Welcome to the Photo Follies 2011 Awards, the Premier Photo Industry Contest In This Universe Or Any Universe Yet To Be Discovered™. Entries were judged by a jury consisting of leading industry figures, including a school of Barbary macaques, and senior Google Street View operators on loan from World Press Photo. Judging was overseen by the Russian Central Election Commission to ensure fairness.

The Shop Till You Drop Award [sponsored by Adobe]
Highly Commended: Terje Helleso, for Winter Coat.
Highly Commended: The Sun, for Libyan Low Fly Zone.
Winner: Huili County Government, China, for Walking On Air.
The judges’ verdict: By far the most popular category, this attracted a huge number of entries displaying impressive levels of incompetence. Swedish wildlife photographer Terje Helleso capped a 10 year cut ‘n’ paste career with an animal fashion faux pas. The UK’s Sun achieved spectacular results by outsourcing design duties to a 7 year old with a pair of scissors and Sellotape. The Chinese entry was however unbeatable, raising Photoshop incompetence to an art form: so powerful is it that the viewer feels himself levitating along with the subjects of the photo.

The Robotog Award For Photography And The Law
Highly Commended: London Transport Museum, for DSLR Camera Ban.
Highly Commended: Government of Slovenia, for Panorama Mania.
Winner: Los Angeles Long Beach Police Dept, for Art Police.

Photo © Tim Allen / www.timallenphoto.co.uk
The judges’ verdict: Last year it was reported that Kuwait had banned DSLR cameras. That turned out to be a hoax – but nobody told the London Transport Museum, which imposed its own ban this year. Meanwhile the Slovenian government took a broader view, banning all public panorama photography. Just to make sure they hadn’t missed anything, the ban was made retroactive: all panoramic photographs ever made in Slovenia are now illegal. Not bad, considering that photography has been in existence a century and a half longer than Slovenia itself. Long Beach police won by eschewing the crude truncheon-based approach to photo prevention so beloved by law enforcement colleagues elsewhere; instead officers are now required to supplement firearms training with courses on the history and theory of art and photography.

The Uncle Bob Award For Wedding Photography
Highly Commended: Lasting Impressions, for Where’s The Wedding?
Highly Commended: P&O, for Headless Bride Horror.
Winner: The All-Russia Union Of Wedding Photographers, for Avant-Garde Nuptials.
The judges’ verdict: The Derek Pye School Of Photography continues to churn out worthy award-winners. The Lasting Impressions video operator was unable to find the right wedding to attend after being uncaged; and P&O Cruise’s wheeze of having the ship’s chef double up as photographer was a recipe for disaster. Harking back to the heyday of the avant-garde, the Russian entry surpassed all others in its – ahem – creative approach to the art of wedding photography.

The Susan Sontag Award For Writing On Photography
Highly Commended: Guardian Eyewitness, for Pro Tip – Affordable underwater casings are now available for most cameras, while space travel remains prohibitively expensive.
Highly Commended: Guardian Eyewitness, for Pro Tip  – When glueing your camera to a surfboard, it is important to choose your adhesive carefully.
Winner: Guardian Eyewitness, for Pro Tip  – It is important to avoid laughing while taking a photograph as this can lead to camera shake.
The judges’ verdict: Just as digital technology has made everyone a photographer, so the Internet has made everyone a photography commentator. The web is awash with photo advice, but no other entrant came close to the Guardian for consistency and regularity: while readers daily admire the quality of the Eyewitness photography, professional photographers are equally awestruck by the accompanying Pro Tips.

