In Search of the Stolen Shot

Posted on June 23rd, by Danny Santos II in Articles, Tips. 72 comments

2 girls running in the rain by Danny Santos

A few days ago, I got an email from friend and blogger David Lee Tong saying someone just accused me of photo theft! On the comments section of his blog where he feature me in the past, this guy claimed I stole his friend’s photo – that of 2 girls running barefoot in the rain. He further stated that his friend has the original raw file to prove it, ending with the words “danny is a copycat.”

I was shocked beyond belief.

A million thoughts ran through my head. Who is doing this and why? How far are they willing to go with this accusation? How did they get a hold of the RAW file? How will this affect my cred as a photographer? I’ve worked 3 years to create a folio that I can be at least proud of… and the last thing I needed was a false allegation like this. Needless to say, I was an emotional mess.

But I gathered myself and started to plan how to handle this intelligently. I knew that the burden of proof lay on the accuser. When I challenged him on this, the best he could do was say “I know who took it, i know when and where it was taken… i know what was the “event” in Orchard on that day.. Forgodsake this photo is saved on two PCs in my home! i even had it as my office PC wallpaper during that time! It’s on my facebook page, my friendster page.. all because i love this shot which was taken by someone I know very well.” I was amazed how he seemed to really believe what he was saying.

I knew this wasn’t proof enough, so I gathered my own proof that I could slap in their faces. The photo in question was taken from a series of consecutive frames. As you can see below, the marked frame was the photo I went with. These are unprocessed and cropped for a closer look.

Contacts of 2 girls running barefoot by Danny Santos

Even if they had the RAW file, I highly doubt they had these ‘before and after’ frames because I’ve never released this anywhere on the net before. When I posted this as my proof, the accuser lay silent.

Still restless, I needed to know who these guys were and get proper closure to the issue. Otherwise, it could still be a disaster waiting to happen. The accuser claims his friend took the shot. So his friend probably has it somewhere up on the net. I put on my thinking cap in search of my stolen photo. Using the accuser’s semi-pseudonym as a starting point, I googled my way from one Flickr site to another, surfing through blogs, portfolio sites, and Facebook pages. In a matter of minutes, I’ve made a game-changing discovery. I eventually honed in on one of the accuser’s friends, who happened to be a photography hobbyist. While quickly scanning through her Facebook page, I came across a peculiar album. It was named… wait for it… “stolen shots!”

I thought: wouldn’t it be funny if I uncovered my photo in THIS album?

I did… and it was.

What an apt name :)

In addition to her Facebook page, the suspect also posted the photo on her portfolio site in the Aminus3 online community. In both sites, she masqueraded my photo as one of her own, receiving comments and praises for MY WORK. But wait… there’s more. With the beauty of Google and Tineye, and the acumen of David and my girlfriend Kathleen, we’ve further uncovered that 2 other photos in the album were stolen as well, from 2 different Flickr accounts! We’ve found a pattern. The perpetrator is busted.

I sent her a message to stop claiming the photo as hers because “you know as well as I do that you DID NOT take that photograph.” She responded back saying she actually took that photograph… that we probably captured the same shot at the same time. I shook my head in disbelief. How can 2 people take the exact same shot at the exact same time… and process it exactly the same way?? I continued to convince her to come clean so we can end this dispute. During this time, she deleted her “stolen shots!” album in Facebook as well as her portfolio site in Animus3. Good thing I took screenshots of everything… just for safe-keeping :)

Eventually, she came clean and issued a public apology.

In the end, it was a simple case of a girl wanting to impress her peers by nonchalantly stealing other people’s work… and the boy fighting for the girl’s rights without knowing any better. It was an exhausting couple of days for me. Somebody stole my photo and called me a copycat. What a weird experience.

Throughout this ordeal, I’m reminded of a couple of things:

1) Never delete your RAW files… even the crappy ones.
2) Google is your best friend.
3) Taking credit for other people’s work will never work out for you.

72 thoughts on “In Search of the Stolen Shot

  1. Wow. Just unbelievable she even had a gallery called “Stolen shots”! This is most photogs worst nightmare. And to me, its more reinforcement to continue using a watermark. It might detract from the photo a bit. But idiots like this couldn’t pull off claiming its their work.
    Im glad you were able to google your way to victory. Im also glad you blogged about it to share the experience. Many will learn from this.

  2. Ahahahaha!!! The best story I have heard so far about pretentious photographers. Sleep easy now since in your heart of hearts you know that you made that photograph = ) Big fan of your work = )

  3. Very interesting article, I would add a fourth point, which is “having a personal blog related to your portfolio where you can express yourself”.
    I only have a flickr and no place of expression in case of “robbery”

    That said, adding a watermark or a small stamp with your name on the picture might be useful before unleashing pictures on the www.

