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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Filed Under: copyright, photographs, social mores
Companies: groupon


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  1. identicon
    Spaceboy, 16 Sep 2010 @ 7:57am

    So after reading through some of the comments on the Groupon website I find something very interesting. Some of the people claiming theft and copyright infringement took screenshots of the website in question and posted them on various photo websites. They did this in order to keep a record in case Dana Dawes deleted the images from her website, which she later did. So does that mean that the people that did so are also guilty of copyright infringement as well?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    John Doe, 16 Sep 2010 @ 8:03am

    The really cool thing is...

    What is really cool, is now when people search on this lady, stories like yours will pop up and warn people away. Proving once again that reputation is a scarce commodity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2010 @ 8:05am

    yes they are, they proved themselves to be no better, but they will feel "morally superior" so it makes it ok in their mind

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2010 @ 8:14am

    Re:

    The world is weird, when people documenting a wrong can find themselves being accused of doing wrong.

    You see if it was someone filming police beating some innocent guy would you say it was wrong even though in some places the law says so?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Ccomp5950 (profile), 16 Sep 2010 @ 8:14am

    Re:

    I'm sure there is a fair use rational for "Archiving" and "Collecting evidence".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    yogi, 16 Sep 2010 @ 8:16am

    Re: The really cool thing is...

    "reputation is a scarce commodity"

    Someone should frame this and nail it to the foreheads of the heads of the content industry and their lawyers as well.

    Well said JD.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Danny, 16 Sep 2010 @ 8:34am

    Re: Re: The really cool thing is...

    It wouldn't make any difference. Instead of learning the lesson and working on their reputation they would just sue you and get a ruling blocking you from speaking negatively about them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    chris (profile), 16 Sep 2010 @ 8:52am

    Re:

    So does that mean that the people that did so are also guilty of copyright infringement as well?

    no, anything you do in the interest of preventing theft of copyrighted materials is justifiable, up to and including theft and copyright infringement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    AJ, 16 Sep 2010 @ 8:57am

    Linked page gone?

    I wanted to read the treads but they were removed or the link is bad.....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2010 @ 9:07am

    ah google cache, so useful, that person sure got burned for trying that, wonder if its even her real name

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Tanya SHields, 16 Sep 2010 @ 9:10am

    I'm not well-known?!?!?

    I have to say I resemble this remark:

    "...and this wasn't a case of some hugely well-known photographer being copied either"....

    I'm quite famous in my own mind thank you very much ;)

    All kidding aside, it was AMAZING to see the speed with which this spread across the world.....my email blew up yesterday!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    interval (profile), 16 Sep 2010 @ 9:13am

    Re: Google to the rescue

    Its quite an interesting read. If you graph the shock and horrorific reaction of the thread participants over time its a smooth x+1 function. Kinda funny.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    AJ, 16 Sep 2010 @ 9:13am

    Re: Google to the rescue

    Thanks for the link! Was worth a good laugh to read it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2010 @ 9:13am

    "Assuming you're one of the six or seven people in the world who still hasn't heard about Groupon"

    WTF! I am one of them?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    theangryintern (profile), 16 Sep 2010 @ 9:25am

    Re:

    yep, I'm another one....I had no idea WTF Groupon was when I first started reading the article.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Almost Anonymous (profile), 16 Sep 2010 @ 10:07am

    Re:

    Same here. I've heard of woot, but not groupon. Sounds similar though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    weneedhelp (profile), 16 Sep 2010 @ 11:14am

    Groupon

    Sounds like a bad/good porno. Never heard of it either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Yogi, 16 Sep 2010 @ 1:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: The really cool thing is...

    Well, in that case, use 6 inch steel nails. Problem solved...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2010 @ 7:46am

    Re:

    No

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Contus, 28 Sep 2010 @ 5:17am

    Groupon

    I love Groupon.com too! So happy to see you giving it the props it deserves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2010 @ 1:07pm

    Re: Copyright Infringement

    No, it's not copyright infringement because of the fair and acceptable use rights in copyright law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    White spots on skin, 2 Sep 2011 @ 11:01am

    Thanks

    Your post is really good

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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