Back in early May 2013 a news story was published from an RAF Museum press release regarding the raising of the Goodwin Sands Dornier.
Simon Brown Images used ‘Unreasonable Behaviour’
As a subscriber to their news releases I published this news story in good faith, using an image from SimonBrownImages.com (Simon Brown – Underwater 3D digital photogrammetry) and video which were with the media pack and press release. The photograph wasn’t very good but it did relate to the story so it was uploaded to the article. I was unaware of any ‘rule’ to contact the photographer when an image has a watermark or branding, when it is issued with a media release. No changes were made to the image – it had its large watermark in the centre and the photographer’s name, Simon Brown Images website link (simonbrownimages.com) etc were all included to attribute him correctly and help to promote his services. The RAF Museum were a reliable and trusted source of information and I’d used their supplied images before without any extra permissions. The image also included a third party licence when the image was used in a news releases – What could go wrong?
After about two months the image was removed. Unlike the usual professional press images we get, the large watermark detracted from the picture and his work isn’t exactly the best.
In late August a letter was received (dated 19th August) from an amateur photographer – Simon Brown Images (simonbrownimages.com) demanding £550 for use of the image or he would seek damages for use, alleged flagrancy and first publication rights. He had used (copied?!) a letter template from a professional photographer’s article and carried the usual ‘Without Prejudice Save as to Costs’ across the top.
Has anyone taken pictures of your children without you knowing?
An identical letter, dated the 20th August, also arrived but this time strangely without an envelope. I wrote an appropriate, polite reply with an apology and an offer of an editorial piece to help promote his business and services. The £550 seemed a little high especially for the quality of the image. As PR and news images are free to publish with the copy – as they have the third party licence I decided to try and find out what images cost to use for this particular news story. The rate came in at £39 for a 3 month licence.
The copied template style reply from Mr Brown continued with the same demands for money and if I didn’t agree to these demands he would use photographs he had taken of my property in court to prove I could pay him. The penny dropped! The duplicate letter had been delivered by hand – a round trip for him of over 300 miles. And while delivering that first letter he had taken the photographs.
No one just passes where I live as I am in a small cul-de-sac on the edge of a village. The house has a steep drive with a bedroom on the front lower level, below the level of the drive.
It wasn’t just the fact that while I was inside someone, who I didn’t know had been hanging around outside taking photos of my house that had got my back up. It was more the fact that my two young daughters had the bedroom on the ground floor at the front of the house. Simon Brown – someone I didn’t know and had not invited to my house, had been on my property had been taking pictures, while the children were at home, which would almost certainly include images of inside their bedroom.
If you have children you know how protective you become. It was the summer holidays and the children were home from nursery and primary school and a stranger had been outside taking pictures. What would you do / think if this happened to you?
As he had already found out my address and contact information I would have expected Simon Brown to have at least telephoned or emailed to say he was going to call in. He knew he was going to drop the letter off and he certainly seemed to have spare time to take the photographs so why not make an appointment with me or, at least just knock on the door?
Due to his unprofessional and creepy behaviour or ‘unreasonable behaviour’ as the Police officer put it when I spoke to them and not being a fan of blackmail, I decided my family’s safety was more important. I certainly didn’t think this man’s behaviour was at all professional and so sent a final letter to Mr Brown letting him know this would be my last reply to him.
A few weeks later court papers arrived. Before the case was heard in April 2014 in front of District Judge Clarke we did go through the mediation service. Financial offers were made to try and end this long running issue but Simon Brown just kept raising the amount.
My evidence for the court included the fact that no money had been made from using the image included in the press material; that I was unaware that a watermark meant you had to contact the photographer first; that the image was with a media release and that the meta data included a terms and conditions link (identical T&Cs word for word that many other amateur photographers use online – like the way he sets out his letters Simon isn’t original – he likes to copy!!) which included a third party licence when the image was used in a news releases; and it was his ‘unreasonable behaviour’ that had lead us to court in the first place.
Simon Brown Images
District Judge Clarke, according the Mr Brown’s account, said that ‘to ignore the watermark was not just flagrant but plain silly’. Having spoken with several professional photographers they say otherwise. Certainly I am still unaware of any rule about contacting a photographer when an image, bearing a watermark or branding, is included in a press release or media pack and has a third party licence for use with a news story. Press releases are sent out every day with watermarked or branded images but if you had to contact the photographer (and wait for agreement) every time you received them you wouldn’t be publishing news. You would hope that a judge would see tresspass and taking photographs without permission that could be of young girls playing in their room to far more serious!
Damages and costs were awarded to Simon Brown Images. It seems the circumstances relating to his unreasonable behaviour which lead to this going to court in the first place were not the issue for District Judge Clark. She might have a different view if she found out a stranger had been on her property, sneaking around taking photographs without permission and who was too scared to discuss the matter in person.
Almost two weeks after the court case Simon Brown finally picked up the phone and called me. The conversation was short with a threat of bailiffs if I didn’t pay up within the next week.
I transferred the money to his building society account but I have yet to receive an acknowledgement or receipt from Simon Brown Images. It may not have gone directly into his business account but I’m sure he will declare this extra money and any other cash demands he receives to HM Revenue & Customs.
I didn’t set out to take advantage of anyone, the watermark was not ignored as the meta data terms and conditions with the photograph included a third party licence for use with a news story. If I actually did something wrong then it was an honest mistake but there was the third party licence included in the information. District Judge Clark wont be an expert in this area and so it is more like a heads and tails case where if you live near London then you can easily turn up for a case. Maybe I should have kept in communication after that second letter but Simon Brown’s actions and threats were unprofessional and he had no interest in any negotiations – he just wanted the money.
At least it’s over now and I’m sure he won’t be around here again especially after his previous activities outside my home have been reported. And we know he wont have the courage to knock on the door. Of course when I am next in his neck of the woods I may just call in and get my reciept.
There are some interesting articles on large watermarks and what they say about a photographer. One such article says that professional photograph buyers have found that photographers who do this are ‘more concerned with someone using their images without permission than they are about the actual images’ (maybe as a way to get an income as they can’t get professional work) and that they are ‘a difficult person to work with‘.
Some people do hold themselves in such high regard but I am sure that he will use this article and attached photograph without asking for my permission. Pot, kettle…Simon!
We will never know if he has kept the photographs taken on our property I just hope Simon Brown doesn’t have photographs of our young daughters.