Dear Famous People: Stealing is Wrong (and Illegal)

2-Layer-Vegan-Chocolate-Cake-10The thing that makes the internet great is our ability to instantaneously share work, ideas, concepts and ultimately, to inspire each other.

The thing that makes the internet not-so-great is the person who would rather take the easy road and use the things other people create and position them as his/her own. The internet makes it exceptionally easy for this person.

I’m sharing this more personal post with you all today because Aaron and I recently had a very wealthy, very famous person take our photo and post it on her Instagram account with a link back to her website for the recipe. Reposting our photos happens all of the time, but this instance was particularly upsetting because I then saw that she was using our photo on her website to represent a non-vegan recipe from someone else’s cookbook. She never contacted me to ask to use our photo, and I never gave her permission to use it.

DEAR FAMOUS PEOPLE: STEALING IS WRONG (AND ILLEGAL) | picklesnhoney.com

DEAR FAMOUS PEOPLE: STEALING IS WRONG (AND ILLEGAL) | picklesnhoney.com

Copyright Infringement, according to Wikipedia is:

…the use of works protected by copyright law without permission, infringing certain exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform the protected work, or to make derivative works.

I feel like this is worth calling out because it’s often treated as a wishy-washy area when it’s quite straightforward:

Photo credit is not a substitute for permission, nor does it replace monetary compensation

Even if someone does the bare minimum and gives credit, that person is still benefitting from sharing the content someone else worked hard to create.

For a long time, I thought that this behavior was limited to content scraping, spammy websites. Sadly, it’s not. It’s also people with big names, lots of money and resources, who talk about #girlpower as they deny their fellow women fair payment for their works. This is a problem that’s becoming more and more pervasive because it’s easy to take content that isn’t theirs. It’s easy to appropriate it however they want. And it’s easy to disregard the time, money, effort, skill, and education of the person who created the original content.

What People Mean When They Offer You Exposure

What these people with big names are telling us when they “pay us with exposure” is that while they don’t value our work enough to pay for it with money, they’re offering us “opportunity” to make the next person pay more than they themselves should have paid us this time because we’ll get a little sprinkling of their fame dust.

Stealing In The Real World

I want to take this offline and into the real world for a moment, because I think it’s an important comparison:

Let’s say you have a one-of-a-kind painting that you made hanging in your living room. Someone comes to your house and takes your painting and makes a bunch of copies with it and then puts it back in your living room. You still have your painting, but now this person who mass-produced copies is selling them and making money. They’re giving you credit as the original artist, but they’re still making money off of your work without your permission, and they’re making more money than you are (because you’re not making people pay to view your painting). Are you any less taken advantage of just because they’re giving you “credit”?

Stealing Is Okay (As Long as You’re Famous)

People get away with this because we, largely, allow it. We allow it because most of the time we don’t know it’s someone else’s work or we don’t know they didn’t give permission to have it reposted. And when we do know, we often accept it as okay because we think that we, the original content creators, are getting significant enough value for our work because someone more popular or famous reposted it. That’s just not true.

The Real Value of Exposure

Realistically, the way that online advertising works today, Aaron and I would need to see hundreds of thousands of new visitors to Pickles & Honey in order to get “paid by exposure”. I only just recently brought back display advertising to help cover our expenses and we’re averaging around $2/1,000 impressions (yep, it’s that low). If fair market value is $500 for our photo and recipe, we would need 250,000 additional impressions on Pickles & Honey to make the “exposure” fair payment for our work.

Needless to say, unless the New York Times is asking to share our photo on their homepage with a link back to our blog to get the recipe, we’ll never get paid for our content via exposure.

What We Can Do About It

We’re never going to stop the stealing, but there have got to be some things we can do to head it off. Here are a few of our thoughts:

  • Educate people. Perhaps because blogs don’t require a subscription fee, quite a few people honestly don’t think of copying and pasting a photo or recipe as stealing. Recipe ingredients can technically be copied and pasted (though that doesn’t make it any less shitty!), but instructions are protected under copyright law, as are photos. The person who presses the camera shutter owns the copyright, which means Aaron owns the copyright for all Pickles & Honey photos.
  • Post an example on our blogs of what giving proper credit looks like (we plan to add this) for those times when we do give permission to repost a photo.
  • Band together to call people out when they’re blatantly stealing.  Aaron and I lost half a day trying to get Ivanka Trump to take down our stolen content, but it wasn’t until you all started leaving her comments that her team listened. Even though she has 650k Instagram followers and we have 3k, we were able to make some noise as a community. P.S. THANK YOU.