Photo Caption Of The Year
Highly Commended: Eastern Daily Press, for Olympus Digital Camera.
Highly Commended: The Mail Online, for Media Scum.
Winner:The Globe & Mail Canada, for Caption Writer Meltdown.
The Mail Online's freudian slip
The judges’ verdict:
The UK’s Eastern Daily Press made official what everybody already knew – that it’s the camera that matters, not the photographer – and adjusted their photo credits accordingly. “You couldn’t make it up” is the Mail’s frequent battle cry, but for the Amanda Knox trial the UK tabloid did just that, splashing that Knox had been found guilty when the opposite was true. But the Mail got one thing right, with a telling typo in one of their photo captions for the story. The clear winner, however, was the Canadian Globe & Mail, where an anonymous – and now missing in action – caption writer identified a previously unknown connection between the paper’s Celebrity Photos of the Week & the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The Enron Award For Business Management
Highly Commended: Kodak, for What Happens In Vegas
Winner: Olympus, for Overcooked Books.
The judges’ verdict: As Kodak losses mounted, company executives did their bit by regularly splashing on private jets to Las Vegas. Olympus’ continued existence as a camera company had been a mystery to professional photographers, with the last recorded sighting of an Olympus camera at a photo-call as long ago as 1998. All was revealed when new CEO Michael Woodford inadvertently opened the books to discover 13 years and $1.7 billion worth of creative accounting.

Quote Of The Year
Highly Commended: Mark Zuckerberg, for Comedy Of Errors.
Highly Commended: Sienna Miller, for Tired And Emotional.
Winner: Johnny Depp, for Photography Is Rape.
Pluck me...we've got a leak
The judges’ verdict
: Everyone’s least favourite geek finally admitted what every Facebook user had been telling him for years: but only after it was his own account that got hacked. Former topless model turned actress Sienna Miller refocused the UK’s Levenson enquiry into the media away from trifling matters such as the hacking of a murdered schoolgirl’s phone toward more serious issues: the Daily Mirror’s cropping of photographs and celebrity documentarians’ habit of chasing her down the street. Although not a contributor to Levenson, it was the camera-shy Johnny Depp who won by building on Miller’s riff to reveal the true nature of photography in a cover story in Vanity Fair.

Photo Product Of The Year
Highly Commended: Sigma Deutschland, for SD1 Morris Minor Edition.
Highly Commended: Urban Outfitters, for Sienna Miller Anti-Paparazzi Shades.
Winner: Hasselblad, for H4D Ferrari Limited Edition.
The judges’ verdict: Who says the Germans don’t have a sense of humour? Sigma Deutschland attempted to kick-start sales of the SD1 by charging 10,000 euros for a limited edition version with wood trim styled after a 1950s Morris Minor Traveller. Urban Outfitters came up with a $12 solution for wannabe celebs wishing to appear anonymous. But racing to victory was the Hasselblad H4D Ferrari Limited Edition medium format camera. In tasteful racing red, and boasting specs including 800 horsepower and a motor-drive with a 0-60 speed of under 5 seconds, the H4D Ferrari was aimed squarely at a previously ignored niche market: wealthy middle-aged photographers with erectile dysfunction. A follow-up, the Jeremy Clarkson Limited Edition, is rumoured to be in the pipeline.

The Remix Award For Plagiarism
Highly Commended: Siegfried Kauder, for Double Strike.
Highly Commended: Cory Doctorow, for Boing!!! Cory Doctorow’s Daily Mail Copyright Clanger.
Winner: Bob Dylan & Richard Prince, for Everybody Else’s Images Revisited.
Photo by Ed Schipul (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The judges’ verdict:
German MP Siegfried Kauder immediately fell foul of his own proposed “two strikes and you’re out” copyright law when two photographs on his website were found to have been hijacked from elsewhere. Author and Creative Commons campaigner Doctorow blew a fuse when he learned that the Daily Mail had used some of his wife’s photographs without permission, then went ahead and did the same thing with a photograph from the Guardian the very same day. But the clear winner was the world’s first plagiarism supergroup. Dylan was caught out claiming paintings in a new exhibition were from his travels in Asia when they were very obviously slavishly copied from a variety of other people’s photographs. In a deliciously ironic twist the fawning catalogue to the exhibition was written by Richard “Prince Of Thieves”, who had just lost his own multi-million dollar copyright suit for ripping off photographs from Patrick Cariou’s book Yes Rasta.

