Groupon-Offering Photog Causes Plagiarism Stir

It probably wasn’t how photographer Dana Dawes wanted her big Groupon début to go.

Groupon, which specializes in offering one-day deals on various local businesses, had just published her special offer and it was selling very well. Her deal, $65 for photography package worth up to $500, was drawing a lot of attention from those in the Atlanta area, where she is based.

Unfortunately for Dawes, a user of the site noticed similarities between her photos and others on the Web (Update: It appears Groupon has deleted the thread, fortunately Petapixel has a backup). The commenter, known only as “SP” posted the following comment:

Groupon, you are dealing with a thief here. This photographer does not own all the photos on her website.

I looked at her website and realized that as a pro myself, her lighting and conversions didn’t match up. I then took one of her images off her website and un-distorted it, and then placed it through a recognition software that brought up this – — THIS is the owner of the photograph, not Dana Dawes. I would suggest you refund the money to all of these people because this person is using photos that aren’t hers to try to bring in clients. In other words, she’s a fake photographer.

Soon, other allegations began to surface, from SP and other users. One user even noticed that the “About Me” section of her site was identical to that of another photography site. Dawes eventually responded saying that:

“Let me assure everyone that I have rights to the photos on my site. I am not sure who SP is, but someone is trying to sabotage my success. My website has not been hacked and all of a sudden I am receiving all of these comments. I am currently working with my hosting company to work through this. But I can assure you that I am NOT a fraud.”

However, one of the photographers involved, Tanya Shields, who verified that the work was hers and demanded that Dawes remove her photos from the site.

Hi Dana,

With every ounce of professional courtesy that I am able to muster for you……REMOVE MY WORK FROM YOUR WEBSITE.


But the issue was moot. As mentioned above, Dawes’ site was down, according to her due to a hack. Her then-host Hostgator was only displaying a generic “site not available” page. Dawes’ Facebook and other presences also either disappeared or had images removed from them.

The forums exploded and Dawes’ Yelp page was also affected. Groupon eventually stepped in when an employee named Josh announced that they were cancelling the deal and issuing refunds:

We would never intentionally feature a business that engages in unethical or questionable business practices, nor would we ever expect you to be stuck with a Groupon that is offered by such a business. We have decided to pull this deal today after reviewing all of the feedback left on the discussion board.

We have instantly canceled all of your orders and immediately refunded you for this purchase. If you’ve already been charged for this, you can expect to see the refund appear on your credit card statement in 7-10 business days.

We deeply regret the unfortunate events leading up to this decision and are extremely sorry for any inconvenience we’ve caused you.

As for Dawes’ site, it reemerged, now hosted by Apple and using a much smaller set of images. It’s offering a similar deal to the Groupon offering, but for $50. However, attempts to buy the offer forward to the Apple homepage.

The thread on Groupon is now closed and the matter seems to have died down, though it doesn’t seem likely many people will quickly forget what happened, especially as sites such as PetaPixel are picking up the story.

The Importance of Plagiarism

Usually, on this site, I try to avoid talking about plagiarism scandals as they don’t do much good but this one actually highlights a great deal about why I still run this site, even after more than five years. Regardless of how these images wound up on her site, whether through Dawes herself or through, as she claimed, a “mistake” by her webmaster, there were three very important effects:

  1. Buyers Tricked: The people who purchased the Groupon, or even just her regular services, were being deceived into thinking she had abilities she did not. Though she might be an excellent photographer, her portfolio was not representative of her work, giving buyers a false impression.
  2. Unfair Competition: The other photographers, who spent the time, money and energy taking the photos that were used, were having Dawes use them as promotion without any of the expenses. This gives Dawes an important edge in a very competitive market.
  3. Potential Turnaround: What if, instead of believing Dawes to be the infringer, SP had been a friend of hers and thought Shields had lifted from her of if Shields had attempted a Groupon of her own with similar results? Given how difficult these cases can be to prove, it is more than a possibility.

But more to the point, it highlights how seriously the public and other artists take these issues and rightfully so. No one likes being ripped off or deceived and those are two elements of plagiarism, especially professional plagiarism, that are hard to get around.

In short, this case serves as a warning. Plagiarism, despite all the talk about the Web changing everything, is still taken very seriously and can cost both the plagiarist, and potentially the victim, very dearly.

Bottom Line

In the end, this case was handled by the users and the staff at Groupon. I have to applaud the way Groupon stepped in on this case and refunded the money for everyone who purchased it, whether they asked for it or not. Though I agree with others that they should have done a better job vetting the offer, especially considering there is almost no way a photographer could do over 1,000+ such shoots in the time allotted, but when they learned of the allegations they stepped in, investigated and responded quickly.

To be clear, if there was hacking of Dawes’ site involved, I do not approve of that nor do I approve of any harassing calls, emails or other contacts she may have received. These are the dangers behind mob justice and a reason I discourage the practice.

Finally, I don’t wish to see Dawes’ career be completely ruined by this either. If she truly is a talented and professional photographer, I hope that she is able to learn from this mistake and build a legitimate business. It may take some time but it can be done.

