CityPages Photo Klepto Problem

Village Voice Media’s Minneapolis / St Paul Property online property,, appears to employ a series of photography kleptomaniacs starting at the top with the paper’s editor, Kevin Hoffman.

Every once in a while, photographers in the Twin Cities will erupt in outrage over the user of their images without permission (aka stealing) by the CityPages.

For example, here’s a comment left last month on CP by a local professional photographer who stumbled across one of her photos being used in a blog post about Cafe Latte:

Sarah says:

By using my photo to illustrate this article, you are violating its creative commons license. You need to at least link back to the flickr page from which you took the photo. A link to is insufficient. Moreover, use by this blog is a likely a commerical use, which is prohibited by the terms of the CC license. I’d appreciate if you would fix these problems.

Thank you.

Posted On: Thursday, Jan. 22 2009 @ 11:46AM

Sarah was clearly not happy with the unauthorized use of her photo. What was CityPages’ response when confronted about their blatant theft of Sarah’s property? They pulled the image.

That made me wonder whether the paper has a “steal first, ask for permission/pull the photo if/when people complain” policy. I also wondered whether this kleptomania problem goes largely undetected since photographers from around the country probably aren’t reading what’s left of Minneapolis’ primary alt-weekly. I decided to take a closer look.

Rather than focus on the behavior of someone lower on the corporate flow chart, I decided to focus at the top with CityPages Editor, Kevin Hoffman. He does a lot of writing for the website and often includes images with his stories. Here’s what I found:

Kevin Hoffman's Non-Cited Photo of Rex Sorgatz

January 14th, 2009, Kevin Hoffman used this photo of Rex Sorgatz in a post. Hoffman included a “via” link but the link goes to the photo’s .jpg URL rather than the photographer’s website or Flickr site. It also doesn’t mention who the photographer is. Scott Beale / Laughing Squid took this shot, which I found out from Gawker who did give credit to Scott. Scott explains exactly how he’d like to be cited during free reuse of his work on Flickr photo pages.

Kevin Hoffman's Non-Cited Photo of Rex Sorgatz

January 14th, 2009, Hoffman blogged about Rex twice in the same day, used the same photo twice, and failed to cite the photographer, Scott Beale / Laughing Squid, either time.

Salmonela Image in CityPages

January 8, 2009 , Kevin Hoffman used the above graphic without citation. This one should say, “(Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH)” as Arizona State University, Kenyon College and the Science Museum in London all did when they used the image on their sites.

Citypages Brilliant

January 28, 2008: Kevin Hoffman appears to have borrowed this photo – without citation – from

Wild Citypages

January 7, 2009: Kevin Hoffman used this photo from a Minnesota Wild game . . . without citation. The logo is kind of a giveaway that he didn’t take it.

Another Laughing Squid Photo on

February 3, 2009 : Kevin Hoffman uses another photo from Scott Beale / Laughing Squid’s Flickr account without citation. Another blog, Wonderland, used the same photo in October 2008 with the following citation:

Image: Zombies Invade San Francisco!, a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic licensed photo from Laughing Squid‘s Flickr stream
Op Ed Columnist Clipart

February 1, 2009: Kevin Hoffman lifted this 10 year old piece of clip-art from Debbie Twyman and Craig Whitney . On their website, they state:

We created these materials – – please respect our ownership of them.
This and all other pages on this World Wide Web site are copyright © 1999 by Debbie Twyman and Craig Whitney. Permission for non-commercial use of materials on this site may be obtained by contacting the owners via email at school, or via snail mail to them at NKCHS, 620 East 23rd Avenue, North Kansas City, MO 64116.

That seems pretty clear.

Andrew Zimmern Travel Channel

January 28, 2008: Based on the dimensions of this photo, Kevin Hoffman snagged this from a blogger who snagged it from somewhere else. Had Kevin clicked one page deeper in his Google Images search, he would have found that this image belongs to the Travel Channel, as the Weird Eats blog mentioned when they used the same photo.

AP Photo on CityPages

March 4, 2008: Kevin Hoffman appears to have lazily searched for a photo of a fat kid. The one he decided to rip off was originally shot by the AP, as The Guardian notes in their use of the same photo in 2007.

Pulitzer Prize Image from Washington Post

April 7, 2008: Kevin Hoffman uses an image of the Pulitzer Prize from the Washington Post. Kind of funny to see an newspaper editor stealing a Pulitzer Prize, eh?

Censorship on CityPages

May 6, 2008 : Kevin Hoffman needs an image to go with a post he’s writing about censorship. The first result on Google Images is the above image. Only two more clicks and he could have figured out that this is a piece by Eric Drooker. Or, did Kevin know that and still not link to Drooker?

Is This a Trend?

