Shame on the photo thieves

I am finding it hard to get motivated to post anything after last week’s wholesale theft of a photo I posted here. The photo of a honey bee secreting wax from her wax glands was the work of one of my regular readers and is truly awesome. The trouble started like this:

Last week after I wrote about photographing bees, I invited readers to share their own successful photos on my site. But after this particular photo came in, I double-checked with the owner to make sure it was okay to post—I didn’t want any misunderstandings because I knew the photo was good enough to get lots of attention.

Within minutes of posting, it began showing up everywhere. Of course, when you post photos online you expect them to get tweeted, pinned, mentioned, linked, Facebooked or whatever, but you hope for a link back to your site. Most people play fair. But the first big irritation came from a popular beekeeper who re-tweeted the image. First he posted the image to his own Facebook page and then sent out a tweet that linked back to that page. In the tweet he included a link to my site as a parenthetical, but we all know that no one is going to follow both links. When I went to his site, I found a non-linked mention of Honey Bee Suite but no photographer name on the photo.

This really irked me because, without an active link back to my site or a photographer credit, the owner gets no recognition whatsoever. This beekeeper proceeded to get something like 172 Facebook likes and 200 shares to my 40 likes. The comments on his site are nearly all the same: “great photo, awesome, wow!” Wouldn’t it have been nice for the photographer’s name to be on the damn picture? Wouldn’t be nice if she got just a little of the credit?

Of course, when something goes viral it goes everywhere—and, indeed, this photo went everywhere. Without trying very hard, I found it on at least two dozen sites. The reputable people give credit; most don’t bother. I didn’t actually lose my temper it until someone on BeeSource.com accused me of stealing the photo from someone else’s Facebook page. Can you believe it?

I’m not naive; I realize theft goes with the territory. I know photographers whose work has been stolen for commercial purposes. I know of photographers who have found their work with other people’s copyright notice attached. I have had my own written work republished under someone else’s name. So it’s no surprise that it happened with this photo—but that doesn’t make it right.

It’s hard to say where the line should be drawn. One person wrote to say she immediately shared the photo with her bee club. In my way of thinking, that is great. That’s what these photos and articles are for—to teach, to illustrate, to inform. They should be passed around in the spirit of sharing and learning. For that reason I have never—not even once—said no to someone who asked permission to use either my photos or my writing for non-commercial purposes. But to post work and give the impression it is your own—even if you don’t specifically say it’s your own—is low. It’s even worse when you’re trying sell something.

And in this case, the permission to republish was not mine to give. The photo was graciously shared with me to post, but since I don’t own it, I can’t decide to give it away. Shame on all of you who think the rules don’t apply to you. Did even one of you stop to think how you would feel if it was your photograph? No one is asking for money here, just a little recognition. I suppose I’m an idealist, but we beekeepers and bug lovers are a small enough community that I would expect a little mutual respect within our ranks. Is that too much to ask?

I’m in a quandary. I have so much unfinished business here on Honey Bee Suite. I’d like to share my recent success with the Girl Scout pollinator project, my plans to battle the Washington State Department of Transportation over alkali bees, my enthusiasm for matching native bees to their preferred forage, my recent experiences with triple deeps, HopGuard, and Hive Tracks—and my love for anything to do with bees. But the website is so much work and the fouls so numerous, that I wonder if I shouldn’t continue on in silence and let someone else deal with the morons. It’s something to think about.


P.S. For all of you who linked back and/or named the photographer—and there were many—my heartfelt thanks.


  • Rusty,

    I feel your pain. You could add a watermark to your photo, right across the center so it’s hard to crop out. I make all my posted images small enough that one could not do much with it.


  • Rusty,

    Don’t let ’em get you down. The web’s bad enough without more of the good folk being driven off. For $20 or so you can get software that lets you put a watermark on any photos that you post. It will only inconvenience the true thief, but I suspect a lot of this is just thoughtlessness. I’ve been thinking that I should do the same thing on my blog. I’ll let you know how that works out . . . .

  • RUSTY … You provide a much needed Service to the world of bee managers. The world of bees is a much healthier place due to the honest unbiased atmosphere in which you provide information to your readership. There is always a small number of self-centered people who will take undue opportunity and put claim to things that really isn’t theirs to own. If the world had more servant leaders to plant the seeds of knowledge so that the whole world would benefit … It would be a great place to be. Just remember that a few pissants will always through rocks in the pool to cause ripples. Your pool is large enough to handle few stones thrown. We love your shared knowledge and look forward to ever blog you publish. My bees are productive because of the knowledge you share with the word! Thanks for dedicating your life to the world of bees and want-to-be managers and real bee managers. When your on top of the world … People will through rocks! Keep – on!

