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How Do Greek Photographers Feel When Their Images Are Being Stolen?

Some Greek media are upholding a weird tradition. Image theft.

Back in 2015, photographer Socrates Baltagiannis was strolling down the streets of Athens on a hot summer day, when he noticed something strange on a storefront. The display of a local bookstore featured/included a familiar image.

“It was my photo of prime minister Alexis Tsipras on the cover of the book,” Baltagiannis recalls. The particular photo of Tsipras was, at that time, owned by SOOC, an Athens based photo agency, but publisher “Enallaktikes Ekdoseis” never payed them a cent.

Socrates Baltagiannis

Baltagiannis was not the only one, whose photo was appropriated and published by Greek publishers or media without authorization or payment.

“Everybody steals from everybody; not only photos, but articles as well. They know this is illegal, but they still do it, because they can,” Nicolas Georgiou, local freelance photographer explained to AthensLive.

A watermark erased by colleagues

The image theft tradition seems omnipresent in the Greek media sphere. During our research, we realised that it was difficult to find a local photographer without at least one experience of his/her photography used by Greek media without authorization.

“The most shocking image theft incident of my career was back in 2012. During the riots sparked by Angela Merkel’s visit, I took a photo showing a riot police officer using a detained girl as a human shield against rocks thrown at them,” said Georgiou. He explained how he deliberately followed law enforcement officers as to document any police abuse.

Georgiou’s Image.

“Back then ill-treatment by police was the norm,” the photographer added.

Numerous Greek media later used the photo taken by Georgiou, neglecting to make any reference to the original source.

“At that time I was collaborating with Demotix, an agency for freelance photographers. Not only did Greek media use the photo with the agency’s watermark included, but they never credit me for it. Some of them wrote photo was taken by citizens. As it circulated on social media, some users even erased the watermark,” the freelancer remembers.

He managed to identify a silver lining in that incident. “The photo quickly went viral, and the riot police released the girl shortly thereafter.”

Strategic legal move

It is not only freelancers, but also big photo agencies that have to constantly battle the image theft habit against influential legacy media in Greece.

“Since our agency was founded in 2014, we have seen our photos been used without permission in media outlets, book covers, street posters, TV programs, flyers, Facebook pages, etc.,” Nikos Paleologos, the co-founder of SOOC agency explained to Athens Live.

He emphasized that big media corporations don’t even bother to ask for a service pack proposal. They routinely snatch their work through “right-click-save.” Paleologos added that “Work ethics in Greek media are just not that important.”

Nikos Palaiologos

In some cases, the photographers tried to claim compensation.

“An email threating legal action is sometimes enough. In other cases, I had to follow the legal process until I was finally paid. TV channel Mega stole 5 of my photos. I had to send them an extrajudicial order that cost me 200 euros,” Georgiou recalls.

The first Greek private TV channel, Mega later closed down and Georgiou ended up losing 200 euros. “This money is but a tiny fraction compared to what big TV studios are paid for advertisement,” he adds.

SOOC agency tries to pursue any local media that are liable for image theft.

“We contact whoever steals, and give them two options; collaborate with use or go down the legal road,” Paleologos revealed.

The agency has beenpracticing this strategic legal move against such media for a while. On the other hand, numerous freelance photographers stand alone.

“I believe in an alliance between freelance photographers. We should work with lawyers to undertake such cases. This way, the image theft tradition can be solved within a year,« Georgiou predicted.

“The photo was circulating on the internet freely”

Veteran photographer Paleologos remembers the photo of Baltagiannis well. It was used on the cover of a book by Giorgos Karabelias, called “6 months that shook Greece.” Despite the fact that his agency owned the coyright to the photo, it was used by the book publishers without permission.

“Socrates’ shot became, what we call, viral. The, then popular, now prime minister Alexis Tsipras, standing on a really arrogant stance was a memorable shot. We knew that this image would make the rounds. We knew that it would be everywhere. But, its appearance on a book cover was too much,” he explained.

A photo by a photographer Socrates Baltagiannis used on the cover of the book.

Neither photographer Baltagiannis, nor his agency, were ever contacted by either the publisher or the author.

Athens Live asked the writer, Karabelias, for a comment on the incident. He also used the photo as a poster during his book promotion.

“We found the photo on internet. There was no reference of the agency, and we tried to find it,” Karabelias told us.

The author explained that in this case, “We are not talking about a stolen photo, but about the use of a photo that was freely circulating on the internet.”

This publication has been produced within the partnership with Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso for the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), co-funded by the European Commission. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of media partner AthensLive and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.

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