor permission to use the photographs and also confirmed that the prop in the photograph was made by another company and not the company who listed it as her own work. This unethical prop shop had four listings using all stolen images and was attempting to sell products that she did not and could not reproduce. We went back to the prop shop’s owner and she said it was a mistake and made up several, almost believable, excuses and denied that she tried to sell said product. We had captured several screen prints of her listings before she deleted them which was our slam dunk.
Screen printing is incredibly important when dealing with any posting on the internet, things can be edited and changed. Photographic proof is your way of upholding the facts of the case. If you were to take a company or individual to civil or criminal court, this would be imperative to your case.
Jump ahead to 2015 and regrettably our company is going through something similar with the SAME prop company. A person would typically think, who would ever do it, not just once, but now three times? The business owner had contacted one of our past customers and asked to use images of our product for their new product they started stocking in January 2015. Since we have similar company names, the customer was confused and thought that we were the same company, Custom Photo Props. With that being said, the photographer agreed that she could use the images thinking that she had purchased the furs from her when it was actually CPP.
The business, once again, listed items for sale on their website and Etsy page of OUR custom made faux furs! There is not another photography prop company that sells the exact same fur as we do which means our products are easily recognized in the industry. The images that the business took from the photographer were from early 2014 and this company did not have this new fur of theirs until 2015 so how could they be the same exact product? We believe, without a doubt, that the prop company did this intentionally once again. The prop company told the photographer that it looked identical when, in actuality, it is far from identical. You may ask, why would this company want images of CPP’s product in use? As most retail companies are aware, an image sells a product. We have had products listed for sale not sell for months because we do not have an image of it in use. As soon as we got that “wow” photo, the product sells. The company is also continuing to name their products similar to our distinctive titles that our advertising team formulated.
Upsettingly, since 2009, Custom Photo Props LLC has been the victim of copyright theft at a minimum of 40 times (we have lost count) and that is only what we are aware of. You can be the target of someone who is your next door neighbor or a person who lives across the world.
In the arts industry, especially when something is handmade or designed, it’s easy to spot your own work. If you had taken an image of a decaying tree in a historical forest, you would easily recognize your image from another photographers work.
Tips if this happens to you:
- Always watermark your work.
- Send a Cease and Desist to the offender.
- Document any conversations you have that are relative to your case.
- Screen print, screen print, everything! Seeing is proving.
- Contact a Patent & Copyright attorney in your area for legal advice.
If the above actions do not work, a last resort would be a civil court case.
Do you have a similar story? We would love to hear from you.