I looked through 53 posts to find 11 clear examples of non-cited photos (the actual number of offending images was probably higher but these were the most obvious). Some of the above examples are creative commons labeled where the photographers don’t expect to be paid but do expect to be recognized for their work. Others are the property of paid wire services.

CityPages Rotting From the Head

But is it just the head? I spot checked a few other writers on the site:

Mark Perceval-Maxwell Painting on CityPages

February 5, 2009: Matt Snyders uses this altered image from artist Mark Perceval-Maxwell without citation. It appears to be reusable under Creative Commons 2.5 which states:

You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor”

Cameron Beckman Getty Images Photo on CityPages

Feb 7, 2009: Judd Spicer snags the first photo found on Google Images for Cameron Beckman. To the right of the photo on the first site this image can be found on through Google Images, it clearly states, “Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images ” but there is no citation on CityPages. Getty is in the business of selling images, so they may have some questions about this use of their photograph.

Starbucks Bloomberg News

February 6, 2009: Emily Kaiser appears to have snagged this Bloomberg News photo from a BusinessWeek article. Chances are pretty good that BusinessWeek paid Bloomberg for use of the photo. Did Emily?

Lately, Emily has taken to adding citations, including one for this photo of Rahm Emmanuel and Barack Obama. Notice that she put “Photo courtesy of the LA Times” below the photo:

Rahm and Barry AP Photo on Citypages

Courtesy? Do you think the LA Times is in the business of giving complimentary photos to other media sites? I don’t either.

Had Emily clicked through to the LA Times’ site, she would have found out that she was lifting an Associated Press photo by Alex Brandon. Giving credit to who you’re stealing from is a nice nod, but may not cut it with the people who paid photographers to go out into the real world to capture the news.

Emily Kaiser's use of AP Photo on CityPages

In this example, Emily Kaiser gives the Boston Globe credit for an Associated Press photo taken by Don Ryan.

AP Photo on the Boston Globe used by Emily Kaiser on CityPages

How do I know this? Because the Boston Globe cited their source (and paid them too, I’m sure).

Emily Kaiser also borrows from her in-town rival, the StarTribune, who sent staff photographer Carlos Gonzalez down to Macy’s to shoot this shot :

StarTribune Photo Used by Emily Kaiser

The CityPages’ Bradley Campbell used this photo of Ringo Starr in a recent post:

Bradley Campbell's Use of Ringo Starr from Electronic Artists

Campbell credits a blog in India with this shot. However, it actually belongs to Electric Artists.

Systemic Photography Kleptomania

For the ultimate case in jaw-dropping hypocrisy on this topic, look no further than this three paragraph blog post (I’m republishing the whole thing under hilarious fair use) by CityPages Editor, Kevin Hoffman. Be sure to take in the 3rd paragraph about phoning it in:

CityPages Kevin Hoffman's Jaw-Dropping Hypocrisy

While writing about “visual plagiarism” Hoffman fails to credit the photographer, Flickr user silivaON, who’s photo he ripped.

Let’s be clear: I’m not suggesting that EVERY person working at CityPages is using a “steal first, ask for permission/pull the photo if/when people complain” policy when it comes to respecting intellectual property rights. There are still some great people at the paper. But I am willing to state that this appears to be an accepted practice that’s carried out at even the highest editorial levels at the paper. To me, this behavior is extraordinarily disrespectful to professional photographers, amateur photographers, and artists and the companies that finance their work.

Clearly, CityPages sees the value in the work being done by these people. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t steal it to enhance their stories.

What CityPages doesn’t seem to want to accept is that media is hard work. You have to come up with ideas, talk to people, write stuff, and legally gather acceptible art to accompany the writing. On the photography side, if they wanted to be better citizens, they could property cite certian creative commons licensed photos for free, ask photographers and artists whether they can reused their work for free, pay only a couple dollars an image for stock photography through sites like, or hire/contract with photographers for original art.

Usurping Reaction

Based on previous responses to posts I’ve written about CityPages and Village Voice Media, I’m pre-loading a few responses to expected reactions:

1. Everybody does this. (No, they don’t. And even if they did, it wouldn’t make it right.)

2. We don’t do this [anonymous commenter]. (AKA, they’ve now changed their policy and are trying to get retroactive credit for doing so).

3. This post is such a waste of time [anonymous commenter]. (Thanks for reading.)

4. What’s your motivation? (I like to see people’s hard work treated with the respect it deserves.)

5. Why are you picking on Emily? (I’ve never met Emily. I hear she’s a nice person. But her actions as a journalist during her tenure at CityPages are underwhelming. I think she would do much better in a less diseased work environment.)