    Keep on the good work Danny, i won’t stole any of your pictures ever, but i might use the feeling you have for street shots as an inspiration :)

  4. Good for you! I would have been fuming!! I knew it though~ I said on your comment area when you posted the RAW that it was probably a guy who was defending a girl but he didn’t realize she had actually stolen the photo and she was making it seem like she actually photographed it.

    I’m happy it ended well for you

  5. Oh My! quite an experience! fortunatelly everything is now fine, unfortunatelly, people like this girl are over the whole world, don´t ever let these kind of experiences separate you from what you do, i love your work, you have had inspired me in my shoots and all the new proyects I have now in mind.
    Remember that good things happend to good people!
    take care ;)

  6. she captured the shot at the same time and at the same place as yours… wow… lol… couldn’t help but laugh…

  7. I’m glad it endend well for you.
    I always thought real piracy, the worst one, was taking credit for someone else’s work and not just spreading and sharing without authorisation.
    Not the very first time i hear that kind of story, but i’m still happy for you and your safe authorship :)

  8. hey man, glad you got that all sorted out and can relax a little. Cant believe someone would stoop so low but then again the way the world is these days it doesnt suprise me too much..

    I would send the details you found over to 4-chan and let them sort it out :p

    only joking, kharma smiles well upon the honest. wich is why you got a good result. You handled this like a champ!

  9. Great story! A couple of points:

    Saving your RAW files is good, if you’ve got that kind of storage. I’ve got a 2 TB raid5 array for my photos, and even that will fill if I save all my RAW files.

    Another tip is to use steganography software in order embed your copyright information INTO your pictures. Steganography can take the lowest-order bits in an image and shift them one binary value, e.g. shifting color #FFA to #FFB, to embed information within the image in a manner that’s invisible to the naked eye. Then if someone uses your image, even if they flop it or crop it, that information is still in there (depending on the software and the degree of photo processing – eventually it CAN be destroyed, but by then the photo may be significantly altered.)

    It’s not perfect, nothing is, but in this case it would have been fun to say “Odd, when I run YOUR picture through this steganography software, why, my name appears in it!”

  10. Really a shock to me also, Danny…

    You’re not alone coz it happened to me many times… but never I was called a ‘copycat’ of my own photo… that’s the worse accusation and really a nightmare!

    One of the photographer who stole my photo was from US who even posted it in her port as her own photo… she put her own watermark on my photo but… but… she forgot to remove my watermark which is still visible in naked eyes! So, I emailed her and asked her to remove that photo in her site… and was told that there’s a mixed up of photos (coz I was told by other photographers that she always stole from other photogs’ photos).. she eventually removed the photo… otherwise, she will slap with copyright infringement…

  11. Wow… un-fricking-believable. Where is the satisfaction in praise for something that truly isn’t yours.

    Well, at least now it is all sorted you can look back at it and just be flattered.

    Great advice on keeping all raw files too.

  12. Danny, I really appreciate your work and and I like the way you handled the whole situation. The sad news is, this is the price you’ll be paying for being famous. As you see, because of some teenage boy’s and girl’s stupidity you vere deeply shocked, you may have seen your career in ruins and it took a lot of your time, energy and skill to recover.

    I am not saying you shouldn’t defend yourself. You just have to get used to it, because such things happen, but you better don’t take it too seriously. As once stated in @shitmydadsays on twitter: ‘Don’t focus on the one guy who hates you. You don’t go to the park and set your picnic down next to the only pile of dog shit.’ I wish you peace.

  13. Wow Danny, I don’t know if I could have handled myself in quite as calm and professional a manner as you did. You did really well and I’m glad it’s all sorted. It’s just a shame that you hear about this sort of thing so often. I follow lots of photographers on twitter and it seems like every day one of them is complaining about exactly the same thing.

    I guess I’m lucky that it won’t ever happen to me – I’m far too rubbish to have people want to steal my shots :)

  14. i would`ve been shocked too but after that its quite a relief to see how stupid they were…a public album called “Stolen Shots” !

  15. Congrats on tracking her down and getting her to admit her guilt! I had something similar happen a while back, photos I took in 2007 used on a ‘Professional Photographers’ myspace page to promote their own work. When confronted they denied they were using my images to promote themselves and said they just put them up there becuase they liked them! Anyway, they made all their online pages private since and maybe they are still using them but 1) they were frtom 2007 and I feel I have moved on since then and 2) what’s the point of a ‘Professional’ photographers homepage being private ;)

  16. You guys wouldn’t believe how calm Danny was especially when addressing the perpetrator… I would’ve brought the roof down and slammed both the accuser and the thief endlessly LOL…

    The funny thing still is, if you check out the comments in my interview with Danny (site link, scroll down to the comments), there are people who insist that ‘everyone’s happy’ after the apology and keeps insisting that the case is closed and it’s no big deal…

    You guys should’ve seen the praises and admiration the perpetrator received for those three stolen photos (yet not much on her own ‘real’ photos) – and how she accept and explain WHY those photos were great.