  • Well, it goes without saying, people will always take something and make it theirs, especially on the internet. That is a great photo for sure! And I personally want to thank those who did the right thing and giving the credit where it’s due. Please don’t let this get you down Rusty. You have a great website and it is valuable. I just recently found it myself and have been reading a lot from it. Would hate to see it disappear. I know how you feel as I have had pics stolen and used with people not giving credit where credit is due and some taking credit for my pics. But being an ex-cop who worked computer crime for 12 years, I’ve learned one thing. If you don’t want people stealing your pics, don’t post them unprotected on the internet. Sad people can’t respect other people’s work! But keep the site going and move on. It’s just too valuable to trash it!

  • I’m sorry that happened, Rusty! PLEASE don’t give up Honey Bee Suite. I’m new to your site and have already learned so much. I appreciate what you do here as I’m sure so do many others.

  • Sorry to read about this. Recently a paper a colleague and I wrote for a conference ended up cut and pasted onto some jerk’s website as his own. Plagiarism seems to be rampant online. Sad. Please don’t let the scoundrels out there stop your great work.

    Did you correct BeeSource?

  • There are good people, there are bad people, all you can do is help the good ones. On the bright side, at least the theivery got a picture out there further, that was informative and therefore beneficial to bees. On our group site, harlowbees.co.uk, I edit the pics used to stamp credit into the image.

    Please keep up the good work for the sake of us nice people.

  • Please don’t stop the good work. When I first stumbled across the blog and site, I assumed you were the stereotypical old(ish) beekeeper with a wealth of experience. I was refreshed to find none of the didactic ‘You must do this, or that’ injunctions in your texts, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that your knowledge has been gained over a relatively short time i.e that you are young. Beekeeping has been a challenge this year in the UK. Reading your daily(ish) entries on diverse topics has been a welcome part of my coffeebreak catchup with emails, and I am looking forward to many more good reads.

    Kindest Regards

  • You know how they tell beekeepers not to give up because of losses/varroas/SHB/tracheal mites/ETC? Don’t give up what *you* do. I am a 2nd year beekeeper (my 1st year resulted in 2 failed hives), and I look forward to every communication from your site. So, I’ll be waiting to hear about HopGuard and the rest of…whatever you release. Thanks!!!! Carole

  • I love the photo. And thank you and the photographer for sharing it and bringing it to all of you us. As infuriating as it is, as much as a selfish, inconsiderate act that it was, your posting was more positive than the negatives it engendered. Bees are about harmony with nature. The good natural thing to do is to contact the Facebook author directly and ask for clarification and a follow up posting. If it doesn’t happen let it go. “Slap me once shame on you, slap me twice shame on me” ( Or my something like that ). Your blogs are too good to stop. Perhaps some of your readers should also ask the person for correction. Things will get better. Good luck.

  • Big sigh. Sorry you are distressed about the bee butt photo theft. It
    is a remarkable photo.

    Thinking you are buying grief here. The picture owner shared it with
    you. You graciously shared it with “us”. Jerks stole it and used it
    for their purposes. We can only expect people to be people. A filthy
    lot, on the whole, rising on occassion to greatness when least

    Of course they are jerks. It’s like expecting 5 year olds to act 20. A
    lovely hope but not what one can reasonably expect. They do what they

  • I’d suggest you take a week or two off – you deserve it for sure!

    For the record, I love your blog and web site. It is the only one I faithfully read. You have a true gift of writing and you are so knowledgeable (and have a terrific sense of humor). I am a new beekeeper and I have learned a lot from you. I hope you do not let this discouraging event (and the past heartaches too) get you down. Keep the faith.

  • Count me in too! I look at your site almost daily & have learned so much from it-& appreciated personal replies when I had what seemed like a desperate problem with my bees! Take that week off…

  • I’m sorry about the photo troubles…but please don’t stop the website! I’m a new beekeeper and LOVE reading the email subscription–such inspiration and education to future bee keepers!


    1st year-1 hive, three supers deep, Amarillo, TX

  • Rusty,
    I agree with many others…I read your blog religiously and actually depend on all the information you have here…amazing work by you!
    And like Susan said above, the personal replies to our desperate situations are great appreciated!!

    I can really understand your frustration, it is just wrong to steal photos. Some people suck!
    I REALLY want to hear about your 3 deeps!
    …big fat watermark…

  • sorry to hear about that. this is the big reason i’m reluctant to use flickr and similar sites.

    i’d contact the guy who lifted it and posted it on his own facebook feed, and ask him to remove it. if he doesn’t, public shaming works real well.

    and i watermark everything that i post. on the GardenFork.TV site we use a plug in that automatically watermarks all photos in each post. its called Watermark Reloaded, there may be other plug ins that work too.

    before i post any photos elsewhere on the web, like facebook, i watermark them in Photoshop with our domain name. its a pain, but it shows everyone you mean business.