Grand Prix de Folie Photographie
The judges’ verdict: This year’s winner was a no-brainer in every sense. The premier award has in the past been inevitably scooped by one of the industry’s big players; it’s a sign of changing times that this year’s winner is not even professionally involved in the photo business. Photo blogger Thomas Hawk started the year promisingly, with a museum confrontation that left him facing a $2m copyright and libel lawsuit. But Hawk’s tussle with the World Erotic Art Museum was mere foreplay: the best was yet to come in June, when he accused legendary New York photographer Jay Maisel of copyright enforcement practices that would make Tony Soprano blush. In the ensuing firestorm Hawk displayed his much-vaunted commitment to transparency first by abusing and censoring anyone who disagreed with his frankly expressed convictions, then by quietly removing his offending posts. Finally he removed his blog from its long-standing home in the offices of investment firm Stone & Youngberg, where Hawk’s alter ego Andrew Peterson works, to remotest Utah.

Raw deal: available from iStockphoto for $430...or Alamy Premium for $49.

When does stock photography become microstock photography? Can it be cheaper than microstock? And what happens when a supposedly non-microstock agency offers the same images as a microstock site, but for less?

Stock agency Alamy found themselves facing a forum firestorm last week when a leaked marketing email revealed the existence of a previously unknown Alamy product called Premium. Contributors were infuriated not just by the fact that they only heard about Premium through a leak rather than an Alamy announcement, but also by Premium’s terms – $49 for virtually unlimited commercial usage for 10 years.

Although the language employed was not as colourful, the row had echoes of last year’s iStockphoto riot when contributors to the microstock agency were outraged at a change in their royalty percentages. As at iStockphoto, contributors took to the forums to denounce the Premium deal: Alamy staff made several attempts to calm the situation, but these seemed only to add fuel to the fire. Eventually Alamy CEO James West stepped forward with an attempt at a definitive statement on the company position and Premium.

But West’s statement prompts at least as many questions as it provides answers:

  • He stressed that advertising use was excluded from Premium, but does the deal include the far more common editorial usage?
  • Although described as a test, West claimed that some Premium clients had already upgraded to high ticket advertising licenses: so had the newly revealed Premium secretly been on the market for some time?
  • Premium was described as only one of a number of tests, some at a higher price point: but are there any at a lower price point?
  • It was stressed that there is no opt-out from Premium, but contributors quickly found a loophole: by placing a single restriction on images those were removed from Premium offerings. So would Alamy move to prevent contributors placing restrictions on their images?
  • Some larger Alamy contributors’ material seemed absent from Premium: so had those contributors been given the option to opt-out in advance?

James West
These questions are a bit tricky... Alamy CEO James West
When these questions were put to West on Friday he declined to answer, meaning that – at least in theory – all the above are possible. His only comment:  “I don’t have anything further to add other than to remind readers that these price experiments will account for less than 1% of our revenue this year.”

But the most intriguing question – which West also declined to answer – is prompted by his most startling claim: “Our trials have shown that we can cannibalise microstock market share at a much higher price point.”

That’s a pretty daring claim on two points. Firstly, it’s generally accepted that microstock buyers are primarily motivated by price: the idea you can get them to pay much more sounds like quite a challenge. But it’s the second point that’s more interesting: West’s assertion that Premium really is more expensive than microstock.

People unfamiliar with the microstock market will instinctively buy that: popular belief is that typical microstock prices are no more than a couple of dollars. But that’s really not the case: those dollar deal prices only ever apply when clients both buy huge amounts of microstock “currency” – so-called credits – toward future purchases and also make limited use of the images they eventually license. Once a client buys and uses a microstock image in the way Alamy are pitching Premium – maximum size, no subscriptions and virtually unlimited usage – microstock prices rise dramatically.

And now maths? This is really hard...
How dramatically? For a direct comparison take the casino image above. It’s available Royalty Free at Alamy in its largest size for $365. But it’s also available from iStockphoto, the microstock market leader, at the same size and usage for $213.75, $65.25 or $54, depending on whether it’s bought Pay As You Go, or on a corporate or subscription account. However that’s not the whole iStockphoto story: those prices rely on the purchaser buying a massive number of credits toward other images. To get even the PAYG $213.75 price you first have to buy 20,000 credits at, gulp, $19,000. If you simply wander in the iStockphoto door today and just want to buy this image alone as a one-off it will cost you $430. But here’s the real figure that counts: the same image is now available at Alamy Premium – for $49.

