Quit accusing me of stealing your photo credit
August 16, 2006 4:54 AM   Subscribe

I've been accused of something I didn't do: passing off someone's photograph as my own in a publication I write for. What's the best way to refute this, and how can I keep it from happening again?

I wrote a couple of articles (one long, one short) for a small trade pub, and had taken most of the photos for the pieces already, but was pushing deadline on something else, so I asked our new babysitter, who is a budding photographer, if she could take a location photo (she lived next door to the location) of one of the subjects (buildings) of the piece. I stipulated that the pub didn't pay for photos, and that the editor would choose what got run in the pub. I said that I would tell the editor that this other person had taken this particular set so that she could get credited for any of her photos that were used.

The problem is that the babysitter and I have the same first name, so I wanted to clarify that and avoid confusion.I distinctly remember sending an email 8 weeks ago to the editor to that effect. (Can I find this email? No -- I sent it via hotmail and forgot to hit "save". )

So last week I get advance copies of the pub. Her location photo is on the cover, with an interior shot inside with the piece. No photos (at all, by anyone) are credited. None. No credits, no attribution anywhere, in the whole mag. I figure it's the policy of the pub not to credit anyone, say to my sitter "dang, I asked them to credit you, but it looks like no one else got credited either. And you can still tell people it's yours." I thought maybe I could try to see if they would credit her on the site, since the print version hasn't hit the web yet. Once again, I was on deadline, so I figured I'd get around to it this week.

Today I get an email from her accusing me of "taking credit" for her work. I sent her an email immediately saying I had asked for her to get credit, but that no one got credit at all for any photos, and that I'd email the editor to see if it was policy or an oversight.

Sitter says "don't bother, I already called to ask "who took the photos?" and they said you had taken them." -- I'm all, what? -- because yes, I had taken some, but some photos were press kit shots, too, and I had kept the emails documenting me stating that these are PR photos, aren't they nice, they're from the building people, not me, etc.

I think this is just a case of fuzzy memory from the editor (and of course my stupidity in using hotmail to send anything of the slightest importance). I'm trying to find any email trail at all -- not to blame my editor but to prove to my sitter that I did what I could to ensure her attribution. But meanwhile I'm getting nasty emails in response to my statement of "I'm really sorry this happened -- I definitely asked you to be credited -- I am NOT credited, nor is anyone else -- I'm doing all I can to find out/fix this issue." (Her emails say: oh, I'm sure it's all just a CONFUSION.")

Sorry for the long post, but I've spent the day feeling like puking over this. Anyone who knows me well knows that taking credit for anything not mine, or even passively letting people think I took these photos, much less lying about it, is not me. Not even close. (And I'm not credited with the photos! sheesh...) In fact, to everyone who has seen the pub I've said "[Sitter's Name] took this shot, and this one -- isn't it great?"

But this pub's editor doesn't know me well -- just since this summer. I'm worried that this will become something -- that my sitter will complain publicly about me, that people will google my name and see her complaint. I write for other pubs, much bigger than this one (I am attempting to break into a different market, thus my small pieces in this pub), so it's not a stretch to say I'm worried about my reputation. I've only been a fulltime writer since March, so my writing rep doesn't have years of righteous publication to negate such an accusation.

I feel strongly that I'm doing all I can, but at a certain point -- am I protesting too much? This is so awful. I can't even tell a white lie without feeling sick about , it's practically a family joke. I know I'm not the only one who's gone through this. And again, sorry for the length. I cannot rest with this hanging over me.
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
1. Don't use that sitter again. I wouldn't even speak to her, because there's nothing you can say that will change her mind at this point.
2. Don't worry so much. It was a mistake. Maybe you could get the publication to run a small correction in the next issue.
3. If you are worried about your reputation, just make sure to keep all of the documentation you have, and whenever the story comes up (and it probably won't), explain your side.
posted by MegoSteve at 5:10 AM on August 16, 2006

Did you ask who at the publication your sitter spoke to? Perhaps she spoke to a low level employee or someone's secretary that isn't aware of your communications with the editor.

Are contributors to this publication typically asked to provide their own photographs? If other articles in this issue, or in the past, have had photographs published that weren't taken by the author him or herself and no credit was given to the photographer who took the picture I wouldn't worry about your situation. If this is the case perhaps you could sit down with your sitter and explain this.

Maybe you can explain how this is getting out of hand to your editor and ask for credit to be given online. A simple, low cost, time efficient solution.
posted by ASM at 5:13 AM on August 16, 2006

You say that the publication doesn't pay for photos, but did you get paid for your article? If so, you should write a check to your sitter for some percentage of that ($50?). If someone who works for you takes time and effort to do a task that helps you complete a paying assignment, that person deserves to be paid for their work too.

