Cosplay Photographers Are Tired Of People Stealing Their Work

Cosplay Photographers Are Tired Of People Stealing Their Work

Judging by how often you see them in the course of a day, cosplay photos must be some of the most valuable items on the internet. It's a shame, then, that the people actually responsible for them get so little credit (or reward) for taking and starring in them. Whether it's Twitter accounts posting "Sexy Cosplay", Imgur galleries sharing an endless stream of anonymous photos or some list of "117 Gorgeous Cosplay Outfits You MUST See" from a site you only see as Facebook spam, you don't need to go far on the internet to see people trying to take credit (and sometimes make a fast buck) for the consumption and sharing of cosplay images.

The problem is, many of these stories are made using stolen goods.

When a cosplay photographer or cosplayer posts an image they have made online, there's the expectation that it's going to be shared. That's... usually why it's uploaded in the first place. But there's a big difference between sharing someone's work (where you clearly credit and link towards the origin) and stealing it.

The former is a key component of the cosplay community in the online space. The latter is when a site or individual takes cosplay photos and removes (or obscures) the source, in effect (if not always in intent) passing the images off as their own work of collection.

This kind of stuff isn't restricted to the internet. From t-shirts to album covers to posters, individuals and businesses the world over seem to think it's totally fine to take someone else's cosplay photo, claim it as their own and use it to make money.

Well, the photographers (and cosplayers) involved are sick of it.

Cosplay Photographers Are Tired Of People Stealing Their Work

Lots of images. Not many names or links to sites, though.

To try and improve matters, photographer Martin Wong has teamed up with some friends to start a campaign called #NotJustPixels.

"We are currently seeing a trend that not only discourages us from producing more cosplay photography, but also intimidates other photographers from joining the community," he says. "Our concern is the misuse of our photography that endangers our creative freedom and artistic rights. Much like cosplayers getting their designs and patterns stolen, or being used without their consent, photographers have been facing this issues for years."

"We are tired of seeing others reaping the recognition of our creations and being unable to proudly claim our work. There is a growing number of misuse of our photography, mainly by aggregator accounts and websites. Often times we see people that are stealing our photos and are using them to falsely promote their own accounts/websites or products."

"I'm sure we have all seen many accounts with the similar names like 'Hot Sexy Cosplayers' or 'Geek Gamer Hotties' that steal photos to promote their own agendas. They are cropping out photographers' watermarks, sometimes adding their own, using inappropriate hashtags, all while asking for shares."

While some of these accounts are no doubt looking to bolster their follower counts and social presence in the name of advertising bucks (or a sale price), some are simply run by fans. Regardless, there's a big difference between showcasing the work of cosplayers by sharing their images but also crediting them (like many sites, including this one, do often) and simply ripping images and re-posting them without any attempt to acknowledge the artists actually involved in creating the photograph.

Wong's call has been answered by many of the world's best-known cosplay photographers, one of which is Anna Fischer. "I think everyone's going to go soft on this issue," she says. "Everyone's always playing nice, saying the smart thing. But like, fuck content aggregators. Those guys who like look up #funnycat on Vine and then stick together five minutes' worth of 15-second videos and put it on YouTube with an ad bump are contributing nothing."

"It doesn't help me when my photos are reposted on sexycosplaygirls, it doesn't help the cosplayers either. But the small-time slimeballs are easy to spot."

"Bigger sites are a lot harder to fight. Buzzfeed backlinks are notoriously hard to spot, but no small content creator wants to upset an editor. But I bet they'd get a lot fewer take downs if they just took the time to talk to creators about how and where their content is being used."

Cosplay Photographers Are Tired Of People Stealing Their Work

Remember, they're hot, sexy AND beautiful. Shame you'll never know who they actually are, or who took those photos.

"So what?" you might ask. "They're just cosplay photos. Nobody is making a living doing this, right?" Wrong. Cosplay has become such big business in recent years that some photographers do make a living shooting cosplayers and cons, and even for those who don't, selling prints and photos (whether to cosplayers or their fans) is a source of income for both photographers and cosplayers.

The cosplay images you see online weren't made for free. The best cosplay photos on the internet are taken by professionals, using professional equipment at cons they have had to travel across the country (or even across continents) to get to.