This is not an isolated example carefully chosen to browbeat Alamy. As at other microstock outlets, prices at iStockphoto are dictated by three factors: the price band of the image chosen; the usage; and the way credits are bought. Istockphoto have five price bands; the equivalent license to Premium is XXLarge-Extended License-Multiseat-Unlimited Reproduction; credit prices run from $0.24 to $1.63 each. The very cheapest you can buy a Premium-equivalent license at iStockphoto is $52.40; but that requires a subscription account and an investment of tens of thousands of dollars in credits. At the other extreme, buying the most expensive image in the most expensive way, the price rockets to $800.

In Alamy Premium your advertising sales will be THIS big...
In practice most prices will be somewhere between those two extremes. But one thing is clear: on the publicly available figures it is impossible to buy a Premium-equivalent licence at iStockphoto for as low as Alamy’s Premium price tag of $49. Alamy will have run their own figures, but unless they’ve seriously stacked the deck it’s very hard to see how they conclude that Premium has a higher price point than microstock. On the contrary, Premium isn’t just a microstock product: it has a sub-microstock price.

There is of course one key difference between Premium and microstock licenses: the latter include advertising and the former don’t. During last week’s damage limitation exercise Alamy made great play of this, claiming that Premium customers “upgrade” to big-ticket ad rates. But this is the photo agency as lottery: make your images available at a bargain price and you might hit the jackpot of an advertising sale. Given the sheer number of Premium images available – some 25 million – the odds of any single one being upgraded is infinitesimally tiny: the truth is that most $49 Premium licenses will remain just that.

Last week’s row developed a comic sub-plot when one Alamy contributor by the name of Dingdong posted comments he attributed to West:

“The simple answer for our contributors is move with the times or get out. We are a business not a charity to our contributors. We have serious contributors whom we have contacted and agree in principle to the need to change.”

Although the post was obviously a hoax that didn’t stop it reappearing on About The Image and elsewhere as a genuine quote from West. Unsurprisingly the Alamy CEO was unimpressed by this display of Internet juvenilia, describing it as “comments that I would never have made.” But the truth is when the chips were down West’s own message was little different:

“There is no opt in/opt out available for this. You can, of course, opt out of Alamy whenever you like. We provide the marketplace and set the ground rules, but it is entirely your decision as to whether you want to participate or not.”

So the lessons are clear for punters who want to try their luck in the Alamy Premium casino. The management sets the rules – and the house always wins.

In common with all Internet photography specialists I have written extensively on the recent Jay Maisel – Andy Baio legal controversy. And like other leading copyright experts I have concluded that a world in which entrepreneurs cannot use other people’s work for free is truly fucktarded™.

In posts such as “Photographer Jay Maisel Extorts [Opinion] $32500 Out Of Andy Baio”, “Photographer Jay Maisel Ties Andy Baio To A Chair And Pours Gasoline Over Him”, and “Photographer Jay Maisel Hires Tony Soprano To Put Andy Baio’s Head In A Vice” I revealed how one of the world’s wealthiest men plotted in his 70 room mansion to crush the dreams of a starving young artist. I also published the only eyewitness account of how Maisel personally “held his feet over the fire and tormented him and hung him upside down to shake $32,500 out of his pockets” in order to buy new a new couch to match the drapes in that mansion.

I am now shocked and distressed to learn that some readers may have misinterpreted these posts to imply that Mr. Maisel, rather than exercising his legal right to defend the copyright of his life’s work, was engaged in some kind of criminal protection racket. I have further become aware that I may have inadvertently led people to believe that I somehow disapprove of the legal settlement between Mr. Baio and Mr. Maisel.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

On the contrary, as the World’s Fourth Most Influential Photoblogger™, I welcome Mr. Maisel’s defence of his intellectual property, and his insistence on his right to be paid for the use of that property. Why, I myself in the past have campaigned long and hard to be paid with a byline in Forbes magazine.