I would recommend picking up the phone and talking about this with her in person. She may not be as angry as her emails sound, and you can apologize and communicate how upset you are about the misunderstanding much better over the phone or face to face. Tell her that you are equally outraged that the magazine used her work without crediting her properly, and remind her how grateful you are to her for all her help on this project, etc. Basically, what happened was a mistake but you need to apologize to her and smooth things over so that she won't want to damage your reputation publically. (Saying "Huh, I thought I told them about that..." and "Oh well, you can still tell people that you took the picture" isn't exactly an apology or an expression of thanks, and I can understand why that may have made her feel worse.)
posted by bonheur at 5:27 AM on August 16, 2006

Do what you can to get her credited online, then find a new babysitter. Reasonable people understand this isn't your fault.
posted by thirteenkiller at 5:28 AM on August 16, 2006

You might want to talk to the editor and see if the editor will write a letter or email to the photographer explaining the mix-up. I also agree that if you got paid you should give a portion of that to the photographer. If she is reasonable this should blow over and you should be able to continue your relationship (it sounds like she must be a good photographer since she got the cover and so might be worth working with in that capacity in the future regardless of the babysitting gig).
posted by TedW at 5:44 AM on August 16, 2006

In addition to everything said above (except for the suggestion to give her a cut of your fee - I suspect that could make things worse; she might think you were paying her to keep quiet about it), could you email the editor and ask if s/he'd mind finding that email you sent eight weeks ago about the babysitter's photo credit and forward it to you? You could then forward it to the babysitter.

You could also briefly explain the fuss to the editor and ask that the babysitter be credited on the website, or, that a correction be put in the next isse. You might like to offer the babysitter a letter of recommendation as a photographer that she can put in her folio.

Other than that, I don't see what else you can do. This tantrum she's throwing is an indication that she's the sort of person you should avoid doing business with. Mistakes (or rather, editorial choices) like this get made all the time all the time in publishing, but she's ascribing uncharitable motives to you, which seems a bit unbalanced.

And don't worry about your reputation. You haven't done anything wrong. It feels terrible to be unjustly accused, and it's awful to be the target of someone's anger, but that doesn't make any of it true, and I bet this whole thing blows over pretty quickly. But yeah, you might need to find yourself a new babysitter.
posted by hot soup girl at 5:52 AM on August 16, 2006

Ask the editor to put a small note in the next issue to clarify the situation. 'About last months cover...'
posted by maxpower at 6:01 AM on August 16, 2006

Definitely arrange to have a correction printed in the next issue.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:20 AM on August 16, 2006

I find it strange that the publication doesn't pay for cover photos. Generally where article photos aren't paid for, the cover would be because it is used to help sell the magazine. See if the publication can print a correction to appease the babysitter but seriously she is blowing it out of proportion. This is not something that was purposefully done by you. I find it hard to understand hwo this could stain your reputation as a writer though.
posted by JJ86 at 6:22 AM on August 16, 2006

My two cents, based on lots of experience:

Unless your editor seemed especially concerned by this -- or the wacko babysitter is still harrassing him/her with emails/calls -- I would NOT bother the editor or the mag with anything more (including asking for a clarification or editor's note in the next issue -- please, please, please do not do this).

Editors are busy people, and if you're gonna seek further emplopyment with the publication, involving a busy person with what appears (to them) to be your personal drama is the wrong way to do it -- and guarantees you will never be asked to write for them again. A freelancer's job is to make an editor's job easier, end of story. The minute you start to become a drag, you're history.

And don't feel guilty -- this is the classic "small stakes" situation. Cloning smoke from Lebanon in a Reuters photo = a big deal. Not giving your babysitter a photo credit in a trade mag = bfd. (No aspersions intended -- if you're getting paid to write, it's all good.)

Bottom line: Make it go away, on your own time.
posted by turducken at 8:00 AM on August 16, 2006

Definitely arrange to have a correction printed in the next issue.

A correction of what? They didn't credit anyone. The only mistake is that someone told the sitter on the phone that anonymous took the pix. That's not correction-worthy. That's not even snit-worthy in any way.

To be honest, this seems like a ridiculous tempest in a teapot.
What turducken said: big fucking deal.
No one was screwed out of money or credit. The sitter is nutty and you shouldn't a/worry about it anymore and b/bother anyone at the rag about it.
And let's hope the sitter has no aspirations to ever enter journalism because damn, she wouldn't survive 2 minutes with her lack of perspective and paranoia.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:08 AM on August 16, 2006

First, I would not let this babysitter person near my kids. She is nuts.

