This story has certainly been a huge point of discussion in the photographic community. I’ve watched comments roll in and the range of opinions is quite stark. Some people have been much more forgiving of Meagan Kunert with regard to her actions, even agreeing to continue to use her for their weddings while others have been extremely critical, going so far as to say she should be criminally prosecuted (if that is possible).
Gary Fong weighed in and his remarks are quite interesting:
Hey this is really serious business. If you don’t assert your rights, then someone else can assert that you’ve abandoned your mark. I had to go through this nine years ago – we had a FEDERAL JURY TRIAL. A photographer took my name, and used my image on the internet. We sued, and the jury awarded me $240,000. Just google, “gary fong teresa halton trial” or
Did I get paid? Yes. The day of the order, I got a check from her insurance company. Had she not been insured, we could’ve taken her house and seized her income.
He also wrote:
Hey if any of the affected photographers are interested, please feel free to contact Ed Schwartz (email@example.com). He specializes in this type of thing and he was my lawyer in our successful federal lawsuit over the same thing. He is really passionate about this kind of theft, and if the photographers band together (called a multi-plaintiff lawsuit) the cost wouldn’t be too super high. To the photographers, you don’t know how much your reputation has been damaged yet, and having a court decision to publish is a great way to show those in the future not to try it. After all is said and done, if you just let this one go – it’ll happen again, and you won’t have much of a claim in the next lawsuit because you acquiesced this time, so you’re showing the world you don’t really care.
Strong words to be sure. At first, I thought a heartfelt apology might be good enough.
But I think Gary may be right. As I said in my previous post, this kind of thing hurts everybody because it causes trust issues with potential clients, particularly if you’re an unknown photographer. If I’m an art director and want to hire Zack Arias, I’m confident in two things:
A. The work he has posted on his website is his
B. Because of A, I’m not hesitant to hire him
It’s the lack of trust in my view, that sends people to cheap studios like Sears and JC Penney for family portraits. At least there, the customer knows what they’re going to get (even if it sucks).
So there are a few things to consider:
- Protect your work – I’m my own worst critic so I don’t watermark my images because I think, “Nobody is going to take my stuff.” And that may be true. There are thousands of websites with great photos that people can steal. But it can happen. And as photographers we’re in a position where we may have to start placing our watermark in areas where it cannot be cropped or using a faded watermark over the entire image.
- Have somebody you trust help you to be accountable – The temptation to make big bucks making photographs is out there. My friend and neighbor, Daniel Stancil is an amazing wedding photographer. His wedding packages start at $2600 and go up to nearly $6000. Some wedding photographers charge upwards of $20,000 for their services. Money has a way of making people do things they normally would not do. Trust me. I speak from personal experience on this front. If you want more details, feel free to contact me (it has nothing to do with photography but money overall). Having somebody that can hold you accountable will keep you from making those poor decisions. Meagan’s husband was apparently, completely unaware of what she was doing.
- Don’t take shortcuts – No photographer you have ever heard of has not worked hard at improving their craft. Contrary to what so many people say, photography is art. It takes skill and lots of practice to be good at it. Yes, some will be more naturally gifted than others for a variety of reasons. But that is not the case for most of us. Look at the work you did 4-5 years ago compared to what you’re doing today. Is it better? Chances are, it is. That didn’t just happen.
- Be willing to help newer photographers – If there is anything I cannot stand, it is the refusal of pros or people with long experience being unwilling to offer assistance to somebody just getting into the field. If you think a new photographer is a threat to your business and livelihood, that is a reflection of you, not the person looking for some mentoring. New photographers turned away by potential mentors and being told, “It will cost you $1000 to learn from me” (I am not bashing workshops, but some people are asking for money for just about everything these days) may be the ones who look for those shortcuts I warned about.
What do you think about a lawsuit and what would you add to the list I provided?