There’s a Person on the Other End of That Content

Just as someone wouldn’t steal an apple from the grocery store and post a photo of it on Instagram as “payment in the form of exposure”, we need to get to a point where it’s also considered wrong and reputation-damaging for a person/brand/publication to lift content from someone else’s website, tag the creator, and use it as their own. There’s a person on the other end of that “free” content.

Thanks for reading. We would really love to hear your thoughts and get a conversation going.

-Amanda & Aaron

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  1. When I saw you post about this…seriously…omg. So sad and ridiculous that someone you’d think would be following LAWS, does not. So sorry you had to have this happen :/

    1. Amanda says

      Thanks, Rebecca. It’s disappointing for sure, and it’s happening on a big scale–whether it’s because people are ignorant (and really, there’s no excuse for that) or intentionally ripping off other content creators because they can. I’m betting that 90%+ of the content on Ivanka Trump.com is stolen. We for sure weren’t the only people being taken advantage of, and sadly, I highly doubt we’ll be the last. But if we keep calling people out when they do this, I’m hopeful we can make some progress.

  2. Ricki says

    Thank you for summing this up so eloquently. This is an issue that drives me INSANE. So many people belive that “giving credit” is enough to use SOMEONE ELSE’S WORK. No, no, no!! Would they ever go on stage and sing a famous song and pretend they had written it? Would they ever reprint an entire novel and put their name to it? Would they sell an iPhone and tell people they had invented it? Of course not–because they’d have the pants sued off them. But when it comes to internet content, people don’t hesitate to steal–and they don’t consider it stealing. They need to be educated to know that not only is it stealing, it’s punishable by law. You have a great (and obvious) case here with no shades of grey, as far as I can tell. She stole your photo without asking and without paying you. This should be an easy one for any lawyer. 😉 So sorry this happened to you! I do hope you have already reported it to instagram?

    1. Amanda says

      Thank you for the very thoughtful comment, Ricki. Your example about reprinting an entire novel is EXACTLY what Aaron and I were talking about. It would be like someone copying the novel, putting their name on the front cover, and then in tiny print on the last page of the book saying “by [Original Author]”. And then telling the original author, “but I gave you credit!”.

      Thanks to some very awesome P&H readers making noise and Aaron’s numerous emails to Ivanka Trump.com’s PR department (because her contact email bounced back), we got an email from the Editorial Director last night saying they removed our photos and apologizing for the way it was handled. It’s something, but that site is so clearly stealing most of their content, and it doesn’t change the fact that hundreds of thousands of Ivanka’s followers saw our photo and now attribute it to her. We’ll never get that back.

      1. Ricki says

        Glad you got them to take it down. But seriously, they should be charged (either legally or monetarily). Why not send her an invoice? (heh heh).

  3. Ricki says

    Oh, forgot to ask: how did you find out? (And I notice she credits the cookbook when she posted the recipe on her site. . . ).

    1. Amanda says

      She actually tagged me on Instagram, as if I’d be thankful? I don’t know. I think they honestly thought they could steal and make it right by giving credit. What I can’t wrap my head around is then using our photo to represent another author’s (completely different, non-vegan) recipe. That’s dishonest no matter how you slice it.

      1. I’m so sorry this happened to you, Amanda & Aaron. Honestly, as most bloggers here would say too, it’s been happening to me and so many I know waaaaay too much lately and it’s just so crappy. And as somoneoe else said in the comments, the worst part (besides the fact that you’ve just lost a lot of opportunities and someone else totally gained from your hard work instead), is the whole blame the victim thing when you attempt to do something about it. I can’t even tell you how many times I got told off as “it’s people like you trying to own the world” and “relax, we’re sending you traffic. You should be paying US” bit when all I asked for is for that person to remove MY photo and/ or recipe…

        Moreover the dishonesty you encounter is just unreal. Like I mentioned to you on fb, a very famous and well-regarded brand recently ripped off my photos and recipe and explicitly stated that recipe was made using their product. That’s probably as low as you can get in my books. Makes you wonder about their whole product — what else are they lying about?! Can they be as ethical & fair-trade as they claim to be when they’re ripping other people’s work left, right, and center?