Second, I reiterate the previous suggestions of trying to get a clarification or correction in the next issue. Maybe you can write a letter for the "Letters to the editor" section if they have one.

Third, if you have a blog or website, find a way to go on record so that it is in the public domain that you did not try to take credit for the photos.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:28 AM on August 16, 2006

Find a new babysitter.

There's no way I'd entrust my children to somebody who won't accept my word about a simple error made by some receptionist.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 8:38 AM on August 16, 2006

Your misunderstanding about the pubs policy of paying for copy, but not even crediting photography is the root of this one. (What do they have against photographers?) Anyhow apparently you've both been caught up in what might be considered a ungenerous it not unfair situation. Perhaps you can relate to the sitter at this level.

Meanwhile for perspective: you're making the mistake of taking responsibility for something you have no control over. They're not crediting any photographers, which if I understand correctly, you didn't know. You wouldn't have suggested your sitter would get credit if you'd known that. You should have apologised for not knowing their policy, congratulated her on the cover, and said you'll keep her in mind for future based on that success.

Your sitter needs to realize as well, she may not have made the cover based on technical or artistic expertise anyway. They may well have had that particular shot in mind for the cover anyway and any acceptable result would have been used. You could talk to her about what kind of work gets paid for and what doesn't: was any additional lighting used, did she incur any costs, did she pick just the right time of day for the light or to include or not people and/or cars in the shot, did she do any editing to realize any sort of 'vision' or to communicate anything in particular or was it just a straightforward literal representation of the outside of a building.
posted by scheptech at 8:42 AM on August 16, 2006

Please listen to turducken and CunningLinguist and pay no attention to the people who want you to get a clarification or correction printed. The editor of the magazine does not give a fuck about your babysitter's paranoid fantasies and does not want to hear about them. If I were you, I'd tell the babysitter one more time, gently, that she's wrong, then ignore her. And for god's sake get another babysitter.
posted by languagehat at 9:09 AM on August 16, 2006

follow-up from the OP:

1. The "dang, you didnt' get credited" statement is not as flippant as it sounds (it's a paraphrase and I said it much more nicely and with concern). I was willing to see if there was any way she could get explicit credit, either by helping her get a credit online or somehow get a written editorial kudo for her. It's worth repeating that not one single photo was credited to anyone. And my byline is not always on the pieces I write, either. That doesn't mean someone else is taking credit for them, as she assumed.

2. Photos to the mag are not paid for. I asked this in the beginning. Many, if not most, of the photos used are stock photos or photos from press kits, supplemented by photos the writers may take. Once again, I told my sitter from the beginning that this was the case -- no pay, but if she wanted to take a pic, I would send it in with her name (she lived next door to the building photographed, so this was in no way a difficult thing for her to do, and she could have easily refused. She hadn't even begun to babysit for me yet, so there was no relationship that I was leveraging.) The only reason I didn't snap the shot myselfI was that I was heading out of town and was crunching to get other articles out on time. The photo wasn't even a necessary one, since I had taken plenty of others, all of which got published, and there were some nice big glossy press photos as well -- actually, I had assumed one of these would be on the cover. I was trying to do her a favor by helping her get something published, if she wanted to try.

3. Perhaps I should have offered her payment for the photo, but a percentage of a pennies-per-word article of just over one page would have ended up being around 5-6 bucks. Plus, I did tons of writing work and took or rounded up all the other pictures for what is a step above an advertorial (it's a free publication for members of this industry). This seemed insulting -- better for me to suggest she take a photo if she felt like it, because it was her hobby, and help her get credit for it at least. This was a fun project, not a moneymaker in any way, for me or anyone. She said "no problem" to taking the photo on these terms. I do write for other pubs, and I have a host of writer and photographer friends, and would have gladly hooked her up with them if photography was a serious thing she wanted to do.

I think this is just a case of mistaken identity -- we have the same first name, so any in-passing attribution could have been easily overlooked. I took care of her accusation/complaint immediately, asking my editor if she could be credited and saying how glad I was that her shot made the cover. At this point offering payment seems like I'm admitting I did something wrong, when I didn't. Her emails have been so insulting that a phone call is out of the question. My emails have been nothing but professional and complementary of her work. I do not want to descend to her level. And she is getting credited -- both online and in the next print issue.

As an aside, she was a decent babysitter but canceled many times at the last minute, showed up late without calling to let me know, etc. I've been very understanding/forgiving about it (she has made no excuses for the lateness/no-shows), and I paid her a very high wage for my locale and her babysitting services (at the time, she seemed like an ideal candidate for a sitter) and recommended her to others. It feels like the worst sort of backstabbing for this reason.
posted by jessamyn at 11:03 AM on August 16, 2006

The way to refute it is to set the record straight in an email to her, but make it look like an apology.

