Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Jam Studios' sticky fingers....

A few days ago I was contacted by a photographer in Glasgow, Scotland seeking representation. He provided a link to his website, so I went to take a look. The first thing that seemed odd was the number of spelling errors in the navigation links, titles and text, and the random use of apostrophes.

Looking through the website, the photographs showed a variety of different styles, but they ranged in quality from mediocre to excellent. From my experience, this seems very suspicious. If a photographer can produce excellent images, they know that their portfolio will be judged by the weakest images, so they will only promote their very best work.

Also, it was clear that a fair number of the images were stock photos, not personal work. Of course, many businesses use stock photos on their websites, but should a photographer who is promoting themselves as a wedding/portrait/event/corporate/architectural photographer be using stock images on their website? (unless they are their own images of course!)

To follow up on my suspicions, I turned to Google's Search By Image for help. This quickly showed that the headline 'Wedding Package' photo:

...is an award-winning image by photographer Joy Marie Smallwood:

The headline 'Photographic Training' image:

...is by Reuters photojournalist Toby Melville:

The headline 'Portraiture' image:

...is by Edinburgh photographer Jen Meiklejon:

...and the next image is by Chelmsford photographer Dan Rayner:

One of the 'Boudoir Portraits':

...is by Associated Press photojournalist Kevin Frayer:

...but I cannot trace the photographer for the other image, though it turns out it is of actress Mena Suvari and was published in UK Marie Claire magazine:

Could there be a reasonable explanation for all these different photographers' work appearing on Jam Studios' website? There is talk on the website about them representing different photographers worldwide, so it does seem possible. To make sure, I decided to try to contact the photographers I had managed to trace through their images.

Within 24 hours I got replies from four photographers stating that they know nothing about the Jam Studios website and that their images had been stolen.

There are a great many more images on the Jam Studios website:

...some of which I have managed to trace to the real photographer, such as Belize wedding photographers Conch Creative:

With other images:

...I have found alternative sources, but cannot find exactly who the real photographer is:

So, if someone knows 'Scott' (his now defunct website was called www.definitivepicture.co.uk) please let me know. Please do the same, if you know the photographer for any of these other images (you can click on each screenshot to see a larger version):

...as it seems likely that many (if not all) have been stolen from the original photographers.

Why would a 'professional' photographer do this? Someone who really has '33 years experience in the photography business' must know it is infringing another photographer's copyright to take their images and publish them on a commercial website without their permission. Claiming that those images were produced by you (or your 'studio') is even worse! If this photographer has so much experience, why doesn't he show his own images rather than stealing others?

From a potential customer's point of view this fraudulent behaviour is of major concern. Here is a 'professional photographic studio' soliciting paying clients to produce images for them, but many (if not all) of the images showcased on the website were not produced by that studio. When a customer pays good money for photographic work by this studio, what are the results going to be like, and are they going to have any resemblance to what they could expect from the website images?

With the massive increase in people claiming to be professional photographers in recent years, I have seen a lot of recent discussion in industry forums about the need for formal licensing for those calling themselves 'professionals'. While I think this is unlikely to happen (and don't even necessarily think it is a good idea) I think that fraudulent behaviour like this by people claiming to be 'professional photographers' does present a good argument for formal licensing or regulation.


  1. We'd like to thank Chris for doing such great research and tracking us down. We're the photographers in Belize. Jam Studios stole two of our images and altered one. Stealing intellectual property is a crime. Altering it for your own purpose without consent is also a crime. We did email with the gentleman who owns the studio and he became quite belligerent and defensive. He claimed we were trying to close down a 'competitor'. A competitor in Scotland??? Honestly. Thanks again for doing this Chris. Great job! Colette Kase, conch creative

  2. Ok so what is going be achieved here? We all know that images are stolen all the time on the Internet. This is actually a minor instance, not to denigrate it's importance of course. The problem for the copyright holder is what to do about it. What would happen with a proper copyright notice? Would you still go after the website? How much time do you want to spend in tracking down these instances ? Is there any possibility of return on your time spent? Is that website going to pay you? Probably not. There are far more instances available of institutionalised copyright infringement going on. I would draw your attention to the much frequented site Masters of Photography http://masters-of-photography.com/ where every single image has been stolen yet the copyright holders let it happen. The man who owns that site is equally belligerent. Also a wonderful site that again relies on theft is American Suburb http://www.americansuburbx.com/

    My answer to infringement? Go straight to the ISP and get the infringing content taken down. Don't even bother with website owner. The reason they stole your image in the first place is because they can't or won't pay.

  3. Hi Anonymous - not to go into the rights and wrongs of the image use on 'Masters of Photography' and 'American Suburb X', but on those websites at least the images are credited to the photographer. On the Jam Studios website, none of the images are credited to the real photographer, Jam Studios suggests that they are their own images, and they are trying to attract paid photographic work based on the impression that they are their own images.

    I think this is a major difference, not to suggest that what these other websites are doing is right either, I just think there are different levels of abuse, and the level of abuse at Jam Studios is far worse.

  4. Thank you to Chris for alerting me to the Jam Studio site, displaying my unauthorised photo.

    The ISP subject is interesting as EU law imposes 'third party liability' on ISPs for carrying illegal content (ie including copyright- infringing)- but most people wouldn't know about that, and it might not always be easy to identify the ISP. is it the web host? etc... there's all sorts of exceptions for ISPs which are 'mere conduits' and have no responsibility for content....

    Well done Chris & thank you again.
    Kind regards Jen Meiklejon

  5. no problem Jen. Regarding ISP liability, yes I believe the ISP is the hosting company. I think that if they take down material when requested by the creator then they are not liable. In this case the entire offending website was taken down soon after this image theft was publicised here.

  6. Maybe its the designer in me, but the header was enough to ring alarm bells for me. I'd have gone no further on that alone. Pretty disgraceful stuff though, I hope no unsuspecting clients of theirs actually fell for this.

  7. I'm a Press & PR photographer based in Glasgow, never heard of this con man. Business is hard enough without this sort of stuff going on. :-(


  8. Good Work Fairtrade exposing conmen like this is an absolute must, thanks for taking the time.
    Come on Anonymous surely you can see the difference between a photographer fansite like MoP or ASX where the photographers are being admired and one like this where a conman is trying to con people using other people's work? This example is just as bad as a holiday resort next to the municpal dump in Naples with the brochure showing a picture of the Amalfi coast