        And likewise, this Ivanka Trump thing is just such bs. That caption — “still dreaming about this cake I made” & “photo by @picklesandhoney” — I can’t even… Makes it sound Aaron came over and took this photo of a cake Ivanka made in her kitchen or what?! There’s just so much deception in all of it. I’m sure they gave you some kind of false apology and excuse, but deep down you just know they could have cared less so long as they got away with it…

      2. Aaron Scott says

        Hi Audrey,

        When you said:

        “I can’t even tell you how many times I got told off as “it’s people like you trying to own the world” and “relax, we’re sending you traffic. You should be paying US” bit when all I asked for is for that person to remove MY photo and/ or recipe…”

        … I totally felt for you. That’s THE WORST thing someone could say and I totally lost my mind for a minute there after reading it.

        Further below in the comments Janet mentioned sending an invoice to the thieves and Amanda added that pairing that with some “pay up or you’l hear from my lawyer” language might do the trick. We’re going to give it a try the next time this happens. If nothing else it will at least head off any “just relax” responses from the degenerates since money and lawyers will be involved.

  4. Cara says

    This has been a real source of anger for me lately. I get tired of educating brands that this concept of exposure for free content used to work 2+ years ago but is irrelevant these days, not to mention that it’s just absurd to expect someone to work hard while you benefit from it. It’s also hard to keep up with Instagram photos of those completely ripping me off and not giving me credit at all. I know for the most part people just play the ignorant card and are nice to oblige to give proper credit but for reals?! You actually thought it was okay to TAKE someone’s photo, paste it onto your account and behave as if it were yours? OR take my art projects, do it yourself and never cite where the original idea even came from? I’m sorry, I’m ranting but it’s so disheartening at times. I work HARD for what I do and then when someone comes along and rips me off, it gets tiring to stay positive. And tiring when people are like, “Relax, it’s no big deal. This is the problem with putting work online.” There is no excuse. The end.

    1. Cadry says

      “And tiring when people are like, ‘Relax, it’s no big deal. This is the problem with putting work online.’ There is no excuse. The end.”

      This. It feels so “blame the victim” when people say things like that. They are basically saying, “It’s your fault for putting your work online.” Just because people CAN take things, doesn’t mean they should, and it doesn’t mean it’s right. Stealing is stealing – whether it’s online or not.

      1. Amanda says

        I’m so happy you mention this “blame the victim” thing that is a HUGE part of the problem. One person on IG told us “If you’re a blogger then you should be in clouds for the free exposure she is actually giving you and be thankful. She could take any random picture instead of yours and she was decent enough to give you credits!!!” <-- THAT is MESSED UP! On every level.

      2. Cadry says

        So messed up! I bet that person is also telling her daughter that the boy who pulls her pigtails is doing it because he “likes” her. As “flattering” as it is for someone to wrong me, I’d rather not be complimented…

    2. Amanda says

      YES. So many brands want work in exchange for exposure. It’s extremely difficult to make money because of this expectation (at least for us). When I send brands my pricing, I’ve started breaking it out into line items so they can actually see how much time each task takes, and then when they balk at the price (“you mean you won’t give me 8 hours of your time in exchange for 20 new FB likes?”), I give them the option to cut certain line items (1 photo instead of 3, etc). It’s rough though because there are so many bloggers giving their work away for free.

      I can only imagine how often you’re seeing people take your art projects and not cite where they got the idea. That’s an even trickier thing to have to watch out for. Sigh.

  5. Caitlin says

    I’m so sorry this happened to you. There are so many levels of wrong with what happened. You have a case for sure if you were to pursue it. It’s so unfortunate that this happens so often.

