Embattled band to Internet: This is the Wild West. Download whatever you want.


A screenshot from Red Jumpsuit’s Facebook page after the debacle. (Facebook/The Washington Post)

One band has an interesting message for creatives worried about online copyright infringement:

This is the Wild West! Get over it!

We’re paraphrasing, of course, but that’s basically the bottom line in this truly mind-boggling copyright battle between one-hit wonder Red Jumpsuit Apparatus (remember them?) and an Australian photographer whose work the band stole. The incident came to international attention yesterday after the photographer, Rohan Anderson, blogged about it — and his post shot to the top of Reddit.

The facts, as Andersen lays them out, are these. In November 2013, Andersen shot photos of the band at Sydney’s UTS Glasshouse for a local media outlet — reverse Google-searching would suggest it was the Aussie music site Tone Deaf. Months later, in April, he was surprised to see a cropped, edited version of one of those photos show up on Red Jumpsuit’s Facebook page.

This is — unfortunately for photographers — not an entirely unusual occurrence. (You’ll recall that Vampire Weekend was sued for an even more egregious photo infringement in 2009). Copyright can be confusing online; more to the point, it can be difficult to enforce, which means people often copy/paste with little regard for who originally took a photo or who currently owns rights to it. But Anderson, incensed by the infringement, sent several e-mails and Facebook messages to Red Jumpsuit’s management, requesting that the band take the photo down or pay up.

Instead, they added his name to it and sent a number of charming messages like these:

lol go for it

Then later:

“You have no legal claim as the photo is credited and is not posted for a monetary gain and features our likeness and image not yours. Also you have just got your self banned from any festival or show we ever play again in that region for life! Congrats!

And, perhaps most astoundingly:

We welcome the “lawyer” and his response. As for the lol it was funny, life is funny. If you want to take it any other way that’s fine with us. As for the “tables turning” remark our music is everywhere illegally and we let it go like all other “professionals” try it out sometime. Most unknown photographers are happy to have world wide known bands use their photos and consider it an honor, you are clearly an example of the opposite.

Yes, you read that right: “Our music is everywhere illegally and we let it go like all other ‘professionals.’ ”

This is too frivolous a statement to really justify spending much time on, but for the record there are (a) several key differences (economically, logistically, legally) between music piracy and photo infringement, and (b) many documented examples of Red Jumpsuit’s former label, Virgin (now Capitol) Records — not “letting it go.” In fact, Virgin brought one of the highest-profile file-sharing lawsuits in U.S. history while Red Jumpsuit was still on the label.

Anyway, the band has apparently made nice with Anderson, though only after a lot of unpleasant back-and-forth. They have also, in an apparent nod to the hypocrisy of the whole thing, promised to make their entire discography free to download July 4.

Anderson can now, presumably, continue his career as a budding music photographer/principled defender of artists’ rights. And Red Jumpsuit Apparatus can continue their slow fade into obscurity, pining for the days when a controversy like this one would constitute major news because of the rock stars involved — and not the nerdy Internet issues.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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