A Cautionary Tale

Do photography clubs and societies pay adequate attention to vetting the images submitted in to their competitions? Here’s an account of our recent experience that may give some clubs food for thought.

Like almost all other camera clubs in the L&CPU, Davyhulme Camera Club holds its own internal competitions throughout the year. Whilst it is in the club rules that any images submitted by members have to be their own work, in our club certainly, it is taken on trust that that is the case. Can we be sure though?

Evidently the answer to this is no! We recently discovered that one of our members had been trawling the internet, downloading images and fraudulently submitting them in to our competitions as their own. Aside from the betrayal of not only the trust that the club affords its members but also the trust of the whole photographic community, this obviously breaks copyright law, is illegal and leaves the fraudulent ‘author’ wide open to a copyright infringement claim. What some may not realise however is that their actions could also have serious repercussions for the club too, particularly if, like us, you put your competition winning images on the club website. In such a situation, the club, albeit unknowlingly, is also infringing copyright and consequently exposing itself to a legitimate claim.

When our member’s fraudulent activity came to light we did two things. Firstly, we had to apologise to the organisers of a local multi-club battle and very rapidly change some of our entries in to it, and secondly we had the forethought to try and remove all images submitted by said member from our website. Unfortunately we missed one hidden away in a blog post… but, and here’s the warning, Alamy didn’t! Apparently they routinely sweep the internet looking for instances of images belonging to their contributors and, when they find one, they check to see whether its use is appropriately licensed. Obviously, as we had no idea that the image had been stolen, we had no license and Alamy therefore, quite legitimately, opened a copyright infringement case against us – a case which could have cost the club £500. Fortunately for us, after removing the image, explaining the situation to Alamy and, we think crucially, reaching out to the rightful author of the image, offering a sincere apology and explaining the situation to her as well, both parties agreed to drop the case against the club. Thankfully they recognised that the club was almost as much a victim of the fraudulent activity as they’d been. With her knowledge and permission, Davyhulme Camera Club would therefore like to take this opportunity to say a public thank you to Tracey Whitefoot (https://www.whitefootphotography.com/), the actual author of the image in question, for her understanding and sympathy towards the club. Additionally, we should also say congratulations for unknowingly winning our 2023 Landscape competition! Alamy too should be commended for their part in discovering the unauthorised use of the image, advocating for their contributor, bringing the case in the first place and coping with the triangular communication between themselves, the author and ourselves. It was all dealt with very professionally and did offer some reassurance that, as a stock image company, they do actually represent their contributors effectively.

So where does this leave the club going forward? First off, it goes without saying that the member is now an ex-member. Secondly, in order to try and prevent a similar situation happening in the future, the competitions secretary will now have a much more onerous job. All images submitted in to club competitions, bar those recognised to have been taken at club events, will be subjected to a reverse image search on Google and if there is any doubt as to the authorship of an image it will be rejected. This will be added to the club rules along with another that explicitly states that the club will persue financial compensation from any member that causes the club to lose money due to fraudulent activity.

Obviously this has not been a pleasent event for the the club to go through but we hope that, by sharing our experience, we may prompt other clubs and societies to think about whether or not they need to introduce new processes, or review existing ones already in place, to prevent inadvertent copyright infringement if a similar situation were to occur.