    1. Amanda says

      Thanks, Caitlin. <3

  6. I can not believe how incredibly professional you and Aaron are.
    I’ve been reading and following your blog for a long time now and you
    never cease to amaze me.
    I am so very proud of you, although I didn’t do anything ha,ha.
    I know it’s a touchy subject but your article needs to be shared with the blogging
    community. Many of us probably dream of having someone like Ivanka Trump
    stealing our picture, but there are many more successful “power’ women out there
    doing the same thing. Building their empires on the backs of other hard working people.
    The comment about her quoting ‘Girl power” makes me sick to my stomach and yes,
    I strongly believe that what happened directly reflects on her character. You can’t just
    show up and steal an idea or opinion, it’s earned.
    I’m not sure how but if you need any help let me know, you have my full support.
    Kellie from Princess and the Yard Ape

    1. Amanda says

      Kellie, let me first say that I’m so thankful to have you as a reader.

      What you said here– “Many of us probably dream of having someone like Ivanka Trump stealing our picture” –it’s a disordered sentiment and yet I know exactly where it’s coming from. This idea of being “big enough” to have someone famous/popular even see our work and think it was good enough to steal. I even joked about this to Aaron last night, like “Hey, silver lining! Our photo was worth stealing!” And that right there is why so many hard-working, talented creatives are giving a pass when it happens to them. That little fleeting ego boost is NOT worth perpetuating the stealing cycle though. It shouldn’t matter who is doing the stealing–it’s unequivocally wrong AND illegal!

      I would LOVE to have this type of discussion circulate around the blogging world! Share this post, talk about it with your blog friends…however it happens, let’s just get a conversation going and raise awareness. We need to come together to create change.

      1. Dear Amanda,

        Someone shared this post and that’s how I’m learning about what happened to you. It has probably happened to most of us bloggers actually, and not in all cases are we lucky enough to find the culprit as you did. And what’s even more impressive is that you won the battle against someone so ‘big’.

        I find anyone who steals appalling. But in the case of Ivanka it’s almost even worse. They are a large money-making business and you would think they would be wiser about a decision like this. The proper (and legal) etiquette would’ve been to have you do a guest post for example… but it just shows the ethics behind Ivanka’s company is zilch sadly.

        I’m glad you’re exposing this problem, and in this case the perpetrator as well. I’m going to share…

        Debra xx

      2. Amanda says

        Thanks for commenting, Debra! I’m so glad you found my post and are going to share it.

        I found this instance particularly appalling too, and for the reasons you noted: I’d be hard-pressed to think of anyone who is more in a position to be able to pay for the content she’s sharing, or create her own. Her whole brand is #womenwhowork which makes it even more despicable.

  7. 🙁 I baked some fiberglass cakes last year…shared all over the place…and getting a plaque put on my display or any of the artist displays to appropriately credit their hard work was just too much for some people even after they made money on the images.

    1. Amanda says

      I’m sorry to hear this happened with your art, Katherine. That’s wrong and so very self-centered of the people who made money off your art.

  8. A note on copyright: The artist who created the public artwork is the owner of the copyright. The photographer is making derivative copies. For example:

    Cardinal Cake, © 2014 Katherine Nelson Art

    1. Amanda says

      Yes, that’s a great clarification.

  9. I found this story completely appalling and sorry you had to experience. Imagine if she hadn’t tagged you, then no one would have been the wiser.
    Not sure if this is helpful, but the photographer I used for my wedding has his shots duplicated without payment as well. When he finds out, he sends them an invoice. Depending on who stole his images, sometimes they pay him. I think it would be worthwhile considering even after the photos were removed.

    1. Amanda says

      I think your wedding photographer’s practice of sending in invoice is really smart. This is how Aaron and I will likely handle these situations moving forward. A reasonable invoice, a penalty fee, and wording around hearing from our lawyer if it’s not paid.

      You bring up a great point about removing the option for them to simply take down the stolen content and consider it all good. That logic would never hold up if someone stole your car but put it back the next day.

  10. lisa says

    bravo for the post and for exposing ivanka trump. she should be mortified that she posted a picture of a cake she claims to have made that is a flat out lie. and even though she tagged you she is saying she made it as if the photo was hers and her cake. the whole thing is twisted.

