Village Voice Media’s Minneapolis / St Paul Property online property, CityPages.com, 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:
Hannah,

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 flickr.com 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 Ebaumsworld.com.

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 CityPages.com

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:

Attribution.
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 istockphoto.com, 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 images.google.com 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.