Photo Thievery is Upheld by Texas Supreme Court

Posted Jun. 22nd, 2021 by Daniel J. Cox

Many of you know I’m a staunch supporter of photographers protecting the rights of their pictures. Creating images does not come cheap. Cameras are expensive, and computers to process those images are equally expensive. The time, effort, and money spent to get to locations are additional costs. All of this adds up to substantial expenses needed for producing the photos we envision. Even so, photo thievery is upheld by Texas Supreme Court when they ruled that the University of Houston is protected by “sovereign immunity.”

Jim Olive’s Image Stolen by The University of Houston

The Texas Supreme Court ruled that it was okay for The University of Houston to use professional photographer Jim Olive‘s photograph of downtown Houston without permission. The case began back in 2014 when the University of Houston either right-clicked and copied or simply took a screenshot of Jim’s picture of the Houston skyline. They then added the image to their website to advertise the Bauer College of Business where “together, we rise, together, we soar” is their motto. Maybe they should add, “As a group we steal.”

Kathy Adams Clark Sounds the Alarm

My friend and NANPA (North American Nature Photography Association) colleague Kathy Adams clark brought this disgusting abuse of power to my attention. The following is text from her original blog post:

The Texas Supreme Court ruled that the University of Houston is protected by “sovereign immunity.” This well-respected university that is charged with teaching our young people is allowed to use something without permission due to “sovereign immunity.”

I’ve followed Jim Olive‘s case since it began back in 2014. It’s made my blood boil and my heart race since day one. As photographers we do everything we can to protect our photos from unauthorized use. We embed metadata, we disable right clicks on our websites, we even pay companies to troll the internet looking for unauthorized use.

Yet, a person or persons affiliated with “Houston’s Public Tier One University” really did right click or screen capture one of Jim’s photos. Then they used it to advertise the Bauer College of Business where “together, we rise together, we soar”.

I suspect those student at Bauer have to take a class in ethics. Years ago I taught an ethics class to freshmen business students at Lone Star College. One of my favorite chapters introduced the concept that something might be legal but its not RIGHT.

Let me give you two examples: In the 1800s slavery was legal in the US but slavery wasn’t right. Before the 1970s, women in the US could be fired from their job because they were pregnant.

It’s Legal but it Ain’t Right published by The University of Michigan Press

Well, It’s Not Illegal! published by the University of Central Florida News

Olive sent the University of Houston a cease-and-desist letter when he found out his photo was being used without his authorization. The university took his photo down from their site. Olive invoiced them for the use . . . and the university essentially said “sue me” versus acknowledging their error and making it RIGHT.

It boils my blood even more that the University of Houston was willing to pay a team of lawyers to defend their stand versus admit they were wrong and pay Jim invoice. I wonder how much the UofH has spent to fight Jim’s claim?

Fellow Photographers: We should all be outraged! Our work is our work. That applies if we are a high-level professional like Jim Olive or a beginning photographer posting our photos on Facebook. Our photos are our property.

Please spread the word about this issue. Share it on social media, at your camera clubs, and in your newsletters. As photographer we should be outraged.

Write a letter to the University of Houston and let them know you disapprove.

Let Dr. Khator and Dr. Pavlou know your thoughts on this issue. I’ve written both to let them know my disapproval.

Maybe you’d like to let the Board of Regents of the University of Houston know your thoughts as well. (Notice they have their Code of Ethics posted on that website.).

I’ve been a professional photographer for the past 26 years. Client pay to use my photos in magazines, books, newspapers, calendars, and websites. Professional editors, graphic designers, book publishers and creatives all know that you have to get permission to use a photograph and there will be a fee involved. That’s the way the business works. Except if you’re the University of Houston.

Thanks for reading and thanks for supporting me in this issue. Jim Olive needs to know the photography community is behind him and his cause.

As I’ve mentioned in past blog posts, you should always register your photos with the US Copyright Office to give yourself maximum protection.

Register Your Complaint with the University of Houston

Office of Compliance and Ethics
UH Chief Compliance Officer:
Susan Koch, J.D., CCEP

University of Houston President
Renu Khator

Shawn Lindsey
Executive Director, Media Relations

Call and email Shawn Lindsey. Even though there’s no number or email for President Khator, I’m guessing Media Contact Shawn Lindsey will get her the message.

Texas just continues to prove they’re desire to be above the law and a US state that has no ethical morals.

You can read more about this fight Jim Olive has been fighting in the following articles:

Texas court says photographer has no recourse against university copyright infringement

UH can be sued for using photo, judge rules

Fstoppers Interviews Jim Olive, the Texas Photographer Whose Copyrighted Image was Stolen by the University of Houston

Add Your Voice!
There are 7 comments on this post…
  1. Portrait of David and Shiela Glatz

    Dave GlatzOn Jul. 9th, 2021

    Because the UH is considered a entity of the State of Texas, it has sovereign immunity in the federal courts and had to be sued in state court.

  2. Jim OliveOn Jul. 6th, 2021

    Although I am disappointed in the State’s ruling, I am encouraged by the support of fellow photographers/creatives and their enthusiastic response to defending our
    work. Additionally, this case brings awareness to the creative community that we must
    stand up and make our voices heard or suffer the consequences.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 6th, 2021

      But Jim… why is this fight on a state lever as opposed to a Federal level. From what I know you did Register the image with the US Copyright Office? Is that the case? Would love to know more on that issue.

  3. William TylerOn Jul. 5th, 2021

    Perhaps someone can explain why a copyright violation is being tried in state court. I thought copyright was covered by federal law, not state. So I’m a confused non-lawyer as well as being angry at the theft.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 5th, 2021

      That’s a great question William. Let me check on that and I’ll add to this post.

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