Aside from the money, there's also concern over the optics of their images appearing on sites and accounts with names like "Incredibly Sexy and Hot Cosplay Girls". Cosplay — once seen as one of the dorkiest pursuits on the planet — has undergone a massive transformation over the past decade, as the rise of nerd culture and social media connectivity has turned it into a global phenomenon.

From the world's best to kids just starting out, there's a common desire to see the cosplay scene shown as a welcoming, fun community of people who just want to get together, dress up and share stories. Having images lifted from an artist's portfolio and shared in a way that's more in line with softcore porn is not the kind of tone those involved in actually making the images were after.

"This affects both photographers and cosplayers. Not only does it affect our social reach, it could potentially give the wrong impression that we would like to avoid. So that's why we definitely see the need for us to work together to promote better content creation practices", Fischer says.

While it's easy to act defensively and to simply go after offending sites, Wong, Fischer and others involved know that while half the battle is in asking these outlets to take down or properly credit their images (to the point where they have drawn up some guidelines), the other half is in educating the wider internet about what's going down.

"I hope that we, not just content creators but the community as a whole, can work together to put in place better content creation practices," Dave Yang, another photographer pushing the #NotJustPixels message, says.

"Content creators should feel proud and safe not only to put their creations out in to the world but also when it comes time to protect that work when misuse occurs. We shouldn't be afraid or reluctant to call out those who perpetuate poor behaviours and should look out for one another by speaking out against and reporting those behaviours."

That's a final goal Wong shares. "While we are giving a lot of information about how to report photo misuse, our intention is to educate the public and the community for future prevention rather than trying to rely on reporting afterward," he says. "We want to promote social awareness so we can help this community to grow by helping each other. If photographers feel safer posting photos, and that their works are protected, then we would able encourage more people to engage in cosplay photography."

Of course, there is no such thing as Cosplay Law, Cosplay Police or Cosplay Judges. The internet is a wild, untamed place, and no guidelines the cosplay community comes up with, regardless of their scope or intent, are going to be binding to the shady sites of the world.

But if #NotJustPixels can at least raise awareness among cosplay fans that they should be expecting so see acknowledgement for the creators of an image along with the image itself, then it will have achieved something.

Top image by Evgeny Bornyakov.


    It's always going to be a very thin line to tread. Surely a fan creating a batman costume isn't a problem, they are a fan promoting the universe and the "product".. but then if they use that costume to create an income, that becomes something different entirely. I don't think there is a simple solution to this. If we make the "ownership" of the photos contestable, or punishable if misused/modified, doesn't this then expose the cosplayers to the same laws? Education is definitely a big part of it, and will help considerably, but i don't think we have the means to take it a step further. If i do a painting, it is my work. If you take a photo of that painting, is it your work? What if you were to take a photo, of a painting, that was painted to look like the original?
    It gets very muddy very quickly. I feel sorry for the photographers, and the cosplayers, because the incredible amount of very hard work that they do exists in a grey area. If they were to cosplay original characters - no problem. The issue then becomes that OCs will not have anywhere near as much spread socially.

    Keep up the hard work Cosplayers and Photographers
    The internet will always be the internet

    As far as track history goes your in for a real uphill impossible battle, but if your fine with only winning a few skirmishes with the bigger offenders, than go ahead.

    Last edited 06/04/16 3:52 pm

      Gonna be that guy... for your benefit...


        ill just leave this here for ya

        Last edited 06/04/16 4:43 pm

          All I really got out of that was that people tend to avoid having housemates that will annoy them.
          I'll leave this one here for you.

          Hardly surprising or even conclusive results there. Not sure what the point of that article was at all, but thanks for sharing, @ugnutz. ;)

            Needs a comma after "goes" and before "you're".......but let's not split hairs.

            No, actually lets......

        Should of shown up earlier you could of corrected my idiom 'downhill'.

        Correcting someone does not benefit them. If you truly wanted to help (which I doubt) then try explaining the correction so it doesn't happen again.

          Granted. I did fail to explain my correction. Mea culpa there, and apologies. I will endeavour to provide more helpful correction in future as that was indeed the intention. ;)

    Watermark your photos somewhere.

    Use Google's reverse image lookup thing and spam out takedown notices to the offenders.

    Hasn't kotaku posted stuff like this in the past too? I seem to remember a list of cosplay boobs many years ago.

