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Photographer Claims Heroes of Cosplay Used Photos Without Permission, Blamed Cosplayers


Syfy’s Heroes of Cosplay hasn’t been winning over many hearts and minds, so far as I can tell, having never watched the show and having a limited window into the cosplay community itself. But now one photographer is trying to get the company to admit that they used his photos without permission and against copyright law.

Yesterday, Darrell Ardita of BGZ studios publicized his efforts to explain to Syfy that some of the photos they have been using in advertising spots for Heroes of Cosplay, specifically those taken by a business partner of his, were used without permission. It appears that Syfy has not done quite enough research into the photos provided by its cosplaying stars, and overlooked that by default a photograph belongs to its photographer, not its subjects.

As Ardita points out, this means that obtaining permission from the cosplayer in the photo is not the primary step in gaining permission to use it. Though he offers an exception that is important for cosplayers to remember:

Q: Whoa, wait a second – I am a cosplayer..are you saying I have no copyrights to the photographs?

This is a VERY HOT and touchy topic so I will not go into much detail. But I will say this: Short answer? No, you have no copyrights.
But this does NOT mean that you can’t have rights. You know how a photographer can whip out a model release form? Guess what? You can whip out your photographer release form too.

Co-authorship of a photograph can be created by a written agreement between cosplayer and photographer. In addition, if you’re a cosplay photographer and you aren’t upfront with your subjects about how their pictures will be used, for example if it’s found out that you make sexually implicit products with your images, you may see a corresponding drop in your reputation.

But back to Syfy. Ardita notified Syfy of the cost of legally obtaining the rights to eight photos whose creator had not been approached by the network for permission before they were used in advertising. First Syfy claimed they had full rights to all the photos provided to them by their cosplaying stars, because they represented an artistic collaboration between cosplayer and photographer regardless of written agreements or a lack thereof. Ardita countered with details of photography copyright law to the contrary, and he says:

Very soon after my response, SyFy did the unthinkable. They turned it around and started attacking the cosplayers in question – which was completely not my intention. SyFy threatened to compromise the careers of the cosplayers featured in the show. Reality TV production at its best.

Everyone needs to know this – the VAST MAJORITY of the cosplayers on the show have forwarded all photographer information over to the studio along with the photographs since BEFORE the show aired. Yes, I do have proof of that too. These people are not stupid – I respect them very much and most of them did 100% the right thing.
The people at fault are those who made the decision to not contact the photographers and still proceed with the show.

As Boing Boing points out, it strains credulity to think that a media enterprise like Syfy was unaware of the details of authorship where photographs are concerned. And if Syfy hadn’t wanted to pay for rights to photos provided by the stars of Heroes of Cosplay, it isn’t as if they don’t have the resources to create some that they wholly own. You can find Ardita’s account of his communications with Syfy at his blog.

(BGZ Studios via Boing Boing.)

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  • Anonymous

    To paraphrase Lando “This show is getting worse all the time”

  • Anonymous

    It doesn’t strain my credulity at all. Someone at SyFy surely understands this stuff — but the people working on this show? It wouldn’t surprise me to learn they weren’t exactly up on the niceties of photo copyright.

  • Anonymous

    Or just didn’t care.

  • John Burkhart

    Or is actually wrong. Ex: If you take a photo at Comic-Con (believe it or not) *Comic-Con* claims copyright over it, and says you can’t use it for commercial purposes outright.

    This is one of those Terms & Conditions of vague enforcement. It’s arguable that if Sy-Fy got permission from the con, they could use any photographs of Comic-Con regardless of the photographer:

    http://www.comic-con.org/cci/terms-and-conditions

  • Anonymous

    SyFy making bad choices and choosing to attack the people who would be watching the show?
    Shocked. SHOCKED.

  • http://thescienceofobsession.tumblr.com/ R.O.U.S.

    Well I was really interested trying to catch an episode of this show. But now… meh.

  • Anonymous

    Somehow, I’m not surprised. I watched the first episode and sort of regretted that I didn’t mute it. The costumes and fabrication are cool, but SyFy goes typical reality TV and does their best to make the cosplayers seem shrill and irrational. I have the second episode recorded, so I’ll probably give it one more chance, but now I’m even more worried for Fangasm.

  • Anonymous

    Uh-uh. That’s standard boilerplate that basically says you cannot make *money* off pictures taken at ComicCon, not that they own them. It’s also pretty questionable it’s enforceable as there are a lot of stringers there for news organizations and I *know* they’re not giving up their photos out of the purity of their hearts.

  • Colleen

    I’ve watched both episodes, and it really feels like the cosplayers were encouraged to be more drama than they really are. Like when Yaya meets with Victoria for coffee before the con (episode 2), it felt so forced. I’d love to see just them making and displaying the costumes, and less drama.

  • Mike Chen

    Agree. I don’t see why they didn’t just do it documentary style and show the art and craft behind making the costumes. That’s much more interesting than the fake documentary. That Totoro costume was super awesome, though.

    As for the legal issue above, read the comments in the dude’s blog if you need your daily dose of tangential name calling. It’s kind of awesome in a really sad way.

  • Jen Rock

    They definitely have set Yaya up to be the bridge between all the contestants, and those meetings make her seem very in everyone’s business.

  • Jen Rock

    As far as the show goes, I enjoy it. Yes, people are coming off badly in some of the scenes, but I also think they need to be mindful of what they’re saying. I think a lot of the cosplayers could do with some PR training so that their sound bites aren’t used toward the drama of the show.
    But I think some critics of the show are forgetting that this is cosplay competition, and it brings out a side of people you don’t see in those who just cosplay for fun. Competitiveness is not always pretty.
    When watching this show, I have kept that in mind, and for the most part, just enjoy the creativity and craftiness of everyone involved.

  • William Wilson

    Unless there is a written contract beforehand, the photographer is the sole owner of any photos taken. Otherwise, the con would have to ban all cameras at the event unless the photographer had media badges.

  • Anonymous

    I was really looking forward to something like a real=world version of Face Off, where they focused on the design, creation, and fabrication of the costumes, rather than the competition. Totoro was awesome, though.

  • MeatyStakes

    because that doesn’t “sell”

    It’s not reality, it’s manufactured reality television.

  • Cy

    I was too. The closest they’ve gotten was showing a little of how the stormtrooper was created and the lifecast in the first episode.

    If they wanted the competition they could have just pitted their cast members against each other in a competition during the cons. Get the con goers to vote on their favorite cosplay. Don’t reveal the winners at the cons, only during the show. You’d have a ready-made audience of many of those voters just to see the winner.

  • Anonymous

    For me (as an amateur cosplay photographer), I feel that the photos belong to the cosplayer. They have spent a lot of time and money and skill on their costumes, and all I’ve done is aim a camera at them and pressed a button.

    If they request to use my stuff, it’s theirs (it’s nice to be credited), and if they ask me to remove it from wherever I have it, I will (although this has only happened once).

  • fuckmepls

    How you feel and what the law states are two very different things. Legally, you own the rights to the pictures. Look into the photographer release form, though.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not saying it isn’t. This is my personal moral code, which exists regardless of the law.

    Of course, in this day and age, it’s hardly easy to keep track of what your photos are being used for. The cosplayer who requested I take down a photo, did so because apparently it had made its way into the lolita section of 4chan (she was cosplaying a Little Sister from Bioshock).

    I didn’t want to, because the cosplay was a really good one, but it was a picture of her and having it on the internet made her feel uncomfortable. So I went with Wheaton’s Law.