Buzzfeed steals photographs: One photographer’s angry response.

10 Good Reasons BuzzFeed Is Going to Pay My Invoice for Copyright Theft

10 Good Reasons BuzzFeed Is Going to Pay My Invoice for Copyright Theft

Arts, entertainment, and more.
Sept. 13 2013 12:58 PM

10 Good Reasons BuzzFeed Is Going to Pay My Invoice for Copyright Theft

A listicle from a disgruntled photographer.

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6. Creative Commons photos.

You see, I’m not against BuzzFeed or others reusing content or making money; indeed I’m all for it. Which is why around 25 percent of my photos on Flickr have a Creative Commons (CC) license.

Here’s a similar photo, shot from the same sort of angle, featuring one of my kids using some counting rods ... 


Courtesy of Dan Catt

... which I knew would be useful for various Montessori websites, so I gave it a Creative Commons license. BuzzFeed, go right ahead and feel free to use that one. As a general rule, I Creative Commons-license all my photos unless they have my family or a recognizable person in it.

7. Spambots are better Internet copyright citizens than BuzzFeed staff.

This is my most-used Creative Commons photo ... 


Courtesy of Dan Catt

... because for some obscure reason mortgages are a hot topic in the U.S. at the moment and have been for a few years. Who knew!

When we bought our house, we found this document along with the full history of the house tucked into a box hidden under a bookshelf. I knew it was something uncommon and probably interesting to other people, so I added a liberal Creative Commons license to it so others could happily use it where they might have had trouble finding a suitable stock image.

Turns out there’s a whole bunch of spambots out there turning out blog posts of regurgitated junk, interlinking to one another and generally trying to game search engines.

And you know what? Even they know to search Flickr for Creative Commons–licensed photos, and generally they even correctly attribute the photo and link back.

That’s right: Slimy SEO spam-generating bots are better at correctly using my photos than BuzzFeed staff.

8. The photo isn’t worth very much.

So hey, I’m not like this guy, going after $3.6 million. The photo of my son isn’t registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, which would allow me to claim damages of up to $150,000. But it’s just not worth that much. If I’d taken a photo of some particularly newsworthy or unique event and I wanted to be able to license the photo to news agencies without them just taking it, then yeah I’d register it.

That doesn’t mean it’s worthless though.

As the kids grow up, I’ve been collecting various “parent hacks” with the aim of one day producing a piece titled “10 Neat Things I Learnt While Being A Parent.” Now one of those things has been splashed all over the Internet, which kind of devalues the usefulness of the list I was planning. There’s even a chance people will think I’ve copied BuzzFeed or wherever they’ve now seen the photo.

I put a more relaxed license on the photo of my daughter using counting rods because I wasn’t planning a post about counting rods. I kept full copyright on the photo of my son using the juice box because I did have plans for it.

So thanks for messing that up, BuzzFeed. You could have just asked like you’re supposed to.

9. The U.K. has a new photographers’ “streamlined” small-claims track.

That’s right: In the U.K., if I can document copyright infringement (and this totally is) and can’t reach an amicable agreement—such as BuzzFeed not paying or responding to my invoice or letters of warning—then I can plunk down my 50-pound fees (for claims of 500 pounds or less).

No lawyer needed, and it can all be dealt with on paper without a court appearance if the judge decides it’s an open-and-shut case.

Of course BuzzFeed may choose to ignore the invoice or dispute the claim, but then they have to turn up in court to do that, which is going to cost them more than the invoice.

10. Bonus: Now they change the photo.

And since I asked BuzzFeed where to send my invoice, they’ve changed the image, 18 days and 4.2 million views later.

And now I feel a bit better.

Update, Sept. 13: BuzzFeed agreed to pay the amount of my invoice, $500, to the Chordoma Foundation charity.

John Gara, the art director at BuzzFeed, gave me a call (we exchanged numbers) shortly after I made this post. We discussed a number of things about BuzzFeed, copyright, and photography. I asked if they'd pay the money I'd be invoicing them to charity instead. I've supported the Chordoma Foundation before and BuzzFeed were more than happy to do so. Thanks, John!

They donated the money Thursday. I would have updated sooner but was having surgery then (boo). (I'm fine.)

So some good has come out of this. A charity is $500 better and maybe just maybe BuzzFeed staff will review their guidelines.

Dan Catt has worked at the Guardian and Flickr and is now available for freelance art-based coding projects.