Baz Black is a body modification artist and model from Ireland. In a moment of naivety, he signed a waiver allowing a photographer to sell his image to a stock photography company, he says, without realizing what he was doing. Now his images are now used to plug everything from dating sites to the recent Mad Max movie, and there's nothing he can do about it.
Right now, his uniquely tattooed body could be being dismembered and sold—and he's not getting any money out of it. His tattoos have been altered to promote gang culture, his head's been digitally chopped off to advertise TV shows on giant billboards in Time Square, and he's been the unwitting subject of a poster for a Cardiff night club. He's pretty pissed off, but powerless to change the situation. What those using his image are doing is totally within copyright law.
When I asked for his take on the situation, Oktay Ortakcioglu, the photographer who took the photographs, told me: "I contacted him about doing a shoot and he came to the studio. I gave him the form, he read it, and signed it. He got professional photos to use for his personal interests. I have over 7,000 images on iStock. Sometimes some can be very successful, like Baz's, which sold loads. I think he didn't expect the images to go as far as they did, or to get that much interest."
I caught up with Baz to talk about what it's like to see your image circulated around the world without being able to stop it.
VICE: So Baz, I heard you've been dismembered via Photoshop and used to plug a comic con? That's a bit grim isn't it?
Baz Black: Yeah I have to admit it was a bit of a shock to see a stranger's head Photoshopped onto my body. It's part of a campaign to promote the new NBC show Blindspot. The first I heard about it was on makeup artist Nix Herreas Facebook page.
I suddenly saw his head on my body. Apparently there was a booth set up at Comic Con where anybody could go in and get their head photoshopped onto my body, so there is hundreds of random faces floating around the internet "wearing" my body!
Then they took it a step further and used four of the images for a huge billboard that was up in Times Square.
The Times Square billboard, with Baz's torso
How did you first find out images of your body were being used to advertise things around the world?
A customer from my shop told me I was the face of an online dating agency. It was a picture of me holding a scalpel and wearing a surgical mask. The caption read "MEET ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE." Initially I thought it was funny but it's probably not a good idea to have me looking like a serial killer as the promo for your site, guys.
And how exactly did you lose the copyright to... your own body?
So in 2011 I arranged a photo shoot with Oktay of Imaj Photography. The release I signed was actually a waiver for iStock and I ended up completely signing all my rights away without realizing it. He has now been selling these images for five years and has made thousands from it. I don't get any money or credit for these images that have been bought and used worldwide for TV shows, magazines, billboards, jewelry companies, shops, and dating sites. When I contacted the photographer two years ago to ask him why he was selling my images and not giving me any money or credit he said that it was his business and needed to make money. He also offered to give me a free photo shoot as compensation. Like he wanted to get more images to sell behind my back!
When I asked for the PDF files, on CD or email, so I could use them for my own promotion he told me I could go buy my own images on iStock if I wanted them. Cheeky bastard.
All he had to do was turn around and throw me a couple of hundred quid for doing the shoot and I wouldn't be so annoyed at his blatant attempt to make money off my image.
What kinds of things have you been used to plug and what countries are you selling in?
There have been over 50 that I am aware of. Customers have spotted me while away on holidays on a random array of products. Some countries included Romania, France, and Germany.
H&M used my image for huge promotion campaign in all of their stores. My images have appeared on TV shows Doctor Who, Blue Bloods, Doctors, James Cordon's The Late Late Show in the USA, and Blindspot. The new Mad Max movie with Tom Hardy promotion, Cardiff Nightclub billboards, books such as Nico, Gang Life, H.I.Ts, and Expressing the Inner Wild. The Spotify music app. An app called Pheed. Bafta Movie Awards billboards. Also various magazines and online clothing brands.
What has been the worst thing about being sold and used as cannon fodder for advertisers?
In one image they changed the tattoos on my knuckles to say "GANG LIFE." I got a load of negative feedback from people who thought I was promoting gangs. It could actually limit my chances of traveling to America. I've been stopped before and had my tattoos examined to make sure there was no gang affiliation.
Other than not making money or getting credit, the loss of creative control is the worst feeling. Anybody can just buy my image and alter it and use for any purpose they want.
Do you think we need to change copyright laws to avoid this happening to younger people who might be more vulnerable to predatory snappers?Unfortunately the way the industry has gone a lot of photographers are taking advantage of susceptible young models. It was my own naivety signing that waiver without realizing the consequences, it was a lesson I learned the hard way.
Any words of advice for anyone facing a similar situation?
First off be very wary signing any form of waiver, especially if it is an unpaid shoot to begin with. Now I am signed with agencies I only do paid shoots and waivers are checked by myself, my agency, and my solicitor.
In normal waivers there is a good case against anybody using your photographs for commercial gain without prior informing you of it. iStock waivers pretty much give up all of your rights, giving the photographer full control.
Do you ever feel like you're in some weird alternate reality where there's an evil doppelganger going around pretending to be you, but it actually is you?
[Laughs] Yeah. That actually sums it up well. As I have no control I could pop up anywhere, commit evil doings, and have no knowledge of it.
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