    With the bike bokeh photo that she stole, she even said it was taken with a Nikkor kit lens, when the DOF and bokeh pattern clearly shows otherwise.


    Dave Tong

  17. Happy to know u busted these people… The nerve of them but u have shown that u r above all that. :) U know your fans support u…

  18. Danny, congrats on figuring it all out. And more congrats for this public, dignified, forgiving and compassionate summary of it all. It’s valuable to read through the details and method you undertook, but equally valuable to be reminded how to approach these things with some humanity.

  19. I would notify Facebook and Flickr of her behavior. She is clearly violating their terms of service and should have her accounts revoked. If she’s not above stealing other peoples copyrighted works who knows what other disingenuous activities she’s up to.

  20. This is all too common of a story…I’m glad it worked out for you. But it doesn’t for everyone. You offer some great advice at the end of the article. But the takeaway is that this stuff does happen, and you can never be to careful. Fight your naive urges and realize that if you’re any good (and Danny certainly is), your stuff will one day be stolen. There’s no “if”…only a “when”.

    Meanwhile, Danny…this just so happens to be one of my absolute favorites of your shots.

  21. Congrats on tracking that poser down, Danny then shooting her down. David Tong (also a friend of mine) made us aware of this “crime” against you.

  22. Hey Danny,
    great that you managed to capture the person and she finally adimited it. But frankly speaking, how low can one go. This is totally absolutely disgusting. I totally understand how you feel.

    Cheers and god bless..
    Keep on taking great photos yeah :)

  23. Art is indeed brings envy to some. So hard that they have to do this, and claim its theirs and saying other people were the thief. Shameful. Can’t believe its a She who did this as well.

  24. Well done Danny. Its good that you pursued it to end. Unfortunately once you publish images online there is no way theft can be completely eliminated. I have so many cases that thefts are being done by not just young ignorant folks but also by large companies equally. Thats the bane of digital media.

  25. She is an admin of a “Photography” group called “Shifters”. Try to look it up on Facebook. I joined but they decided to remove and block me cause you know… I was looking for justice! LOL

    I get the feeling that they’re jealous of Danny. :D Someone actually posted “Di ko na idol si Danny, masyadong sikat na” (“Danny’s not my Idol anymore, he is too popular already”). Envious much? hahaha

    Filipino Crab Mentality.

  26. One of the worst things in this kind of stories is that these peoples are not “bad” people. There are just very stupid people looking for some self estime…

    Anyway, I search since a long time interesting (from my point of view) photo blog, I very like articles.

  27. OMG! That is such a shame, how could you be so proud displaying another photographers
    work as yours. I just can’t stop shaking my head, it just such a rotten thing to do.
    Thanks for posting the whole situation.

  28. something similar happened to me a few years back. checking the statistics of my website, I noticed a spike in traffic from a forum in South Africa. Curious to know what’s going on, I signed up for the forum and found the long thread linking to my site… hot-linked pictures, nonetheless!

    some dude claimed my work as his from a recent trip to NYC, but also, most of my images are watermarked!

    fortunately the forum owner understood my upset and cleaned up the situation by banning the thief from his forums and removed the thread with my pics.

    lessons learned:
    – always watermark your stuff for the web, even though it is somewhat distracting
    – check your website statistics often, you’d be surprised where traffic is coming from.

    thank you for sharing your investigation, Danny
    tineye is an excellent tool to find duplicate image content

    • @Markus: Thank you so much for dropping by, Markus. I’m a big fan of your NY work since I started shooting in the streets. And thanks for sharing your experience as well. It’s funny that your guy used hot-linked watermarked pictures! Can’t imagine how they expect to get away with it :)

      Anyway, thank you for the lessons learned. I still have my reservations about the watermarks, but I guess I really have to consider doing this. And I agree, checking your website statistics is definitely a must. I use Google Analytics and it’s a beauty.

  29. Definitely she’s not a photographer. A real photog appreciate others work of arts and never admit any work which are not theirs, such person will pay their price in the photographers communitities. So rest asure he/she will black listed !!!

  30. Pingback: SONGTSE'S LOOK! » New Blog Post: Someone stole my photo and called me a copycat

  31. Wow I can’t believe people like these two actually exist in this world. And after much reading on the subject, I just have come to realize, today, that people actually do steal other people’s photos and claim it as their own. As bad as being bold enough to submit stolen photos to enter photo competitions. Unbelievable.
    But Danny you’ve handled to whole thing very well and showed all of us of the correct action to be taken when confronted with similar situations.

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