  • Hi Rusty, yes it be a pain in A#@ when people do that, even whose when people copy and paste your entire blog posts 🙁

    I found a plugin that automatically puts a watermark on images, as you upload them to wordpress. Not at home at the moment, but email me later for the url.

    This works for us, as we have multiple authors and all pictures get the watermark on them.

    See ya…Gary

  • Sorry to hear about this mess. Thank you for sharing that amazing picture! And shame on the dishonest people, they should know better 🙁
    I say take a break, take a deep breath, and come back when the black cloud dissipates. I would hate to lose such a valuable resource that I only recently found. My mom and I are new to bee culture and this is our first year of beekeeping! So much to learn!
    Do what makes YOU happy! Chin up!

  • Dear Rusty,

    I think you are right on every point you made. I completely understand the quandary you are in. I blog also and although it’s just a personal blog for mostly my family to keep up with mine, I would never dream of posting something there without giving complete credit and links to the source. It’s beyond bad manners not to do so, it’s theft, in my opinion. I think you would be entirely within the bounds of fairness to post something on that beekeeper’s blog/fb page and point out to those who follow him what he has unfairly done.

    That said, however, I would feel bereft without your regular posts. I am a new beekeeper here in Utah — this is only my second year — and I have learned so much from what you have shared. I get so many questions from my children and friends, and my daughter who beekeeps with me is fascinated by the one hive we have. What you post helps me answer their questions intelligently. I love the pictures you post. In fact, today I wandered around my yard with my little point-and-shoot camera in an attempt to capture something interesting (I don’t think I did, but it was fun anyway), thanks to the things you have posted.

    Please continue to share. It’s inspirational, interesting, and so helpful to me (and probably loads of others too).

  • Rusty,
    Thought enough had been said, but since it seems we’re all voting: there are a lot fewer photo thieves, than there are dedicated readers who depend on (and enjoy immensely) your insights and images.
    Basically one thoughtless person triggered a flood of irresponsibility. Assuming that person still reads your blog, this is directed to them:
    Queen Up! Post here, apologizing, and post on your own page explaining your misstep and giving credit where it is due. That would be really really classy, and would do much to restore faith in this great sharing process.
    Just think (still talking to the perp)… if you don’t make amends, who’s gonna want to send you images now? Rusty scrupulously credits even the most amateurish images (those’d be mine). No hive without workers: no blog without readers. It’s all community. Be one.
    Rusty: nuff said. Pul-lease keep it up!~

  • Please continue your wonderful work. It is such a shame unethical people will take advantage of the good and honest. Remember, karma will get them eventually! I love + enjoy your photos and blog. We could bombard the culprit and shame them into admitting they ‘borrowed’ your photo, but what you are saying here will have effect anyway. Hang in there … remember you attract more bees with honey than vinegar and keep your spirits high!

  • How people could do that?! Rusty, I think, you need to publish the name of the person who used the picture without proper credits to the author and your WEB-site. It is so unethical and such cases should be completely public – we need to know the names! As for copyrights, I think, may be using the author’s name as a part of filename could help?
    You should continue your mission – it is the best beekeeping blog I saw on the Internet. I have to admit that I am spending some time at Beesource, but when I really need truthful and balanced information I always check your WEB-site! Sergey

  • I tried to find the picture at beesource but the search vehicle there isn’t great. I tried gland, secreting, secret – just guessing. Tried wax and it said nothing found! Anyway, I would love to go there and just post a mention of the photographer and note where it actually came from. Can you give any clues to help find??? I don’t mind publicly busting him/her! 🙂

  • Yes, I know that feeling well. I took a photo of a bee sting and someone in Iraq put his copyright on it. After it won an international photo award, people really began stealing it. I wrote about it here: http://ucanr.org/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=7735
    Now I’ve noticed that some folks are taking my photos from my Flickr account, Facebook and Bug Squad blog and using them on their Facebook profile photos and elsewhere on the ‘net. Some have made profit from my photos. (I just shoot for educational purposes.) Now I’m putting my copyright on each photo I post on my blog and Facebook.

    • Hi Kathy. I have followed the story of your bee sting photo since it was first published. In fact, many people have sent me links to it in many different places—usually with no attribution whatsoever. Like you, I’m going to start using watermarks, although I hate to do it and it only stops the lazy thieves.

      Thanks for writing. I remain an enthusiastic fan of your work.

  • I do not share your disgust. None of us created the bee to have wax glands, why be possessive of a picture that is not of a human’s accomplishment? Credit where credit is due, indeed.