Write it as if to someone who was disappointed not to receive credit -- not someone who's irrationally angry. Your email should retell the whole story: She helped you out a lot, and you appreciate it. Her photo was good, and you were happy that it made the cover. The magazine didn't credit anyone, including you. You can see why she'd be disappointed not to receive recognition in that issue of the magazine. You have arranged for a belated credit for her photo. You're sorry that she felt bad, and you wish her well.

Having sent this email, you will have shown yourself to be gracious, and you'll have a record of said graciousness and all the other facts of the unfortunate tale. You'll be letting her save face, which ought to calm her down a little. She'll have a nice email to show her friends and relatives -- who, by the way, know she's generally unreasonable or worse. And you'll have said 'good-bye forever.'

If it comes up later, you can say "That was so unfortunate. She got me out of a jam, and she was so excited about the cover. I wish I could have prevented her disappointment." But I doubt the issue will resurface.

The reason you're so upset is that she's being completely irrational, and you're trying to interpret her irrational anger and accusations in a rational way. What does she really want? I'm betting it's drama. She'll leave you alone and spark up a new commotion elsewhere if you don't give her any more fuel.
posted by wryly at 11:59 AM on August 16, 2006

Switch to GMail. Every e-mail you write is automatically saved, I think the labelling features would help your organization a lot, and I'm sure that as a photographer you'll find the increased storage space useful.
posted by ElfWord at 12:23 PM on August 16, 2006

Don't apologize to that loon. People seem to have the wrong idea about how much you get paid for freelance articles. Not to mention, you told her that she wouldn't be getting paid. She (the sitter) took the photo as an attempt to build a portfolio. She should be glad that you gave her the opportunity! She owes you , not the other way around. People were not knocking down her door to shoot for their magazine. If she wasn't such an ass she'd be working you to get more work in the pub, so as to build a real portfolio. And doing it gratis. You don't just pay someone with no history and no portfolio to take pictures. You pay someone only after they have established a body of work. The dopey babysitter just blew her best chance to establish a body of published work. Screw her!

SO it doesn't have a photo credit attached. Big whoop! I look at stuff from Art Directors, designers, copywriters, etc. - and none of their stuff has credits or bylines. This babysitter needs to grow up.
posted by Mister_A at 12:26 PM on August 16, 2006

"This babysitter needs to grow up."

I think that's likely the heart of it - she's probably just starting out in this field (if not the workforce entirely), and doesn't have the experience to put these things in their mundane non-conspiratorial context (and she obviously will have heard more horror stories about people getting ripped off by other people, than stories about stuff not working out perfectly simply because of the nature of a production pipeline, because one kind of story is dramatic and the other mundane and dull).

Wryly's advice is good. I would also suggest that the nasty things she has written are a reason to talk on the phone, NOT a reason not to - people (especially young people) often find it much easier to fly off the handle in text where they are dealing with an imaginary foe, than when the person in question is right in front of them being reasonable, and social standards of conduct apply more strongly.

In my experience, trying to sort out this kind of thing via text is a great way to ensure nearly any situation is made worse.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:38 PM on August 16, 2006

Wait a sec. Either you sent the email, or you didn't. If you did, it should be in your "sent items" folder. Surely Hotmail has a sent items folder? Every other mail service I've ever seen does.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:26 PM on August 16, 2006

One more from the OP:

I'm a writer, not a photographer, if that helps anyone understand how much less interested I am in taking photos or taking photo credit.

I only talked to my editor because this person had contacted her already, so I needed to do some damage control. She understands what's going on completely and we both understand that this is just a case of honest mistake. It's not a problem, and she told me that she had meant to contact me about the credits but forgot in the haste of going to press.

Hotmail only saves sent messages if you check the small box that says "Copy message to Sent folder." I was in the middle of shifting all my work/writing correspondence to Gmail, literally that weekend. I was heading out of town for an event and was planning to write up the trip for a couple of other mags, so I was already on to the next piece. In the confusion, I forgot to check the box when sending those 2 photos and attributing them to her. And can I say enough that *neither I nor anyone else were credited for this, or any photo?* I don't know what planet this girl lives on where that means I'm stealing her credit.

This really keeps me from wanting to give anyone a hand. I would love to hear how other people handle this situation -- helping someone get published or whatever. I never thought I'd have to protect myself for acting generously. I know what it means to start out at the bottom, and just wanted to give her a small boost.

I am now interviewing new nannies, of course.
posted by jessamyn at 5:50 AM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

« Older Will USPS deliver a forwarded check from a CA...   |   Is pepper-based Sinus Spray effective? Dangerous?... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.