I also wish to stress that my description of Mr. Maisel as “a hack photographer” and “the worst kind of artist” in no way implies that he fails to measure up to my own high standards. While Mr. Maisel cannot match my 60,000 publications on flickr, I recognise that his 55-year career shooting annual reports, magazine covers, advertising and more for clients worldwide is an accomplishment in its own right.

It is for these reasons that I am delighted to announce that I have now deleted all my previous posts on Mr. Maisel to make space for a permanent exhibition of his work on my blog at its new home in the Utah desert.

It would be entirely wrong to suggest that this sudden reverse ferret is a result of discussions with Messrs Sue, Grabbit and Runne, attorneys at law, or because my employers at Stone & Youngberg have torn me a new asshole.  On the contrary, as I wrote in one of the deleted posts, “as a blogger disclosure is important”; my attempt to hide the posts and pretend that none of this ever happened is a clear demonstration of my commitment to disclosure and transparency. It is also entirely consistent with what Mr. Baio himself has described as my questionable grasp of copyright law and leaps of logic, and my history of publicity seeking by making vicious and unfounded attacks that are subsequently withdrawn and replaced by a grovelling apology.

A few years ago somebody played a cruel joke on Flickr’s DeleteMe group, where a photo is posted and self-appointed critics decide whether to keep or trash the image. A picture of a cyclist was posted and condemnation was quick. “Soft”, “grey”, “blurry” were among the criticisms as the judges decided the picture was, well, a bit crap. Then it was revealed that the photographer was Henri Cartier-Bresson.

The incident was a small but telling illustration of a modern truth: there are now two photographic worlds, one on Earth and one in cyberspace, each largely unaware of the other’s existence. The last two weeks have provided a spectacular demonstration of what happens when those two worlds collide.

Down on Earth Jay Maisel is a very big name photographer. With a 55 year career, multiple high-end awards and work scattered in museums and private collections around the world, Maisel seems a reasonable candidate for that much overused term “legend”.

Likewise, up in cyberspace, Thomas Hawk is a very big name photographer. With his stated ambition to publish a million images before he dies, and tens of thousands of followers across various social media, he was recently named 4th most influential photographer blogger. Yet a lot of professional photographers are now scratching their heads and asking: who the hell is Thomas Hawk? I know this because last week I ran a poll at a mailing list for pro photographers. The poll had two questions: firstly, who here knows who Thomas Hawk is? And secondly, do you know who he really is? The pros did spectacularly badly. Of over a thousand only two had even heard of Hawk; none could answer the second question.

So in the web photo world Hawk is a very big deal; yet back on earth it’s as if he doesn’t exist. And there’s a very good reason for this: Thomas Hawk doesn’t exist.

Andrew Peterson by Thomas Hawk
Andrew Peterson by Thomas Hawk, used under Creative Commons license
The name Thomas Hawk is a pseudonym employed by one Andrew Peterson, a stockbroker at San Francisco investment company Stone & Youngberg. Peterson / Hawk’s stated rationale for the pseudonym is that US financial regulations mean that if he were to publish his website under his real name everything he writes would have to be vetted by his bosses. On recent evidence this would be a very good idea, for Peterson / Hawk is one very angry stockbroker.

Peterson / Hawk gets angry at a lot of things. Apple. Canon. His phone supplier. His phone handset. He gets periodically very angry at Flickr. But recently he’s mostly been angry – very, very angry indeed – with Jay Maisel.

Ostensibly his fury is over Maisel’s action against tech entrepreneur Andy Baio, who heisted Maisel’s photo of Miles Davis and settled for the alleged infringement out of court to the tune of $32,500. Baio is a reasonably wealthy young man, having sold Upcoming.org to Yahoo in 2005; figures aren’t available, but pitch between 10 and 20 million dollars and you’ll be in the ballpark.

However that hasn’t stopped Peterson / Hawk and others from painting the story as “millionaire photographer crushes poor young artist”, and with very predictable consequences. Maisel had to pull his Facebook page after it was inundated with abuse from Baio supporters, but it didn’t stop there. Anywhere Maisel’s name appeared on the web was considered fair game for attack; juvenile memes were produced smearing the photographer; and Peterson / Hawk published two lengthy and legally questionable blogs savaging Maisel – “a hack photographer” – in just about every way imaginable.