All I want is for this case to serve as a warning, both to would-be plagiarists who think that no one will ever find out and to artists and content creators who don’t think anyone would ever use their work for this kind of purpose.

It can and does happen, more often than most people realize, and those who do it routinely get caught It is really that simple.

Note: I have sent an email for comment to Dawes but have not heard back from her, I will update this article when and if she replies.

18 Responses to Groupon-Offering Photog Causes Plagiarism Stir

  1. Sad says:

    I’m surprised this hasn’t happened more Groupon. All of their sales are done by a high pressure call center. Nobody from Groupon even goes to the business to verify it’s legit before running a “deal”.

    There are other daily deal sites who do meet with every merchant and do their homework before just running anyone.

    • I think the reason it doesn’t happen more often is because most in copyright-producing industries will be very wary of offering such deals as it directly affects their hourly wage, Other businesses don’t take each other’s images because they want to show their establishment off, whether it’s a restaurant, spa or something else.

      It is rare with Groupon, but not rare at all on the larger Web…

    • Maria says:

      With the deals Groupon (and other daily deal sites) offers, it’s nearly impossible for the seller to make any money. It’s no wonder they attract people with unproven skills. These people are so desperate to get work, they’ll work for next to nothing.

      Personally, I believe it’s a symptom of our society always looking for the cheapest deal. Look where buying from China got us. Groupon makes products and services unreasonably cheap, but the public doesn’t know that. All they know is that they can get a photo deal for $65 from this person so why can’t they get it from every other photographer? That screws everyone.

      Except Groupon.

      • I’m actually a semi-regular Groupon user but Crystal and I use it in the intended fashion, to find new places. We realized that we’ve been in the city nearly a decade and hardly stray outside of the same dozen or so places so we signed up for Groupon as an excuse to go elsewhere, the same reason I do #poboyfriday on Twitter.

        We’ve become repeat customers at two places we used Groupons at, one club and one restaurant. However, I have no idea how common my story is. Many do use Groupon, I think, just to get good deals and I’d be interested in the statistics.

        That being said, coupon advertising, no matter who with, is ALWAYS risky. It’s a potentially addictive form of advertising because, as you mentioned elsewhere, it becomes hard to sell a product at full price once you’ve sold it for less.

        I’d be interested in some hard stats on Groupon (and Living Social too) on coupon use (how many just expire) and how many customers become regulars. It’s an interesting problem…

  2. Maria says:

    This is a great story. Not great because of what this woman apparently did but great because she was caught. How many times do people do this kind of thing and get away with it?

    It reminds me of a story of a Flickr user with thousands of photos in “her” portfolio that turned out to be copied from other Flickr user’s accounts. Once it was uncovered, the photographic community came down on her hard. Flickr actually revoked her account.

    Why do people do this? Is it because they think they can get away with it? Don’t they realize that they open themselves up to legal action — from the copyright holder AND clients they fooled — by passing off someone else’s work as their own as part of marketing efforts?

    Frankly, this woman’s apparent actions make me sick. I’m glad she got caught and I don’t have any good wishes at all for her career or future.

    • It is a great story but it does raise the question about how many times people get away with it, especially with images.

      Do you have a link on the Flickr story? I’d be interested in reading more into it and maybe using it as part of a larger article about mob resolution.

      As far as why do people do it? I have many theories but most center around a combination of impatience, laziness and lack of confidence in oneself. Plagiarists, deep down are not people who are self-assured at all and often times overcompensate through presentation. It’s no excuse, but its at least some insight.

      I can understand not having any good wishes but I hesitate to call for too much blod when someone has made a mistake. She deserves everything she has gotten to date but I like seeing people learn from their mistakes and become better people. I just hope she doesn’t become a serial plagiarist thinking that “this time” she’ll get away.

      Only time will tell.

      • Maria says:

        I don’t think the Flickr story was blogged. Word got out on Twitter and the mob went after the thief on Flickr. I was one of the people who asked to have her account suspended. Copyright infringement really pisses me off.

        I’m not calling for blood. You have no idea how much I want to go to her Web site and send her nasty e-mails. I REALLY want to do that. But I’m restraining myself. Others will do enough of that dirty work. The mob mentality in action.

        If this doesn’t teach her a lesson, nothing will. But I’m hoping that others who are plagiarizing photos or whatever learn a lesson, too.

  3. Maria says:

    The thread saved on Petapixel is amazing. Love the way it goes from happy customers to a few accusations to panic by buyer over getting their money back. All in the span of a few hours.

    • It is amazing how quickly the mob turned. After SP posted his initial comment there was only one or two more customer inquiries and it was all downhill from there. It was like hitting a brick wall…

  4. Tara956 says:

    Here’s a site she DIDN’T purge, the stolen photos mixed in with her own…bet you can guess which ones are hers…

  5. Gender Bender says:

    Maria are you a man or woman? Thanks in advance!

  6. [...] Groupon – Groupon-offering Photog causes plagiarism stir (PlagiarismToday) [...]

  7. [...] Groupon Offering Photog Causes Plagiarism Stir – This is a great story about an idiot photographer who apparently built “her” online portfolio with other people’s photos and then tried to sell photography packages on Groupon. I cannot believe the nerve of people. On [...]

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