by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
copyright, photographs, social mores


Groupon Photographer Caught Pretending Others' Photos Were Her Own... Group Pile On Fixes, Rather Than Copyright Law

from the well,-look-at-that dept

We recently wrote about how social mores can often handle situations of copying or lack of credit much more effectively than copyright law. In a perfect example of that happening, Chris Tolles points us to a long comment thread on a Groupon deal, where a bunch of photographers expose another photographer for claiming others' images were her own. Assuming you're one of the six or seven people in the world who still hasn't heard about Groupon, the group buying site offers special deals from local merchants each day, where the deals require a certain number of buyers before the deal kicks in.

Over in Atlanta, the deal for Wednesday was supposed to be a $65 1-hour photography session with a photographer named Dana Dawes. If you follow the comment thread on the deal, Dawes is quite responsive for the first few answers, working over time to answer any questions she can. Somewhere in the middle, however, someone notes that it appears that photographs on Dawes' website portfolio appear to be slightly edited versions of others' photographs (with a Dawes watermark added to them). Some of the photographs are traced back to their original photographer, and then the thread goes somewhat crazy, with lots of folks calling Dawes out, yelling at GroupOn for allowing this, and people demanding refunds. Dawes tries to defend herself for a while, but doesn't do a very good job -- sometimes claiming that she's taken photos in Europe (which is something of a non sequitur) and then later trying to blame a webmaster for causing the problem (though, others point out that the same photos appear on her Facebook page as well).

Eventually, Groupon closed down the deal and refunded everyone's money, which makes sense.

But, of course, what struck me most was, yet again, how the group dynamics and social mores solved this issue in the course of just a couple of hours. Many photographers can be notoriously pro-copyright (and, frankly, when I've discussed photography issues, pro-stronger copyright photographers have often been the most... aggressive in angrily commenting here on Techdirt) and there are a few "that's copyright infringement!" claims in the thread from photographers. And while it's true that some of these may be copyright infringement, the bigger issue for most isn't the infringement, but the passing off of others' photographs as if they were Dawes' own. It's the difference between "plagiarism" and "infringement," to some extent. For example, say that Dawes had actually taken many of these photographs, but had assigned the copyright to others. In such a scenario, I would imagine most Groupon users wouldn't have been that offended if she posted such photos to her portfolio to demonstrate her work. Instead, the issue that gets people upset is the passing off of the photos as her own, which is separate from the copyright issue.

But, in the end, it wasn't copyright that fixed the situation, it was the overall social pressure of the group. In exposing what appears to have been a passing off of others' works, users quickly started demanding refunds, warning others, and alerting Groupon administrators to kill the deal and automatically issue refunds. And this wasn't a case of some hugely well-known photographer being copied either. In our last post, some insisted that social mores only work when the wronged party is well-known, ignoring just how much the internet will amplify the message of someone who has been wronged.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that such situations can backfire. You can certainly envision scenarios where social mores border on "mob rule" -- and pitchfork wielding mobs have certainly been known to make a mistake or two over the years. But at some point, people need to recognize that there are many other methods for dealing with these sorts of issues than immediately falling back on "copyright infringement!"

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