Art inspired by Andy Baio
Finally, and inevitably given that Baio’s supporters were circulating Maisel’s address, some self-appointed freetard revolutionaries plastered the front of the photographer’s home with posters of the infringed image and the slogan “all art is theft”. This seems to have unnerved at least a few of Baio’s supporters, one describing it as a “lynch mob”. That description, however, is not strictly accurate. Lynch mobs usually have some ideological basis, motivated by political, religious or racial hatred. In contrast the mob at Maisel’s house were paid to be there by Baio supporters: in the organisers’ own words it was a “contract art hit”.

The ferocity of the Peterson / Hawk attacks led some to wonder what the stockbroker’s motives really were. When Scott Kelby claimed on the Grid that Peterson / Hawk and Baio were former roommates that seemed to answer the question: Peterson / Hawk was standing up for an old friend. But that only led to further speculation of a business relationship: had Peterson / Hawk, stockbroker, been giving investment advice to his room-mate Baio on what to do with the millions the latter had made on his sale of Ucoming.org to Yahoo? Eventually Peterson / Hawk moved to deny all of this, claiming to have met Baio only once at a press conference, and accusing Kelby of libel.

In fact the real reason Peterson / Hawk got so worked up over the Baio-Maisel affair is much simpler. In March last year Peterson / Hawk decided to get his rocks off – photographically speaking – at the World Erotic Art Museum in Florida. Neglecting to mention to the museum what he was up to, he posted some 350 photos of museum exhibits to his Flickr account. The World Erotic Art Museum was not amused by this unexpected exposure, and hit Flickr with a DMCA takedown notice; Flickr duly removed the images from Peterson / Hawk’s account in December.

When Baio was accused of copyright infringement by Maisel the former consulted lawyers. But Peterson / Hawk is more of a direct action kind of guy; so in his case with the World Erotic Art Museum he launched a blog barrage accusing the museum of fraud. This genius move backfired very badly; the museum regarded the blog posts as libelous, and on January 10th filed suit against Peterson / Hawk in Miami federal court for $2M damages plus attorney fees and litigation costs. Shortly afterward Peterson / Hawk caved in, reached an out of court agreement with the museum, removed the allegations of fraud from his blog, and replaced the offending Flickr set with an abject apology so humiliating it’s practically a Private Eye parody.

So it’s no surprise that Peterson / Hawk should side with Baio against Maisel, a dispute that the stockbroker repeatedly characterised as an example of a wealthy individual or corporation exploiting intellectual property law to crush the little guy: in a very real sense, he could feel Baio’s pain. But it seems Peterson / Hawk has learned little from his recent brush with the intellectual property and libel laws. Here are just a few of Peterson / Hawk’s recent descriptions of Maisel:


“Maisel’s a dick.”

“He’s the worst sort of artist who tries to inflict pain on other artists.”

“He held his feet over the fire and tormented him and hung him upside down to shake $32,500 out of his pockets.”

“I doubt Spielberg’s as big as an prick as Maisel.”

“Apparently thinking it’s bad to extort $32,500 out of someone gets you blackballed from the high-powered Zack Arias / Jay Maisel elite blue ribbon good old boys photography club.”

“People are not extorted by Disney in the same way that Andy was extorted here. They wouldn’t risk tarnishing their reputation in quite the same way that Maisel has tarnished his.”

Talking of reputation, as one of the country’s most respected investment firms Peterson / Hawk’s employers Stone & Youngberg take certain principles seriously. Here’s what they have to say on their website:

“Integrity — At Stone & Youngberg, integrity is paramount to maintaining our corporate culture and our reputation in the industry. We expect our employees to meet the highest standards in both their professional and personal lives.”

Does anyone else see a massive disconnect between the behaviour Stone & Youngberg publicly expect from their employees, and that delivered by this particular employee? Worse, Peterson / Hawk’s website is registered to Stone & Youngberg’s corporate headquarters. To the casual observer – or a lawyer – this makes it appear that the company is associated with and endorses the content of the Peterson / Hawk site.