      It shouldn't matter what Kotaku's conduct was in the past. Their current conduct is to properly credit their sources and to call for others to do likewise.

    Not going to mention that most cosplays are based on copyrighted works?
    When money's being made, somebodies getting ripped off here...

    Not that I care, I understand the photographers plight. It's the same as for stock photo creators; they've been having their photos stolen for other things forever and well, their best defence was some watermarks.

      I'd argue that creating your own physical costume would probably fall under fair use as a transformative work.

      Even if it doesn't the photographer still owns the copyright if the photo and nobody (even the original ip holder) is allowed to use that without their express permission.

        Yeah I know and agree that they should be allowed to. I was just commenting that there's really almost always somebody along the chain who gets to complain they're being exploited and these photographers aren't unique.

    some photographers do make a living shooting cosplayers and cons and should probably re-think their life decisions.

      I wish I could upvote this more to counter the anti-humour brigade downvoting.

    cry me a river
    I have been crying about property for ages
    jpegs of drawings/art/photos are freely pirated
    music and video hardly gets a look in as well

    why is it only movie/film/tv series that gets the right to defend its copyright, I guess its because they are the most vocal about it

    computers are made to copy tho so..... im at a loss
    everyone wants content free and with no ads... sometimes a lot of work goes into that content and you get .7cents for 150 hours plus of work
    (what I got for my music)

    so I gave up music to concentrate on VR for the time being

    Last edited 06/04/16 4:31 pm

    If they don't like the way the internet works, they should stop using it.
    You don't sail a ship into a port that is known to be full of pirates, and then whinge about the pirates.

    I hope the photographers in question paid for all the software, movies and songs that they own.

      They can't afford software, movies and songs. Apparently someone is stealing their photos and not paying them.

    Like teenagers should be told everywhere, once a photo is on the internet it in reality becomes public domain.

    They wanna sell prints? Don't upload high-res photos and, as said above, use a watermark. Make a storefront that enables easy purchase. Make sure you price appropriately. We're over 20 years into the internet age, why does this still need to be pointed out?

    Cosplayers add such a cool element to gaming events but as a group seem a bit over-sensitive on this and other issues. Like it or lump it, they have sex appeal and are interesting and people are going to exploit that.

      Yep, you pretty much nailed it.

      If cosplay wasn't a thing.... and all of a sudden I commissioned and made a completely amazing ironman suit and paraded around town/conventions with it, people would take photos left, right and centre and I'm sure I'd eventually get people asking to do 'shoots' down the track.

      If I was a girl dressing as a character and there was some revealing aspects to it, it takes the same ethos of what's happening in my ironman analogy and amplifies it.

      THEN, hello internet.... you guys love to pirate don't you, yeah you do... you're sick for it.
      It's almost insulting when I read about cosplayers & cosplay orientated photographers getting annoyed at losers stealing their stuff, it's been happening to photographers forever. It's a seriously bad bad thing, and it's been happening for at least 15+ years. There are solutions in place which are less than desirable for social media (i.e. gimping the images in some way), but I can't see the mid level cosplayers doing much on that front.

      I'm torn on this topic because I'm a realist when it comes to piracy, I always edge on the side of 'it's going to happen, so figure out a way to leverage things to your advantage'. On the flipside you can't always just chalk things upto "Oh well, crime is going to happen so there's nothing we can do about it".

      I fundamentally feel bad for cosplayers but I feel like they know what they're getting themselves into and need to be prepared for the good and bad that comes with it. Have a realistic gameplan when it comes to how you want to manage your content online.

    It will be interesting to see how the photographers/cosplayers react when they start getting takedown/cease and desist notices from the owners of the source material, particularly if they're starting to do it with making money in mind.

    "Stealing"? Wouldn't this actually fall under the banner of piracy/copyright infringement?

    Asking people to give credit and link to the original photographer/cosplayer is all well and good. Going down the "people are taking our work and we're not getting paid" route - well, so these people are saying they've never pirated a game or music? They're also benefiting from someone else's work which they are using as a basis for their costume to attract pre-existing fans of that content.

    I'm sorry, but cosplayers aren't any more special than other people who are struggling to make money from a niche market on the Internet. If you're using it to try to make a living, then unless you're in the top tier, it's probably not going to happen.

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