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 – http://morgaineowensphotography.com/?p=924 — 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.