6. Are you going to keep doing these CityPages posts? (Probably for at least another week.)

Finding Swiped Photos on CityPages

If you want to spot check an author’s use of images, try a search like this on Google to narrow down to their stories.

When you find stories with images, go over to and search for obvious terms someone would type into the search box to find that image. Usually, I could find the original source of the swiped photo on the first of second page of results.

Feel free to post more examples in the comments.

38 thoughts on “CityPages Photo Klepto Problem”

  1. That’s interesting. It’s not universal at City Pages, however — Andrea Swensson once used an image of mine to illustrate The World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band, and she contacted me first to ask permission and gave attribution. I wonder if there is any policy in place.

  2. I feel bad because we used to pull this sort of thing all the time at my college paper. Now, that was definitely not-for-profit journalism, but we certainly knew better.

    The problem is that our capabilities outpace our resources. At my paper, we *could* use and manipulate photos from elsewhere for print and the web but we didn’t have the time or money to get permission for each and every one so we didn’t even bother trying. This was most prevalent in the “entertainment” section of the paper, as we often covered things on the national popculture scene, but it happened elsewhere, too.

    Same thing here, really. Except the City Pages not only should *know* better, they should also *be* better than a student-run, low-budget, weekly newspaper. Shame, shame.

  3. Ed, at what point are you going to write a forthcoming blog about what your grudge is against this paper that is making you out to be a madman on a mission? Clearly you’re not spending all your free time bombarding them for nothing.

  4. A good reminder to tighten up the Creative Commons licensing requirements on Flickr, thanks.

  5. While I appear to be A LOT more circumspect than Kevin about using Flickr images, there was one I used last week without a linkback. So this is a good reminder for me about Flickr SOP.

    BTW, the MinnPost brain trust is militant about proper photo use – at least when they bang on me. So mine was a rogue operation.

  6. It seems to me that Ed has been quite clear about his grudge with City Pages. In this instance, it is that they are engaging, apparently knowingly, in using other people’s material without compensation or proper attribution.

  7. I personally run into this in my line of work where others feel it is perfectly acceptable to just “grab this photo from Google images”. Their assumption is that if I can see it online, it must be free. The thing is, there are legitimate FREE photo sites (not just royalty free) where novice photographers post images that would be at least on par with those that CP snatches for thier blog. I will plead guilty to having snatched photos in the same manner on occasion but when it comes to Flickr images I am always careful in linking back to the original work because if someone took the time to capture the photo and share it, the least you can do is show some link appreciation. CP seems to be severely lacking in ethics. I wonder how often they steal images for use in their print product. The quality would be a dead giveaway most times.


    good stuff, ed. you might bring this post to the attention of carolyn at the above site. i think she often posts stuff submitted by others and it would get the issue in front of the eyes of many of the photographers who it affects.


  9. could the fail to linkout/credit be an overzealous strategy to hoard link juice by decreasing external links?

  10. Haha. This article is great. Especially the part about Hoffman’s comments towards and their Summer of Love feature.

    I wonder if further research into The Village Voices’ use of found images would return the same results as the City Pages?

    As for more examples of the Pages’ stealing images… there’s an article posted today about a cat lady from St. Anthony. It uses an image from The Simpsons.

  11. On a side note, some photographers have it coming, how the eff can you pay a wedding photographer thousands of dollars for 3-5 hours of work and walk away with absolutely zero rights to the photos…bonkers I tell you.

  12. This is terrific. Especially the part where Hoff accuses the Strib of visual plagiarism, then has his nose shoved in it, again and again and again. Wonderful, Ed. Amazing, really. Keep it up. City Pages needs a critic just like every other media organization — and maybe even moreso, judging from this. You have a new reader in me.

  13. First of all @ryanol no one “has it coming” when their photos get ripped off. People work hard – even if some charge what may be too much in your/my opinon.

    I generally shoot live concerts and so my pics are ripped off all the time. It’s really annoying and it states on my Flickr profile that you can just contact me to use the photos. I will generally give permission as long as I get proper attribution and it’s a non-commercial use. I have Creative Commons on my photos as well that states this.

    I run into things like a guy at the VFW record shows who ripped off three of my Hold Steady shots and used them to make CD art for a bootleg, which he was then selling. I threatened to sue him as he’s making a nice profit off my hard work – of course I bet if I go to the show on Saturday, he’ll be there with the same CDs and I’ll freak at him again. Some people are just assholes and don’t learn.

    On the flip side, I run into people who very nicely shoot me an email and just ask if they can use it for an article or a blog or whatnot. There are also sites like who know they can use anything they want from me, but still ask each and every time.

    As for CP, I freelance for them quite a bit, and Andrea Swensson and I are friends – yet Andrea emails me every single time to make sure it’s ok for her to use a pic. She always credits me correctly as well. I don’t think it’s all of City Pages staffers that are doing this, but it definitely shows a bad trend that needs to cease immediately.

