Oi! Don’t You Understand Copyright?

A long time friend and photographer Gavin Evans, had the good fortune to be commissioned to photograph David Bowie in London back in 1995. The shoot lasted just forty minutes but produced a powerful, graphic and insightful set of studio based images – you can see the images here http://gavinevans.com/david-bowie – that have sat on Gavin’s website and in his portfolio ever since. Bowie liked the images so much he asked for some of the prints for his personal collection, hung one in his Manhattan office, described the image above as his favourite of all time and when the Victoria & Albert museum staged an exhibition devoted to Bowie’s life in 2013, he suggested that Gavin’s portraits of him should be included and used in the exhibition and catalogue.

Fast forward to 2016 and the sad death of David Bowie and those same portraits gained a new currency and importance. Many people had photographed Bowie over the years but few images took on the mantle of being iconic. Gavin’s fulfilled this criteria.

Now based in Berlin and with his own gallery space Gavin decided to exhibit not only the images previously seen but also images from the shoot that had never been seen. The exhibition titled David Bowie – The Session proved to be a critical and popular success and an open edition print sales opportunity enabled Gavin to re-ignite an income from the work, alongside a re-usage fee revenue stream

Of all of the images from the shoot one has proven to be the most used and I think can say be described as truly iconic. It is the one that sits at the beginning of this article, which features on the poster for the Bowie musical staging Lazarus and which featured throughout the Sotheby’s sale of Bowie’s own art collection in the summer.



Of course we all hope as photographer’s that at some point in our careers our archive will come good just as Gavin’s has. It is one of the reasons why we fight so hard to maintain and protect our copyright. It is why we must understand what copyright is, how to use it to our advantage and most importantly of all how to explain it to our clients, particularly those who want to take it from us.

In the United Kingdom the Association of Photographers do a good job in helping photographers in all of these respects – www.the-aop.org – and there are similar organisations worldwide doing a similarly good job.

However, there is a specific reason why I have chosen to use Gavin and his David Bowie images in relation to copyright as the focus for this article and it is this.

I am friends with Gavin on Facebook and I like the music of David Bowie. Facebook know the former and the latter but they don’t know or seem to care that the sponsored ad they keep posting to my timeline featuring the opportunity to buy David Bowie t-shirts, posters, mugs and hoodies features Gavin’s ‘ssshh!’ Bowie image without permission. This blatant theft and manipulation of an image across multiple fan based products seems to be big business for those who are direct marketing to me based upon what Facebook know about my likes and interests. In the past few weeks I have been offered merchandise featuring Bob Dylan, Neil Young and of course Bowie. All of which feature the use of copyrighted images that have not been cleared or paid for (I’ve checked).

Above: Gavin Evans image used without the permission of the photographer.

Photographers have become used to their images being used illegally over the years – photographs of pop and rock stars have been regularly appropriated by bootleggers of all kinds – but they way in which companies are using Facebook pages and profiles to promote their image theft directly to fans of the artists creates a situation in which the fans are unknowingly supporting both the theft and the company disregarding their copyright responsibilities.

I recently tried to upload a short film clip of my youngest daughter dancing to some music directly to Facebook. I was not allowed to by Facebook as the music was copyrighted, which I of course have no issue with. This proves that abuse of copyright could be addressed by the platform and that they are making some attempt to fulfil their responsibilities. But posting on a separate platform and then linking to a Facebook avoids the software block I faced, which is exactly what companies such as that illustrated above are doing.


I have commented under the companies multiple sales posts on Facebook explaining their image theft with no response – their unlawful use of the Brian Duffy portrait of Bowie above as their profile image is yet another example of their ignorance of copyright and definitely not ‘aewsome’. I have reported the posts to Facebook, wth no response. The lack of response is no surprise so I felt compelled to raise the issues with you to see what you think. Maybe you have seen the David Bowie posts or similar for other pop/rock icons and feel that you would like to comment. Maybe we could start a movement!

If you do feel like joining me with this may I suggest that you post this comment “Oi! Don’t You Understand Copyright? Nothing more nothing less and let’s see if we get a response of any kind.

Of course the people at David Bowie Fans and David Bowie Fans Worldwide – with their 89,000 followers – whose Facebook pages these ads link to could never have known that I know Gavin and that I would write this article in response to their direct marketing campaign. But I do and I have! 

Grant Scott is the founder/curator of the United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer in Editorial and Advertising Photography at the University of Gloucestershire, a working photographer, and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Focal Press 2014) and The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Focal Press 2015).

© Grant Scott 2016




  1. does this extend to original paintings and caricatures ? i am a caricaturist and people like to by caricatures of cult icons but i have to do them from photos of course,i do not however just take a photo and digitally enhance it ,i hand draw and paint it. is this only an issue is its not an original hand done piece? As there was a case in 2014 to do with a caricature of the Mona Lisa,but the caricaturist won as a law was put in place due to this case stating that it was not theft of the image and didnt effect the images industry ,like if i did a starwars caricature and sold prints as long as i dont copyright it and just sign it i am not affecting the industry behind starwars or their income due to it being a parady.

    1. Hi Andy, it certainly can. You should get specific legal advice on this this based on where you live, the images you are using for reference and how and where your work is seen, used and sold. Hope that helps UNP

  2. I’ve wondered the same thing about these memorabilia pages on Facebook. They’re so strict in regards to music copyright (as you say) and I can’t help but wonder if it’s a result of the legal backlash companies like Napster had in the past.