    1. Amanda says

      Thanks, Lisa. It really is twisted. Almost like Ivanka was in her kitchen baking a chocolate cake and Aaron was there photographing it. [insert biggest eye roll ever]

  11. Amanda says

    Adding this in case it’s helpful to anyone: I learned from the Finding Vegan Bloggers FB group (awesome group, btw!) about the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), and Kathy, who founded Finding Vegan, shared this template that can be used to submit a copyright claim:

    VIA Email at ____ [at] ____.com

    Re: Copyright Claim

    To the ISP Hosting Company / ____:

    I am the copyright owner of the photographs and written content being infringed at:
    [link]

    my original work is found on my copyrighted site at:
    [link]

    This letter is official notification under the provisions of Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) to effect removal of the above-reported infringements. I request that you immediately issue a cancellation message as specified in RFC 1036 for the specified postings and prevent the infringer, who is identified by its Web address, from posting the infringing photographs to your servers in the future. Please be advised that law requires you, as a service provider, to “expeditiously remove or disable access to” the infringing content upon receiving this notice. Noncompliance may result in a loss of immunity for liability under the DMCA.

    I have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of here is not authorized by me, the copyright holder, or the law. The information provided here is accurate to the best of my knowledge. I swear under penalty of perjury that I am the copyright holder.

    Please send me at the address noted below a prompt response indicating the actions you have taken to resolve this matter.

    Sincerely,
    /s/ your name
    Email: your email

  12. Isabella says

    A fantastic post, you make it so clear and explain so well the struggles that many bloggers go through having worked so hard on a post, then having to stop it being stolen! Appalling when its celebrities and brands doing it. I hope you managed to have the stolen content removed.

    1. Amanda says

      Thank you, Isabella! We were able to have our stolen photos taken down towards the end of the day, thanks in large part to our very awesome readers. <3

  13. erin says

    Amanda,

    Thanks for posting about this! In addition to being helpful, it reminds us that we’re not alone, and we can and should support each other when it happens! I would like to add that to gather “facts” and build a case, a blogger should always:

    1. Take a screenshot of the stolen material
    2. Right-click on the image, then paste and save the url

    Just in case the offender decides to take it down. (which does not excuse the offense)

    Thanks again!
    Erin

    1. Amanda says

      We are so not alone on this. I’m betting bloggers whose content isn’t being stolen are the exception these days, sad as that is. Your advice on gathering “facts” is really smart–thanks for calling that out!

  14. Cris says

    I had never heard of Pickles & Honey until I was searching for a chocolate cake recipe and was directed to IT’s website. I don’t follow either of you, so no need to jump all over me, but she (or her people) have brought you more traffic and possibly more money. Stealing is wrong, but so is looking for your 15 minutes of fame by publicly calling out a famous woman.

    1. Aaron says

      Hi Cris,

      We’re glad that you found Pickles & Honey even if it was the result from Ivanka Trump’s theft of our content, and since your comment calls us out for “fame hunting,” I feel the need to address it here.

      You are right that stealing is wrong, but it also happens to be against the law, which is the part that we—as the creators of the stolen content—are most interested in. No one, regardless of their income level, is permitted to steal other people’s property. Full stop. We don’t get to steal from Ivanka Trump and she doesn’t get to steal from us.

      In addressing Ivanka Trump’s theft of our content we are left with two options: we can bring her to court, which is a very long and expensive process that we likely can’t afford to do considering her large bank account; or, we can call her out online to ensure that she removes our photo from her site. I think most people who don’t have similar financial resources to Ms. Trump would choose the same option.

      At this writing this particular blog post has generated ~34 comments, which should be a measure to you of just how famous we are as a result of this issue (not very). I’m sure I could think of more effective ways to gain 15 minutes of fame than trying to address the issue of content theft on our food blog.

      And lastly, while deliberately searching for 15 minutes of fame is not the best use of anyone’s time, it is hardly wrong or illegal. So, your attempt to make them comparable faults isn’t convincing.

      In this case, you seem to be blaming the victim, which is also not illegal, but is absolutely wrong.

    2. Amanda says

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment, Cris, and offer your thoughts. However, how would you know whether Ivanka Trump has brought us more traffic? According to our Google Analytics, the last few days of traffic are right on par with the previous week. Every single comment on this blog post is from bloggers and readers we’ve known for as long as 4 years, which is the duration of time P&H has existed. As for bringing us more money, our small amount of revenue from display advertising is also about the same week-over-week. We spent nearly a full day simply contacting Ivanka’s team directly to remove the stolen content–that’s actually time and money lost on our end.