  14. Interesting article, looks like it took a lot of work. Being one of the local photobloggers, I wonder if they’ve ever taken anything from one of the local bloggers for one of their stories.

  15. Ryanol…”how the eff can you pay a wedding photographer thousands of dollars for 3-5 hours of work and walk away with absolutely zero rights to the photos”…I think in econ terms, that’s where the supply curve meets the demand curve…however crazy it might be.

    Ed – good article..again. I think it’s funny that people challenge your motives; strikes me as you care about fairness in the online media and advertising world, and as companies are transitioning to online advertising, this doesn’t seem like a bad topic to explore. Anyhow, as far as the attacks on CP, they obviously don’t know the will of a man who’s posted seemingly hundreds of times about toilet paper.

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  17. Ed – Really nice work! I don’t know what is more offensive, having my photos stolen or ryanol’s comment?

    I’m guessing ryanol has never photographed a wedding…just a guess.

  18. Very interesting read. I stumbled across this site today and I’m glad I did. As a graduate student at a (supposedly) well-regarded journalism school, I’ll merely observe that this is another area where journalism education needs to get up to speed. There are some brilliant teachers in my J-school, and many of them have had long careers as top-level journalists. The majority, however, probably wouldn’t know a creative commons license from a hole in the ground, if I can torture the phrase. As more and more of our young journalists (myself included) are digital natives, we really need to integrate traditional ethics with the new media landscape. Anyway, I’ll get off my high horse now, keep up the good work.

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  20. Lets see:
    I pay a graphic designer to create a logo for me- I own the work.

    I pay a web designer to build me a site- I get the code, files the whole shebang.

    My brother does amazing 3D animation, character design/industrial design – the people who pay his fees own the work.

    I hire a wedding photographer – They keep the originals, retain the rights and force me to buy re-prints from them. IMHO thats essentially extortion.

    I shopped around till I found one who was willing to give me the files. But I have countless friends who are still sour about there experience with their photog.

  21. {Whew — took a while to get this to load!}

    When Steve Perry and I started up CP’s blogs, their lawyer (who I never spoke to directly) absolutely forbade grabbing other people’s photos and artwork. I mean there really wasn’t anything to discuss but it came up because so many blogs were doing just that and the decision was made that CP wouldn’t play by those rules.

    I guess the rules changed, then changed back.

  22. Ed – Great post. This is such a huge problem and it’s great of you to draw people’s attention to it.

    @Ryanol – Just because you think something is unfair doesn’t mean that you can break the law because you feel like it. It is ILLEGAL to steal copyrighted material whether or not you dislike photographers. I’m pretty sure that whatever line of work you’re in, you like to get paid for what you do.

  23. ***Ed sorry to hijack your post
    I do not condone stealing.

    I always check for CC licenses when posting pics online that I haven’t shot, try my best to credit properly and have yet to make a cent commercially on any endeavor.

    Both my brother(primary), his wife (primary) and my wife (secondary/other day job) are artists so I understand the difficulties involved.

  24. I totally agree with ryanol on the issue of wedding photographers keeping all rights to the photos they take.

    Actually, Ed I think that would make for a great and very useful local post: a quick survey of wedding photographers in the area who would be considered “ideal” from the client’s perspective. Keep originals, rights to reproduce, etc.

    I would like to get married someday (maybe even in Minneapolis/St. Paul!) and I certainly don’t plan on letting a 3rd party have control over my incredible memories. By the time I get married though, everyone will be lifecasting the whole thing, the streams of which will be combined in some sort of cloud to provide an archived HD, 3d, double-d reliving at the touch of a button.

  25. You seem to have a personal vendetta against City Pages and Village Voice Media- this is the only media I have seen your investigative “talents” used to “expose” in the past several weeks. I think you’re a prime example of what is wrong with the blogging world, you are just serving your ego. Different “strokes”… I guess.

  26. Heather, as a Village Voice Media employee, I can understand that original reporting may seem like a foreign concept to you. 🙂

    You’re welcome to refute my reporting here or in any of your newspapers, do so in the comments here, or send me something I could guest blog here for you.

    But, if the best you can do is attack me personally rather than refute what I’ve written, you need to grow a thicker skin.

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  28. Great post on a topic that deserves more attention.

    ryanol: the ownership of the work depends entirely on the contract

  29. Just saw this post – great investigative work digging up all those examples of photo theft. I and the other photogs I know struggle with this stuff all the time – I am glad to hear that someone actually cares about this issue!

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  31. This is still happening, in fact their lead story this afternoon ripped my photo from Flickr with no attribution.

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