Sunshine Coast Creative Alliance – supporting Sunshine Coast creatives… when it suits them.
UPDATE 25 September: http://austin-zande.net/blog/uncategorized/more-on-the-copyright-story/
Bear with us, this is a long story…
On April 23, I shared a story about a Sydney photographer who had an image stolen and used by a band – http://petapixel.com/2014/04/21/band-responds-worst-way-possible-stealing-photographers-work/ . He did all the right things, only to be abused and mocked by the band, until a point where they obviously were told by a legal practitioner of some sort that they were definitely in the wrong. These stories are becoming far too common place now and I was really angered by Rohan Anderson’s situation. I ended that post with the comment “…and may I never have the misfortune of dealing with such selfish and inconsiderate people.”
Well, weren’t they prophetic words!
On June 13, my partner Kristen received an invitation via Facebook to an event hosted by the Sunshine Coast Creative Alliance. The event was promoted as “Arts Express – AMPED Creative Showcase”, supported by the Sunshine Coast Regional Council and other industry bodies. One of the workshops included a guest speaker from APRA, there to talk about licensing and royalties. Kind of ironic, as you are about to see…
The banner image they were using to promote their event, on both Facebook and their own website was one of our photos. But not only was it our photo, it was our photo with our watermark cropped out, the image then up-sampled and generally disfigured with their own text. I think we were both a little surprised to find our image being used and very angry that it had been screwed with and all of this without so much as a “would you mind” of any sort.
After having discussions with our client about how wrong this was (including a comment from an industry professional “that’s illegal”) I sent the Alliance, via email, a take-down notice but was kind enough to also offer them a clean, high resolution file for what would have been a small fee. Here’s a copy of that email: http://austin-zande.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/SCCA_email_1.pdf
Frankly, I didn’t care which way this went. They could remove the image they had used without our permission or they could pay for it and get a file that could have been presented at the size they were using without turning to crap. Indeed, they could have used it for the purpose it was supplied for in the first instance! I copied this email to the Sunshine Coast Councillor who I believed chaired a committee who funded this organisation.
At this point it should be noted that the watermarked image was indeed supplied to the Alliance by our client, the sole purpose of which was to promote her up and coming dance production, something they had not done. Here is unadulterated the image:
So, what happened next? Well, in a word, nothing. Not a peep! They just ignored us.
Well, I shouldn’t say “nothing” as things did happen. Our image started to appear on associated web sites and electronic newsletters. They had obviously distributed it to third parties who further edited it and used it.
We let this go for two weeks and then on June 29, sent an invoice - http://austin-zande.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/SCCA_email_2.pdf – for the commercial use of the image. Once again I copied the email to the Councillor whose staff replied promptly, asking what this was about. I took the extra step of copying this email and attached invoice to the business email address of the President of the Creative Alliance, a Ms Angie Dunbavan. Ms Dunbavan runs Red Chair, a talent/event management company that I had never heard of before… and I’ve worked with many over the past few years.
The response?… NOTHING! Stony silence again. Neither the Creative Alliance nor their President, Ms Dunbavan, could be bothered to respond. We assumed they were probably hoping we’d just go away and they’ed carry on with this copyright infringement. And why not?… why should they pay for an image they were using to help promote local creatives? Yes, I’m sure that’s precisely what they were thinking.
Roll on July 14. Yes, we gave them another two weeks to respond but yet again, they chose to ignore us. This time I sent an email – http://austin-zande.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/SCCA_email_3.pdf – with a much sterner tone, suggesting that they really need to treat this matter seriously or we will pursue legal action under the Commonwealth Copyright Act. We suggested that they pay our invoice immediately and we would not seek damages and costs. But guess what?… yes, you’re dead right, they simply continued to ignore us.
I then sent a letter by registered post – http://austin-zande.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/My_Letter_to_SCCA.pdf -, a letter that was a standard pro-forma from the Arts Law Centre, and attached a printout of all of the emails they had ignored to this point. Being registered post, they could hardly pretend they didn’t see it… or could they?
On the day after they received and signed for this letter, July 21, Kristen received a call from our client… remember, the client who supplied this photo to promote her dance production. She was somewhat distressed about what was going on. The Alliance, or more to the point (we believe) Ms Dunbavan, had contacted her about this matter. There was a suggestion that we should just walk away and not take on this organisation. It felt like a threat. But still, the Creative Alliance and Ms Dunbavan couldn’t be bothered to contact us to discuss the situation or attempt to negotiate a fair outcome for all. No, they continued to treat us as fools and hope we’d just go away.
Then we engaged a solicitor.