In one sense the antics of Baio, and Peterson / Hawk especially, are just funny. Despite his supporters’ description of him as an artist, Baio was unable to produce the 8bit version of Maisel’s image himself – he had to pay someone to do so. Likewise the rent-a-mob who turned up to decorate Maisel’s home were paid to do the job by Baio’s supporters. As for Peterson / Hawk’s claims as an artist: well, you be the judge.

But let’s be clear: Andy Baio, a man with a history of breaking and encouraging others to break intellectual property laws, made a considerable amount of money selling his intellectual property to Yahoo under those same laws. His account of his dispute with Jay Maisel provided an ammunition dump for those who wished to attack the photographer for defending his work under the same laws that allowed Baio to profit. And Andrew Peterson / Thomas Hawk has gleefully raided that dump to conduct a campaign of defamation and vilification against Maisel, neglecting to disclose his own recent history of being caught out for copyright infringement and libel.

There’s nothing very funny about an 80-year-old photographer being abused and defamed across the web for the supposed crime of protecting his own life’s work. And there’s definitely nothing funny about a bunch of paid thugs committing criminal damage to the photographer’s home.

Baio – irony alert! – doesn’t allow comments on his own blog that set this witch-hunt in progress. It would take a very brave person to venture into the comments at Peterson / Hawk’s blog, where anyone who supports Maisel – and the law – risks branding as a fascist and a “fucktard”. And unlike Maisel, both Baio and Peterson / Hawk keep their home addresses secret. That really only leaves one place to respond:

Stone & Youngberg
One Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111
(800) 447-8663
(1-415) 445-2300

Their email contact form is here.

St Petersburg, Russia, 31/05/2005. The interior of the Catherine Palace in the surburb of Pushkin.
The freetard idea of a photographer's home. Photo © Jeremy Nicholl 2011. All Rights Reserved.

A long time ago in an analogue universe far, far away, a young man called Jay Maisel photographed Miles Davis in a New York club. The picture became the cover of Davis’ Kind Of Blue, probably the biggest selling jazz album of all time, and one of Maisel’s most famous images.

In 2009 another young man, Andy Baio, created Kind Of Bloop, a chiptune version of the Davis classic. He also used a pixel art version of Maisel’s image, “the only thing that made sense for an 8-bit tribute to Kind of Blue”. Baio was careful to obtain and pay for all the permissions needed to reproduce the music. However he didn’t bother to even call Maisel over the photography: you see, he felt he could just take it.

In early 2010 Maisel found the 8bit version of his image, moved straight to no. 6 of the ten rules of US copyright infringement, and called his lawyers. Seven months later Baio settled out of court for $32,500 plus legal fees: last week he told his side of the story on his blog.

At first sight it’s hard not to feel just a little sorry for Baio. $32.5K is hardly chump change; his account was reasoned and devoid of the rants that were to come from others; and since his story was apparently vetted by Maisel’s attorneys we can reasonably assume it to be factually accurate.

On the other hand a cynic – or a realist – might suspect that Baio posted his account as an act of revenge on Maisel. He clearly had some inkling of the possible repercussions of his post when he wrote:

“I understand you may have strong feelings about this issue, but please don’t harass him publicly or privately. Reasonable discussion about the case is fine; personal attacks, name-calling and abuse are not. We’re all humans here. Be cool.”

But one would have to be exceptionally naive or an internet virgin – Baio is neither – not to foresee the inevitable response to Baio’s post: “rich old bastard with Rottweiler lawyers uses copyright law to crush starving young artist” is a wet-dream story for the freetard lobby. And sure enough, zombie-like, the freetards quickly took the bait, laying siege to the photographer’s Facebook page and elsewhere with their own interpretation of being cool and human:

“Jay Maisel is a dick.”

“The photographer is a huge fucking asshole.”

“Copyright troll.”

“Maisel seems like an incredibly litigious, nasty fuck of a man.”

“The photographer seems to be a smug, loaded, asshole.”

“Jay Maisel is a scumbag.”

“Christ, what an asshole.”

“Deep-pocketed litigious scumbag.”