      You also state that we’re looking for our 15 minutes of fame. Did you read this blog post in its entirety? If not, please do. If so, I’m sorry our purpose was not communicated more clearly. Stealing is a pervasive issue for bloggers (and arguably, all content creators), it’s wrong, illegal, and we, as bloggers, need to actively expose it, proactively head it off, and talk openly to educate others on how it negatively impacts us. Having a public discussion is the way to raise awareness.

  15. I am so right there with you on all of this (!!!) and am so sorry this happened you two! Such a bummer and let down. Thanks for laying out all the details on what the correct and incorrect ways to treat online content. Its so hard sometimes to keep track of it all and keep people in the know. High-fives you guys <3

    1. Amanda says

      Thanks, Jessie. <3 When I saw she tagged me on IG and I first read her comment, I actually thought Ivanka Trump made my cake and I was so excited. What a disappointment!

  16. Ania says

    So sorry to hear about this. It’s unbelievable. I can only imagine how stressful this situation must have been. So great that you guys stood up to it and this post is great, so well written and explains perfectly well why stealing images / content isn’t cool at all. It’s shocking to me how many regular people do not see anything wrong with it.

    1. Amanda says

      Thanks for the kind words, Ania. <3

  17. Toni says

    Thank you so much for having the courage to post this. Copyright is a huge issue with me. This is truly copyright infringement and needs to be publicized. I’m sorry this happened to you! I think you have done the right thing in exposing not only famous people but all those who make money off of the talent and gift of someone else. Kudos to you!

  18. You must be so frustrated! I will never bother with her website now I know it lacks all integrity. Absolutely shameful. I don’t understand how people can do this. My sister has a similar problem with this. she is an artist and does funky little doodles and graphics – people frequently steal them and use them on their own products 9Like t-shirts, website banners and business cards) with no credit to her as the artist. Its very disheartening because it leaves her feeling powerless and used. I have showed her your post which has helped her immensely in clarifying where she stands so thank you so much for starting a conversation around this. I am so sorry this has happened to you – you guys really work hard at your blog and you should be given all the credits and experience none of the stealing nonsense.

  19. Margarita says

    Hi Amanda,
    Thanks for sharing this with us. I am so sorry this happened to you and I perfectly understand the frustration when somebody steals your content. What you would never imagine is that someone like that would steal content from others!

    I only started blogging 6 months ago and I have already seen some of my pictures submitted to certain recipe websites by others without my permission, other bloggers using my content and photography (even if they add the link to my recipe) without asking me first, and some people using my pictures on twitter without giving me any credits … And that is only what I have seen, there may be plenty more that I have not even realized!
    I thank you very much for sharing the Finding Vegan example of copyright claim, unfortunately I will have to waste my time now writing such a claim as I just saw this morning another of my recipes stolen and published in a food recipes website without my permission 🙁

    1. I’m sorry you’re also dealing with this, Margarita. It’s extremely frustrating and it does take a lot of time sending cease and desists. One thing I also want to mention is that you can submit a copyright claim through social media–I’ve done this on Facebook and Instagram. The form is sort of a pain, but if the person who stole your content isn’t responding, these sites usually take the content down within a couple of days. I know that doesn’t make it right (you should be compensated for the use of your work, even if they did take it down), but at least it’s something.

      1. Margarita says

        Thanks Amanda. It is good to know!

        Keep up the good work!

  20. SM says

    Hello, I stumbled on your website while looking for a raw key lime pie. I wanted to say that your recipe turned our marvelously even after halving the recipe. This is my first time trying a raw pie. I am sorry you have to deal with this dishonest behavior. You have great work on this blog and your post addresses the issue very well. Please keep up your great work. I also didn’t know that Ivanka Trump baked or knew how to bake until I read your post. Best wishes.

    1. I’m glad the raw key lime pie turned out so well for you! Thanks for the very kind comment.

  21. Molly says

    At last! Someone who unertsdands! Thanks for posting!

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