We can hardly afford this action but there was no way this Creative Alliance, an organisation who promotes itself as being there for local creatives, was going to treat us like fools and commit an offence without a care. On July 22, Ms Dunbavan did actually leave a message on Kristen’s mobile. Yes, Kristen’s mobile, not our business phone, not my phone (both numbers I had supplied on multiple occasions) no, she chose to call Kristen’s mobile, maybe in the hope that Kristen would be a soft touch. Our client had given Ms Dunbavan Kristens number. She would have been better off calling me in that case. Besides being shaken by the phone call from our client, Kristen was looking after our son who was home from school sick and I was on a shoot at the time. When we did hear the message, it was too late to respond. I called Ms Dunbavan back the following day but my call went to her voicemail. I left a message identifying myself and my number and asked that she call me back regarding the matter. She didn’t bother. It was almost two more weeks before Ms Dunbavan finally returned my call… but not to my phone number. No, She chose to call Kristen again. Ms Dunbavan left a message which included her saying “you know we had copyright permission”. Umm, no we didn’t know that because NO my dear, you didn’t have permission.
So here we are, approaching two months after we first contacted them. On August 7 our solicitor sent them a letter – http://austin-zande.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Law_Let_to_SCCA.pdf -, asking they pay the invoice or face possible court action with further damages and costs likely to be awarded. Now things start happening. The image (and all its derivatives) disappear from their Facebook and web site. Of course we have screen shots of all of this but finally it has occurred to them that they are in the wrong. Our solicitor also received a response – http://austin-zande.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/SCCA_Response_to_Law_Let.pdf – from a Mr Phil Smith – https://www.facebook.com/phil.smith.1650 - http://www.deickerichards.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/people_phil-e1315963284795-240×162.jpg – Caloundra-based architect and urban designer and board member of the Alliance. Mr Smith claims that “due to technical issues”, the Alliance was not able to receive nor respond to all of our emails over a six week period, a period in which they ran a major event. What Mr Smith failed to explain is how both the Alliance and Ms Dunbavan could both have technical issues and Ms Dunbavan, the President of the Alliance could manage to run an events management business with these “technical issues” for a six week period. At no time did the Alliance report, on either their Facebook or website, that they were experiencing technical issues. Mr Smith further suggests he can see no reason to pay the invoice and that he was of the opinion that the matter had been resolved. In one sentence he apologises on behalf of the Alliance but then goes on to say he can see no wrong in what they did and yet he tells us the images were removed. Just what is the story Mr Smith? How, Mr Smith, do you assume the matter has been resolved when not one single person representing the Alliance has actually engaged in dialogue with either myself or Kristen
In his August 8 confirmation of receipt of our solicitors letter, Mr Smith also claims that Ms Dunbavan was no longer associated with the Alliance Board. Interesting considering she was still the president at the AGM held on September 3. Somebody isn’t telling the truth. This is all detailed in board members social media. Here’s a link to Ms Dunbavan receiving a bunch of flowers, thanking her for her efforts as the outgoing President of the Alliance at their AGM – Ms Dunbavan coordinating the Alliance AGM on September 3
At the AGM, Mr Smith was elected President of the Alliance – https://martrakfilms.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/05_14_ca_mins_sep3rd-agm.pdf
So what’s next? The Alliance think they have remedied matters. They also think they have done no wrong. They ignored us for nearly two months and then when presented with a legal letter, continued to fob us off. This is how they help promote local creatives? Our next step is unfortunately an expensive one and that is filing with the Supreme Court. We know we can win this but we need to fund it first. Deep down we do not want to destroy the Alliance either however they have treated us with such arrogance and absolute contempt that we feel it’s time to really fight back. We have been warned (or is that “threatened”?) that taking them on will prove detrimental for our business but you know what, at least we will be able to hold our heads high knowing we have, at every step of this sad story, done the right thing. This might cost us social media fans but we can’t just stand by and let this sort of thing happen. We are taking a stand as many other photographers (and other creatives and artists) are now doing, to try to educate the public that our work is not to be undervalued or, as in this case, taken and used as if it were public property.
Do we set up some crowd funding to get this in to the Supreme Court? Who can tell? I am sure the Alliance is playing this hand as a big bluff, thinking we will just shut up and go away, leaving them free to do this sort of thing again if they wish. But no, we can’t let them do this. There is far too much of this sort of thing going on, individuals, companies and organisations treating creatives, and especially photographers, as fools. Yes, we’ve had people take our images and use them before but when approached about this, they have always been quick to act, either removing the image or offering payment. We’ve shot international artists and bands in local pubs who have wanted to use our images. We’ve shot dancers, young and old, who want to share the images in social media. We’ve covered events and festivals and our images have been published in magazines, both print and online. ALL of these people have ASKED US FIRST and negotiated payment before using our work. That’s how it should be and for a publicly funded group, solely constituted to help creatives, to then do what they have done to us is just not acceptable.
Please share this story far and wide. This sort of behaviour must be stopped.
EDIT: as at 20 September, we’ve yet to hear anything positive from the Sunshine Coast Creative Alliance. Payment?… we’re still waiting!
UPDATE 25 September: http://austin-zande.net/blog/uncategorized/more-on-the-copyright-story/