Protecting your content online is a huge part of being a photographer. Image theft is absolutely rampant online. Many people think if an image is on the internet, they can use it any way they want. However, this is not the case as photographers own copyright of an image the moment they trigger the camera. Each photographer looks at unauthorized use a little differently, but I break it down into three levels.
Sharing - This is not image theft. As a photographer you want people sharing your work. This is when a person or page shares your post directly. Their share links directly back to your account. This helps your work be seen by more people and can quickly grow your social media following.
Reposting (with credit) - Technically this is image theft and you have every right to request these images be taken down. If someone reposts one of your images, it can go viral and help them quickly grow their social media following. You will likely receive a trickle down boost in followers. I tend to just let this type of image theft slide anymore.
Reposting (without credit) - This is image theft in its purest form. This is done strictly to add content to a page without making any effort to credit the photographer for their work. I see this a lot and report this type of theft for copyright infringement 100% of the time. Sometimes it is just laziness, not looking for the name of the photographer that took the image. Other times it is deceitful. People try to act like they were the person that took the picture. They use your work to benefit their own brand.
Which leads us to Brent Shavnore. I’m in a group of storm chasers on Facebook that looks out for unauthorized use of content we produce. When I came across a post about Brent, I decided to look through his Instagram page and quickly found one of my images was mirrored and used as a key element in his “artwork”.
So what do you do when you find one of your images has been stolen? I would probably suggest in most cases, simply messaging the person or page and asking for credit to be added is the proper course of action. If you think someone is honestly being deceitful and stealing your work, you can use these forms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) to report stolen content on social media. If your work is being used on a website, you can file a DMCA takedown notice with host. When I find my work on a website, I typically start by sending an invoice to the company for unauthorized commercial use. When I found Brent had stolen my image, I went straight to reporting directly to Instagram. The funny thing about these forms is they do give the infringer your information, including an email address to reach you. Almost instantly I received this email.
This made me think that I should probably dig a little deeper here. What I found was shocking.
This guy had been systematically stealing my work for years and had built a sizeable social media following (130,000 Instagram followers and 23,000 facebook followers) off of Photoshopping mine (and I assume other photographer’s) work.
Just to be safe, I searched every thunderstorm image on Adobe Stock and Shutterstock, but found no instances of my work posted for sale on the sites he suggested he purchased them from. Honestly, I didn’t expect to. His story reeked of bs, but best to be certain.
My work was so ingrained in his, it was hard to comprehend. Elements of my images were mirrored and flipped to avoid detection. It took several passes to find all of my images and I question if I even got them all. I found my work on his website, posted for sale on Fine Art America, and there was even an image of mine credited to him on Snopes.
I responded twice to Brent’s email, requesting he show me where he purchased the rights to my images. He ignored both messages. Likely because he was busy working to cover his tracks. He removed all of my images from his website and deleted his entire Fine Art America account.
This left me with the task of preparing copyright infringement reports for his Facebook and Instagram accounts, some of which are still being processed by Facebook. Does he have a Twitter? I don’t even use Tw…yes he has a Twitter and four of my images are on there! I reached out to Snopes and agreed to an amended post stating that my work had been used without my permission to create a false weather event image.
My favorite Easter Egg in this whole ordeal was finding that someone used the Shavnore rendition of my image with the storm photoshopped UPSIDE DOWN and somehow The Weather Channel used it ON AIR as a legitimate image! What?! How?That’s a whole ‘nother blog post there though.
I emailed an invoice to Mr. Shavnore for the amount of $9,222.50 (including TX sales tax) for unauthorized commercial use of 3 of my images, used no less than 11 times. He has yet to respond to that email or pay the invoice (imagine the surprised look on my face). I am currently exploring legal action against Brent Shavnore for using my images to build a sizeable social media following as well as profiting from posting the images for sale online.
I reached out to Mr. Shavnore once more for comment to this article and have yet to receive a response. My message to him is that he is a thief, poser, coward, and a liar. His work is pure trash that preys on ignorance. He is a fake sitting behind a computer screen and his real pictures, which are hard to find are garbage. He’s missing out on the best part of weather photography, which is actually getting out and seeing these events.
I would strongly encourage other photographers to check through his remaining accounts to see if any of your work is on there, especially if you shoot stars or storms.