    • Sarah,

      You are correct that none of us created bees or wax glands. However, humans did create cameras and digital communication which allow us to see and learn about things that would otherwise remain a mystery to most of us. But cameras do not operate by themselves. It is up to skilled and patient photographers to capture the images we all appreciate. And when that photographer is open-minded enough to make his or her photo available for the world to see, that person deserves recognition not only for skill but for beneficence. Yes, Sarah, credit where credit is due.

      • I meant to point out the irony, not to cause any offense. Yes, it is a great picture and is my desk-top wallpaper now, too.

    • Message to Sarah:

      When people plagiarize a writer, that’s stealing someone else’s words. When they’re using someone else’s photograph (photography, by the way, means “writing with light) without authorization, accreditation or payment, that’s also stealing. The making of an image involves multiple factors, including patience, persistence, photographic expertise, artistic skills, (often) expensive equipment, knowledge of one’s subject (such as honey bees and their behavior), being in the right place at the right time, and fairly hidden costs, such as travel expenses and time. Your comment that “Why be possessive of a picture that is not of a human’s accomplishment” is flawed. It is a human accomplishment. Very much so. And, that’s why we have copyright laws. See http://www.ppa.com/findaphotographer/copyright.php. The website points out:

      “Copyright is a property right.”

      “Under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976, photographs are protected by copyright from the moment of creation.”

      “Photographers have the exclusive right to reproduce their photographs (right to control the making of copies).”

      “Unless you have permission from the photographer, you can’t copy, distribute (no scanning and sending them to others), publicly display (no putting them online), or create derivative works from photographs.”

      “Even small levels of infringement—copying a photo without permission—can have a devastating impact on a photographer’s ability to make a living.”

      “Copyright infringements—reproducing photos without permission—can result in civil and criminal penalties.”

  • Sarah – what a naive view.

    A picture does not have to show a human accomplishment to merit credit for the person who took it. If it did, no nature photography would be protected from thievery. Rusty NOR Debbe were taking credit for the bee’s work, just for the skill and timing that made the image possible. And it’s ironic that you made your judgmental statement to some of the people most devoted to marveling and giving bees credit for their remarkable capabilities.


    • OK, just re-read my comment and now I can see why it would sound absurd to you. Please allow me to clarify. I did not mean it was wrong to take credit for a nature photo, nor was I accusing Rusty or Debbe when I said it was not a human’s accomplishment. I was not referring to photography. It is just a picture of a honey bee doing what they were created to do, so what harm was done in it being posted around?

  • Sarah,

    Our feelings do not always comport with the law, and I have dabbled with your view in one instance; I felt that my right in a photo of my daughter was greater than that of the photographer. I think it is perfectly fine for societies and countries to have rules and laws that develop over time, as have copyright laws in the western world. You and I simply must admit error in not respecting copyright in these two instances: the copyright is with Debbe, the photographer.

  • Ya know I feel for ya kinda…
    BUT the pic was posted on the big ol WWW for all to see…
    If the photographer did not expect the photo to be passed around in today’s world of social media I don’t know what to tell ya…
    Next time watermark the pic…
    I know exactly what pic it is too because I just saw it on Facebook lol
    Great pic btw !!
    But there’s no way of knowing who the owner is when its not marked and passed around by thousands of people…
    Unless you have a registered raw copy of the pic on file there are a lot of potential owners out there…

  • 1. Rich: you DO have a right to your own image, not to have it used without your permission, and also to that of your (minor, I assume) daughter. But if you do give the photographer permission to use it, as the artist his right is superior to everyone else’s.

    2. George: you said “there’s no way of knowing who the owner is when its not marked and passed around by thousands of people.” That’s the whole point, “ya know”? The original thief had only to identify the owner, as Rusty did.

    I have only recently joined Facebook, but it seems to me that the posting process is such that it’s easy to give credit, or at least hard not to.

  • Nancy,

    Good points – and you flatter me in assuming I might be younger than I am. My daughter sat for a portrait after serving as an officer in the U.S. Army. She is not a minor and made my wife and me grandparents this year.


  • Well, then, Rich, you have no rights in her image. It goes 1.) She does, 1.) the photographer does (assuming he has her permission to use it) 3. all the rest of the world does (sorry, including you).
    Also sorry, not flattering you: just assumed she was a minor since you claimed to have rights in her image, which would be the case only if she were a minor, and only because as her parent and guardian, you are exercising rights on her behalf.
    What all this has to do with bees? The image belongs to Debbe, as the artist, because bees do not have rights. That’s a whole nother debate.

  • This photo went viral because it’s so remarkable. Yes, everyone who uses it should attribute it properly. The photo has a life of its own – it’s that good.

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