Copyright Infringement

Whenever a photography injustice surfaces in the news, I can’t seem to figure out what the perpetrator was thinking. Digital manipulation, falsifying information and copyright infringement. Which comes to my current situation.

On April 27, 2008, I spoke of a random encounter that got me very excited. A new friend who just happened to be from the same town in the United States where I grew up. Lee Mackay Turner showed me that my character judgement needs some serious work.

In May, Turner and I traveled to Burma together in hopes of telling the story of the people affected by Cyclone Nargis. We were both a little paranoid about the military and he suggested that we bring only one computer with us for downloading and filing. I had no reason to distrust the man and so I brought my computer and left it and the images unguarded. While the trip was a tremendous learning experience, it seemed to leave a sour note between us.

Fast forward to October 28. I emailed the UNICEF Photo of the Year competition Southeast Asia nominator asking him about the submission deadline. The following morning I received a phone call from the nominator asking me if my name was Kevin German. He then asked me if my name was also Lee Turner. I said no and that he was my friend. He said Turner had submitted a story about children living on the Burmese border. And after looking at my web site, one of the images Turner submitted appeared to be the same image below.


I immediately told the nominator that he must be mistaken. Turner and I often photographed the same subjects and he would never take an image from me. The UNICEF nominator seemed unsure of my response so I asked him to email me the photograph in question. When I opened up the image sitting in my inbox, my girlfriend gasped and immediately recognized the Burmese monk. I was still hesitant to rush to judgement however. There was something just a little bit off that I couldn’t pinpoint. So I went on to my blog back to the May 24 posting: Burma. And there it was. A slightly different crop and color correction of the image. It was undoubtedly my photograph.

I forwarded the blog posting to the nominator and he called back and said the following image was also in Turner’s submission.


Now I knew there was no mistake about this image. Turner was not around me at the time this image was made. And further more, I was never allowed outside the city of Rangoon/Yangon due to the military sanctions on foreigners so these two images were taken quite far from any border of Burma.

Later that evening I received another email from the UNICEF nominator informing me that I should look at the following photograph posted in Turner’s portfolio on VII Visionaires:

http://viiphoto.ning.com/photo/photo/show?id=907146%3APhoto%3A23703&context=album&albumId=907146%3AAlbum%3A23709


This image was also posted on my May 24 blog posting.

But the following two photographs were not posted on my blog:

http://viiphoto.ning.com/photo/photo/show?id=907146%3APhoto%3A23704&context=user


http://viiphoto.ning.com/photo/photo/show?id=907146%3APhoto%3A23698&context=album&albumId=907146%3AAlbum%3A23709


In fact these photographs were never posted any where on the web, so he retains my original files.

At this point, the UNICEF nominator sent emails notifying the proper officials at UNICEF and also contacted Turner directly. The nominator wrote that Turner had stated that he was the sole owner of the photographs in question and he could prove this as he has the RAW files.

I began researching Turner right away. I found yet another photo of mine on his Flickr account:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/leemackay33/2523240233/in/set-72157604142390292/


What really upset me about this image was the caption he wrote underneath:

“(Yangon Harbor, Myanmar)(Yangon River, Myanmar) So precocious, such character, such presence, so little hope. This young girl lives with relatives after they helped her escape from a brothel in the Yunnan province (China) where she had been “employed” since the age of 9. ”

This is a complete fabrication. Turner nor I could speak Burmese or any dialect of Chinese. She was simply a girl doing what children do in a small neighborhood in Yangon.

This is when I finally confronted Turner. Several phone calls and an email. Nothing. Finally he wrote back a convoluted email showing anger towards me while being sure to state that he does not admit any guilt.

Further research brought the following links to my attention:

http://rrbdlaw.com/RegulatoryLinks/CASESOFNOTE/NYSE/2006.htm

http://www.nyse.com/pdfs/05-177.pdf

On February 8, 2006, Lee Mackay Turner was permanently barred from the New York Stock Exchange after impersonating a customer of a member firm for the purpose of transferring his account and making material misstatements to a member firm compliance officer during the course of an internal investigation.

This issue is still up in the air and at the time of posting, all of the links appearing on this blog were still active. Resident lawyer at LUCEO IMAGES, Matthew Slaby, has helped me draft a cease and desist letter that I have signed and sent to Turner.

I have only one camera; a Canon 5D. Every time a RAW image is taken with this camera it records the serial number of that camera onto the metadata of the RAW file. I also have the original receipt from when I purchased the camera showing the matching serial number.

As of today, I have officially registered my entire online portfolio along with my entire RAW shoot from Burma with the U.S. Copyright Office. I recommend all photographers do the exact same thing today.

The web site: http://www.copyright.gov/ is a little confusing but you can upload several hundred images in a zipped file for only $35 USD.

And sadly, I will soon be watermarking my blog images. Hopefully with something that isn’t too distracting.

This posting is not meant as a personal attack on anyone, but merely publicly setting the record straight. Turner put my character as a photographer and as a journalist into questionable light. Please let this serve as a warning to all photographers. You have to protect your images.

We live in a world where the dishonest and disloyal people ruin openness for everyone else. This will be the last time that I let my professional guard down around anyone, even a friend.

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5 Responses to “Copyright Infringement”

  1. This sucks for you. Really. When you get screwed over by someone, it’s such a waste of valuable time to undo the damage done. It also leaves you feeling sick inside. I can understand this, even though something this horrible has never happened to me.

    Thanks for sharing this story. I’ll be passing it around to my photographer friends. And I do believe in watermarking photos on the Web — ever since I received an online “postcard” from a stranger using one of my images and another image was reproduced on someone else’s Web site without my permission. Even when people “innocently” violate our copyrights, it hurts.

    Best of luck getting this jerk’s name off your work.

  2. […] Copyright Infringement – A photographer horror story. Stolen images on a trip to Burma. Protect your work! On Luceo Images. […]

  3. […] Every photographer should read this: copyright infringement […]

  4. plagiarismtoday Says:

    I know that I am late to this but with the holidays this was the first good chance I’ve had to respond.

    First off, I am very sorry that this happened to you. Having been ripped off by friends in my writing career, I understand what you are going through. It’s bad enough to be ripped off but to be take for a ride by someone you trusted is always worse.

    You did the right thing by registering your work and you should talk with an attorney about filing a suit if you can. That would be a decision between the two of you, but considering the way he is using the work, it may be worthwhile, especially since you have good proof.

    Unfortunately, these situations do have a tendency to get very ugly very fast. You don’t want this to engulf your career and your name so move with caution, listen to your lawyer and be smart about what you do. You should be fine.

    Best of luck with this and keep everyone posted!

  5. […] Copyright Infringement – A photographer horror story. Stolen images on a trip to Burma. Protect your work! On Luceo Images. […]

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