“Go die in a fire.”

“The best part is the photographer’s Facebook page”, crowed one of the usual anonymous cowards; “he’s getting pounded.” These weren’t just cyber threats either: people were encouraged to “knock on the door of his house” – a map was provided – to “voice one’s disapproval”. Wannabe thugs were reassured that they were safe from accusations of defamation because of Maisel’s public status.

Apart from potty-mouthed insults the freetard fury featured the usual hopeless misunderstandings of copyright law, hilariously self-important threats to “never support Maisel’s work again” and comically confident assertions that the supposed scandal would kill the photographer’s career. And some were just obvious outright lies: “Just told this on good authority, ‘Jay Maisel once told me he made much more money from lawsuits than from photography.’”

Much fuel for the mob’s ire was provided by Maisel’s perceived wealth versus Baio’s apparent poverty. Everyone seized on Maisel’s ownership of a “72 room New York mansion”, which contrasted nicely with the question put by a friend of Baio: “Should a multi-millionaire like Maisel keep my friend Andy’s wonderful young son from having a college fund?”

Of course the relative financial standing of Baio and Maisel has no bearing whatsoever on the validity or otherwise of Maisel’s claim of copyright infringement. But since Baios’s supporters chose to make that a central issue it’s worth asking how much truth is in the story portrayed. Answer: not much.

While it’s certainly true that a big fat Manhattan property would be nice to have, the much-touted and envied “72 room New York mansion” conjured up Gatsby-style images of sweeping staircases and gilded ballrooms with a staff to match. In contrast Maisel’s mansion apparently features graffiti strewn outside walls and a tramp in the doorway: it’s actually an abandoned bank the photographer bought in 1965 for $102,000. In other words, Maisel hasn’t been on a Leibowitz-style real estate spree: he simply bought a dump nobody else wanted almost half a century ago and got lucky.

As for Baio, while he’s probably not in the same financial league as Maisel, he’s hardly a pauper. He admits having already paid the settlement out of savings, so contrary to at least one claim, Maisel didn’t “take every penny this kid has”. And he’s an Internet entrepreneur who sold one of his projects to Yahoo; figures aren’t available, but you can bet it was for a lot more than $32.5K. He is also a former Chief Technology Officer of Kickstarter, the crowd-funding project that raised the funds for Kind Of Bloop. If the freetards genuinely wanted to help Baio – rather than simply beat up on an old guy – they could easily use Kickstarter to raise further funds to reimburse him.

Failing that, two of the mob’s cheerleaders were Cory Doctorow – inevitably – and Thomas Hawk. Doctorow surely has some change to spare from his lecture tours; Hawk, despite his Internet persona as a photographer, is in reality a stockbroker at Stone & Youngberg, a career he admits makes him a comfortable living. Between the two of them they could probably easily reimburse Baio without batting an eyelid. But of course that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as Internet grandstanding and branding Maisel an extortionist, a dick and a torturer.

In the words of one of his more literate supporters: “Andy Baio is a respected entrepreneur, artist, and writer, who’s collaborated with some of the most cutting-edge artists in the digital sphere while also chronicling their works”. It’s also not the first time he’s had copyright problems. According to the ever reliable Wikipedia:

“Baio often takes a stand against censorship on the Internet by hosting or linking to controversial content which some parties wish to suppress. This ranges from unauthorized mashups and other artwork where parody or fair-use claims are disputed to newsworthy video. When the parody cartoon House of Cosbys was taken down from its original site due to a cease and desist letter from Bill Cosby’s attorney, Baio placed the videos on his own website. Baio later received a similar cease and desist letter but refused to comply, citing fair use and decrying what he termed “a special kind of discrimination against amateur creators on the Internet”.

So far from the starving kid mugged by a copyright troll portrayed by the freetards, Baio appears to be a reasonably well off tech whiz with a history of challenging copyright law as he sees fit. He didn’t take Maisel’s work because he was broke. He didn’t take it because he doesn’t understand intellectual property. He took it because a sense of entitlement told him he could, and a sense of arrogance told him he could get away with it. He was wrong. So who’s the dick now?

What I’m thinking…

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