July 21, 2015

Daniel Foster

What to do when ISIS steals your photo

Photo: Brian McCarty

Brian McCarty is best known for his War Toys Project, a photo essay exploring war from the perspective of the children who face it every day. Brian shot the photo on the top-left in Gaza in 2012 just before Operation Pillar of Defense. Last week, Brian emailed us to let us know that Pixsy's reverse image search had found his photo-manipulated and posted by ISIS on Twitter. Without credit and bearing the caption "Crusaders under bombardment." This clearly isn't how Brian intended his work to be used. Dealing with the typical case of photo theft is one thing, but what do you do when the world's largest terrorist group rips off your work?

"Yeah, we're not invoicing this"

To start off, we sent several DMCA takedowns on behalf of Brian to get the misappropriation removed from social media sites such as Twitter and Blogspot. These sites quickly responded to our requests and removed the photo. PIXSY can also send invoices and take legal action on behalf of our member photographers when their work is used without a license. With clear harm done to the photographer and a potential net worth of over $2 billion, the thugs at ISIS certainly have the means to compensate the photographer. As egregious as the infringement is, however, neither PIXSY nor the photographer can accept money from a terrorist group.

Photo: Brian McCarty

I spoke with a friend with a background in international law currently working at the United Nations. We agreed that while abhorrent, photo theft isn't quite at the top of the list of ISIS crimes. Any legal action taken would be symbolic in nature. And to be honest, we don't really like the idea of someone at ISIS headquarters getting their hand cut off for this.

Besides, any action taken through traditional channels would miss the point: Brian created War Toys to document the effects of war on children, not promote it. We decided to turn our attention to how we could turn this into a positive experience.

Brian conducts art-based interviews to set the stage for his photos. Photo: Brian McCarty

The positive impact of photography

Great photographs are defined by the messages they convey, and focusing only on the negative impact of ISIS's misappropriation would unnecessarily detract from Brian's message. Why give so much attention to ISIS when there is a much more important issue to consider: the powerful impact of Brian's photos and the situation on the ground where the works were created.

This is a great lesson that as photographers we should not always focus on the negative when our work is used without permission. To help turn this situation into something positive, we'd like to draw more attention to Brian's work and mission.

Here are three ways you can support Brian:

  1. Donate to the War-Toys project. Brian would like to continue his work, return to Gaza, and also travel to new conflict areas such as Ukraine, Colombia, and South Sudan.
  2. Check out Brian's book. His first print run has been very successful, and only 100 copies are still available.
  3. Follow Brian on Twitter. Let's show our support for fellow photographers.

Since Brian frequently travels to dangerous parts of the world and requires a safe environment to continue his work, we kindly ask that you do not Tweet at ISIS. The goal of War Toys is to document conflict, not create it.

Daniel Foster

As the entrepreneur and professional photographer who founded Pixsy in 2014. Daniel is an expert on topics relating to intellectual property and copyright law. Daniel is proud to have helped so many creatives in the fight against image theft.

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