This is a particular situation that I’ve been dealing with for well over a year now, and today I’ve decided to finally write about it.
In April 2014, I was hired to cover the Australian Powerboat Series as my friend who normally covers the event was unable to do so. I was paid a very little amount for the event, but agreed as it involved hanging out the side of a helicopter taking photos, as if I’d say no! The event consisted of powerboats racing around a course and two helicopters were involved in the event. The heli I was in was a support aircraft incase of emergency and we had a qualified diver in the back ready to jump out at any moment. The second aircraft was a Robinson R44 operating with a camera crew on board filming the event. That particular aircraft was owned and operated by an Australian company named Flight Lease and had “Hnrge” branding on the side; a sister company to Flight Lease.
During the event I captured many photographs, including the one shown below.
As you can see above, the image contains the R44 aircraft along with a Navy Health and Brig sponsored super boats. Navy Health in the following weeks would purchase images off me from the event for promotion as I retained all copyright and any commercial use would require payment.
Following the event I was contacted by Jem Rowe, the CEO of Solarpv (the owners of Flight Lease). Jem wished to purchase the image above for use on his website, an extract from his email to me:
“…I think we might just want a digital version to put on our Chopper website??
How much to get access for that?
I responded telling him I would be happy with $140AUD for a 2 year licence. I never received a response to this email.
In October 2015, I signed up for Pixsy, a reverse image and licensing platform that searches the internet for your images and on request will chase infringers for removal of the images and payment for its past use. Upon signing up, one of the first websites I saw using my images, was www.flightlease.com.au, the operators of the Hnrge aircraft. I was perplexed and immediately went back through my emails to confirm that I had responded with pricing to Jem’s request. Knowing he needed to pay for it’s use, they used my image as advertisement for their services anyway, possibly hoping I’d never notice. Check out the infringement below.
I decided to submit the case to Pixsy as I didn’t have the time or energy to deal with chasing up this infringement. After their initial investigation, they sent a letter to Mr. Rowe demanding the image be removed and compensation for it’s use to be paid.
The day Flight Lease received the letter, I received a phone call from Jem Rowe who proceeded to swear at me and abuse me over the matter. I briefly explained that I had provided him with pricing for the images but he never returned my emails and did not have rights to use the image and that the matter was now with Pixsy’s lawyers. Jem stated that he didn’t need to pay for the image as it’s a photo of his aircraft, he clearly does not understand IP law.
Months passed and Pixsy received absurd low-ball responses to their letters and therefore were not accepted.
In February of this year, I received a phone call from a friend who was aware of the situation with Mr. Rowe, and informed me that both he and my client from the event had received heated phone calls from Mr. Rowe demanding to know why I had been hired.
On several occasions, Mr. Rowe has tried to file a counter-claim stating that my image contains his branding, and I am therefore breaching his copyright. Clearly his lawyers are not IP lawyers, as this has no legal standing. The aircraft was photographed in public airspace as well as the fact I am not using his branding for monetary gain (the image has never been purchased by any party).
At this stage the image has been removed, but Mr. Rowe and his representation have been dodging any contact from Pixsy. Hopefully enough of his funds have been spent on his legal representation that this has become a very expensive lesson for him.
If you want to use imagery to promote your business, pay for it. You charge clients to use your skills as a pilot along with the aircraft, why shouldn’t I be paid for my skills as a photographer along with my camera gear?