    Perhaps on an individual level the simplest solution is to respond wherever possible with comments of condemnation. However, sadly we probably won’t see a direct change until genuine legal repercussions start to be associated with the unsolicited use of creative property.

  3. Unfortunately without the full help of the social media platforms – you are going to have a problem. Facebook have taken down images that I have reported – but you can only get basic help from them. For instance they only take the main infringing image down rather than all the shared links of the same shot. But, Facebook et al need to do more – they should close the page down or at least put the infringer in to facebook jail. ie temporary ban. Also, Keep your eye out for this guy – Steve Stachini – using Bowie pictures and developing an whole business around it. https://www.facebook.com/stachini.blackstar.studio/?pnref=story

  4. There is one or two companies (possibly the same company) behind most of the infringing merchandising offers on FACEBOOK. They hide behind DMCA and play a long game of whack a mole with artists, photographers, brands etc. I’m a manager of 3 large artists (and amateur photographer – great site!) that have been targeted by these scum bags. I’ve sent multiple cease and desist letters but they won’t go away until FACEBOOK figures out a way to get rid of them. I’m in touch with facebook but it’s slow going in regards to a solution. Possibly because they are obviously making money off all of the sponsored stories.
    Oh and Hamilton sued them too. https://wjlta.com/2016/10/28/courtroom-theatrics-find-new-meaning-as-hamilton-sues-for-copyright-infringement/

  5. There seems to be a lack of effort from ‘regular’ photographers who have their work stolen to take action, but please, it’s possible (for us smaller guys) to win as the thieves are always in the wrong.

    I have had good resolutions both by myself and via an agency, although I realise that photographers with such famous pictures as Gavin will struggle to find or even collect on all infringers, but it starts with us little guys.

    I got one infringer myself this week (story here… http://www.mickflynnimages.com/blog/2017/1/roundup-of-2016-for-mick-flynn-images)

    Don’t give up.

  6. I don’t understand what you are asking Facebook users like us to do? Just to post : ““Oi! Don’t You Understand Copyright?” or to link to your article above on Facebook in which case the image of Bowie will likely appear on Facebook?

  7. The idea that these theves don’t know about copyright is completly wrong, the vast majority know exactly what they are doing. They do it because the chance of being caught are low and if caught the chances of being prosecuted are extreemly low. Its therefore cheaper to steal work and pay a couple of grand damages once in a blue moon to that one in a million stuborn copyright enforcer.

    This is the world we live in today and the only way to change it is to litigate. If every photographer took one case to court every year we would not have this problem. There is no reason not to do it, there is plenty of help and support out there and in the UK we have a Copyright small claims track which is relativly inexpensive. If most stock photography businesses are like mine then more than 99% of image reproductions are unlawful so by not litigationg you are effectivly kissing goodbye to more than 99% of your income.

    1. They claim that these are ‘Limited Edition’ items, hoping that you won’t bother going after them for the reasons laid out above. But of course, these ain’t limited editions, they continue to manufacture and sell until there is no longer any demand.

  8. I’m still chasing up image use of my work without permission, licence or fee by a UK leading disability rights organisation who, having lifted the image from a press article, sought to use it no less than 43 times. It s one of many ongoing issues I have with regard to unauthorised (and thus, unpaid) use of my work. It’s sickening as I struggle to make ends meet, whereas organisations freely lift images from press articles or SEO scrapes, using said images for their own purposes without any thought whatsoever to the image creator. It’s coming to a point when I can no longer afford to do my job, because in essence, I’m working for nothing. Periodic payments from photo agencies are just scraps compared to the basic minimum needed in order to exist in today’s life.

  9. The law is an ass! The criminals (which they are) can easily hide behind Data and Protection Acts. Trying to get home addresses of website owners who pay for servers with internet companies is increasingly difficult. There is a need for an AIDS-style education in making the public aware that anything created by an author is copyrighted to the said author – music, paintings, photographs etc.

    The amount of times that, not that it worries me, but a perpetrator tells me to “jog on” or words to that effect – sometimes telling me that they will see me next Tuesday – is frightening. Not that I am backing up the robbing thieving scum, but I’m very much of the belief that they have been taught right from wrong and would never think about stealing a TV from an electrical store, but being as though it is online, the internet does not seem real for them.

    The educators – the messengers – the repeaters of information – call it them you will – local and national newspapers, usually shy away from reporting copyright thefts. Equally one certain organisation who I have had thousands from in the past, prefer to pay a supplementary four figure sum – suggested by them after months of negotiation so that I keep quiet and never report such incidents. It suits me, but it does not educate the public.

    I personally have never instructed a lawyer. Just be confident and do it yourself. If you make a mistake and the perpetrator is one step ahead or you did not issue the demands in the right way or something, treat it as an important learning curve and use your new knowledge on the next one!

  10. Had some images of Corbyn used by Momentum (again without permission or payment). The same images that were used by the Times in 2015 (through my agency Eyevine). The response to my polite letter from their “press liaison” asking why they didn’t simply ask me for usage as I would have been very sympathetic: “Oh we copied it from the Times Web article”. No credit and no payment (despite a photographer living far below minimum wage). Its the internet !

  11. A friend of mine had multiple images taken from his website, by several different individuals and companies, and used in this way. He employed a lawyer to write a standard letter explaining the breach of copyright and the cost to the person/company/website mis-appropriating the image. His charge was very high, but with copies proving legally that the images had been used, he says that they all ended up having to pay.

    Annoying, and time consuming to find and follow up, but at least he got paid.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: