Recently I was contacted by a media director of a church for a portrait assignment.
They were looking for a bust shot of the lead pastor in line with the Dirty Jobs television show that aired here in the USA. As an example of what they wanted the MD emailed me a promo photo of the show taken from the internet. It was a bust of the host of this show covered in grime depicting the “Dirty Jobs” theme. I agreed to do the shoot.
It turned out that by a miscommunication on the Client’s part I was unable to do the shoot.
The MD did the shoot in-house instead. What they did was shoot the pastor’s head and neck with some crud on it and then superimposed that onto the shoulders and chest of the shot taken from the internet. They then posted the composite to their website and on Facebook advertising for their sermon series entitled “Dirty Jobs”. They even used the “Dirty Jobs” copy that was on the original photograph. I understand that they have made up large posters and have them posted all around their property/buildings and are doing what I would have to call an advertising blitz for this sermon series.
As fate would have it, the original photographer found out about this and sent them an email entitled “Thou Shalt Not Steal” (hilariously ironic)! I have not seen the email but from what I am hearing it is akin to a “cease and desist” notice. The staff at the church consulted a lawyer who didn’t know anything about copyright law but advised them to consult a copyright lawyer. Which they said they were going to do.
In the meantime they have taken down the shot on their main website but still have it up on their Facebook site. As well as the printed copies posted all around.
I don’t know if they have actually consulted a copyright lawyer to determine the legalities of this at this time.
I understand that copyrighted photos may be used under certain circumstances without license. Education and news as a couple of examples. I am not extremely well versed on copyright law.
I would have thought that even if they were exempt from license that they could not just wantonly manipulate the photographer’s photo at will under any circumstance. Part of the photo is easily recognizable as the original photographer’s.
It is my position that this is certainly unethical if not out and out illegal. But again I am not a copyright attorney.
Fortunately, I did not do the shoot. I would have been livid to find one of my photos grafted onto another photographer’s copyrighted material and would have found it necessary to raise about nine kinds of hell. Not to mention contact the original photographer about it. (I know who shot the original). There would have been some serious ill will. And in fact there already is between the MD and myself. They just don’t know it yet!
Would anyone have any thoughts or information regarding this situation? I am going to see if I can monitor how this plays out. I am extremely interested in how far a religious organization can stretch the copyright laws, if they can at all.
I am also at this time planning to accept no further work from this organization.