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Bill Gekas has been copied... again!

Pears © Bill Gekas


You see that photo? I would bet that the majority of you know whose it is without having to read the author’s name.

Bill Gekas' beautiful images of his daughter are so recognizable by now, and not just by us on 1x, but by so many people around the world. His style is that unique and that exquisite, which is why his photography has won numerous awards, been printed in countless international publications and received worldwide attention for many years.

That’s why it’s so hard to imagine that someone would copy one of Bill’s photos so precisely in fact that it looks like it came out of a paint-by-numbers kit and then try to pass it off as his own. What’s even more difficult to believe is that the artist didn’t stop there: He actually entered the painting into the 2015 San Diego County Fair art competition, which does award prize money.

And a few days ago he won 1st Place Best of Show in the Fine Art category!

ABC 10News — KGTV in San Diego first reported the "controversy" yesterday (July 2, 2015). It's a very interesting story check it out. See for yourself how closely the painting resembles Bill’s photograph.

Fair judges investigate fine art contest winner © ABC 10News — KGTV San Diego (July 2, 2015)

Kinda brings back memories of good ol’ Richard Prince, doesn’t it?

Thanks to San Diego photographer Erika Thornes, the issue was brought to Bill’s immediate attention by text, and she also notified ABC 10News. Erika and Bill have been friends via Facebook for over three years, and she was shocked to discover the painting was in the contest. She has participated in the fair’s competition for the past few years and has won multiple awards. So, as she puts it, she has "a vested interest in making sure that the winners are legitimate.”

Photo of painting entitled Girl with the Blue Scarf  by Jackson Rios © Erika Thornes

I know that Bill has been through this before. Not long ago I saw a "painting" that he discovered on Facebook. It was so identical to one of Bill’s photos that the artist had actually included the faint 1X watermark in the top-right corner. I kid you not!

That’s one that would break the dial on any Laugh-O-Meter.

So I checked in with Bill earlier today to get his reaction and see what he does when his work is so blatantly copied. I also wondered how he manages a situation like this when it happens so far away from his home in Melbourne. Here’s what he had to say:

Bill, this isn't the first time this has happened to you. How does it make you feel?
It's not the first time and probably won't be the last either. When it first started happening a couple or so years back, it was upsetting, but over time I've become desensitized to it. It’s just another grievance I have to deal with accordingly.

This artist never contacted you about painting your photograph. As far as the law is concerned, can someone actually copy your work without asking?
They can't do it unless they get permission, and if they do it, their work has to be different enough. There are certain legal and ethical guidelines that we usually must follow.

So this artist entered a dead ringer for your image into a competition and won. Now that the judges know about it, what has been done other than taking the work off the wall?
From what I know, it's now been disqualified and prize money won't be awarded. The organizers have to protect and safeguard the reputation of the competition.

Have you been in contact with the San Diego artist, Jackson Rios? What has he said about this?
I haven't been in contact with the artist, as the onus here lies with the exhibitors at this stage, being the San Diego County Fair. It could be that the artist simply isn't aware of international copyright law.


Cherries © Bill Gekas

How many times has this happened to you over the years? Have you ever had to sue anyone?
Honestly, I've really lost count — countless times! I sort of expect it now and usually know how to deal with it. I haven't sued anyone yet, but currently I’m investigating another painter from the UK who’s copying my Cherries and Pears photos and calling them interpretations of his past — seriously! Fortunately, most of the countries where I find these copyright breaches are also signatories to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, which makes legal challenges an easier prospect.

Would you say this is a similar situation to the recent Richard Prince appropriation scandal?
Richard Prince... I wasn't that lucky to be caught up with that one! (And Bill signed off there with a smiley wink.)

Erika Thornes has done extensive research on the matter of entering copied work into a competition. She suggested to the fair organizers that, in the future, “they should be running software to check for copyright violations on their entries.” Unfortunately, she says she got the impression that they dismissed the idea as being “too tough” to pull off.


And I thought it was all about the pears. Hmph!


Enjay Santos works in technology for Getty Images these days, but he previously worked in copyright compliance for both Corbis (early 2000s) and Getty Images (2005 – 2013). With Erika’s idea in mind — Is there software available that could be used to prevent copyright infringement in a competition such as this one? — this is what he told me.

"There are a host of technologies that could help. They all involve a visual search algorithm that indexes the original work, but this would be most effective for direct infringement. If a derivative work is created, there may be enough change in the new piece that the software won't pick it up. Companies I've worked with are TinEye, LTV (probably no longer in business), Digimarc and PicScout.

"But the fair may not have a budget to use these technologies because it costs a truckload to index and match. In my opinion, the fair’s best bet is raising the profile of its contest so more citizens like Erika and the original artists themselves can intervene if something like this happens again. Not ideal, I know, but the costs in operating an index and crawl are so high, and the results aren't necessarily 100% guaranteed. It may not detect all infringements."

And so the copyright infringement saga continues…

Where the painting used to be at the San Diego County Fair art competition

At least Erika’s fast thinking motivated the San Diego County Fair organizers to remove the painting and disqualify it from the competition. The wall remains bare where the painting once was, and the empty space has now been filled with a recycle bin.

Today I noticed a comment on Facebook beneath this recycle bin photo: How appropriate.

How appropriate, indeed.

To find out why Bill Gekas' work is copied all the time, take a look at his stunning images in his 1x portfolio and on his personal website.

Video courtesy ABC 10News — KGTV San Diego

Many thanks to Bill Gekas, Erika Thornes and Enjay Santos for all of your great input.




My comment is not so different than marcin's... anyone good in their field will create trends. This is the way things work in the 21st century... beginning with publicity ads. Take something popular or scandalous and elaborate it. So it is actually a compliment that people take the time to copy you. Might not be very creative of them... The best way to curb this kind of thing in competitions is precisely what happened above. After all the coverage an "artist" will think twice before submitting something of this kind.
I had my portraits copied so many times I lost track. Don't really care, to tell you the truth, I find it mildly flattering. Anyway, the medium is so different, I don't see the reason to get your g-strings in a twist. It's not like there's no strong influence from Vermeer in this photo anyway, so it's the "what goes around comes around" kind of situation I guess.
It's always interesting to read news about 1x photographers. I especially enjoyed the bit about the copy cat who had included the 1x watermark in the corner. Very polite of him.
That watermark looked really good too. He did a nice job with it :)
Very interesting story Mandy, raises a lot of questions about how far you can go being "inspired" by someone else. In this case however, it's very clear that it is more or less a direct copy. Would be interesting to find out more about what rights photographers have in cases like this and what they can do to stop such copyright violation.
Thanks Ralf. That's very true. Had Erika not seen this painting, his inspiration would have won him an award and prize money. An artist can do this for practice all day long, hang it in his house and be proud of his work. I'm pretty sure even Bill wouldn't mind that, nor would he ever know unless the artist asked. But as soon as that painting is submitted into a competition to win money (or made for sale, which was not the case here), the artist has crossed the legal boundaries. I'll look into a follow-up story.
Great story Mandy you are the preverbal bloodhound. Great to see an authentic story and one which has an almost happy ending. Cheats will be found out but may not have to pay the price for their plagiarism. It would e nice to see how this unfolds. But credit to Bill on his approach though something tells me he could find redress if not permanent faith that it won't happen again. Keep them coming Mandy loving what you are doing.
It's so unfortunate that this keeps happening, but getting the word out is really important. Whether an artist knows the law or not doesn't matter. It's still not right, so stories like this will hopefully bring awareness to those who don't understand what the terms "copyright" and "intellectual property" mean. Really appreciate your support, Gerry. Thank you.