Copyright Infringement in the Coronavirus Era

This is Day 33 of the Stay at Home order. I saw the graphic of how fast the virus grows in the world, and how brutal the disease is, and it’s quite convincing. Tom and I are on lockdown and haven’t bought food in three weeks. Not to say that we are scared or depressed, or starving. We are doing okay.  We talk to Anna and TK every day, who are self-quarantined in New York. Yikes. Besides witnessing springtime with an entirely new and enlightened perspective, we have our projects to do, and one of mine is getting my archive of photographs together. So I can pass it on to my heirs.

I searched my name on YouTube for the music video Tom and I made in 1984 for his band, No Thanks. Donna, the singer, had asked me for a copy of it in 2006 because her copy had been destroyed in a fire, she said.

We kindly accommodated Donna by getting the original 3/4 inch professional videotape converted to DVD for her, costing $100, and we charged her for that. She wanted the copy for her personal archives. She didn’t say she was going to put it on YouTube. But after a while, she put it on YouTube.

When she had posted the video, she put my credit on the page. That’s how I found it originally, years ago, by searching for my name.  She never asked for permission (she should have), but I didn’t object, and she identified me on the page as the photographer.

The video consists of hundreds of my earliest, most favorite black and white photos from my first seven years of my photography career. Tom had timed the photos to change with every beat. Which was two a second or so. And the video went on for over three minutes, so there were over two hundred still photos, with some repeated. And the way we made the video was old-school — we made 8×10 prints in the darkroom, both color and black and white, and hired a videographer to photograph each individual photograph, that we pinned to an easel on the wall. Slides were projected on the wall with a slide projector. Then Tom synched the photos on the video with the music. I shot the band itself on four different occasions to add their image to the video. It was an epic amount of work! For free, no less. This was 1984, and it was our third year living in New York. The video was to pitch to MTV. But the band broke up shortly after the completion of the video and nothing ever came of it.

Decades later, the video found a second life on YouTube, on the Donna channel, first with my name on it, then with my name removed.

It doesn’t make me feel good as I reflect on my archive of photographs, that my name has been deliberately removed from a big chunk of my very best early work that is out there in the world.

So I wrote a diplomatic email to Donna, asking her to put my name back on the page. It is a DMCA violation for anyone to deliberately remove copyright management information from one’s copyrighted artwork. Whether it’s a name, or a copyright notice, or metadata, or a logo or a link. It’s illegal as hell.

Dear Donna,

I hope this email finds you safe and well during this terrible world pandemic.

The reason why I am writing you is that I was searching for my name on YouTube, and saw that the No Thanks Heavy Mental video that you have on YouTube is not credited to me, so therefore it does not appear when my name is searched. The video was created by Tom using solely my copyrighted photographs for the visuals, and hundreds of them. My work has value to it, and this uncredited use devalues my photographs and my collection, which I cannot let happen to my work. 

I need to be credited for this video on the page it appears. If you would like to continue using this video on Youtube, then I require that you put on the page the following credit, “Photographs © Penny Gentieu” with a link to my website, 

If providing this credit on the page doesn’t make the video findable when searching for my name, then my credit needs to also be inserted into the metadata of the video and of your page. This video needs to come up on YouTube when my name is searched, with the aforementioned stipulated credit and link on the page, or else I cannot let you use it.


Penny Gentieu

To which she promptly replied:

Who are you? What video? Sorry I do not know you. You don’t seem like a nice person though.

Joseph Hirsch

To which I replied:

I know it’s you, Donna, so why don’t you just put my name on it?

And then I went to her YouTube page, and she left a really nasty message! And what else? She defiled every one of my photographs in the video with a burred pattern filter!

So I filed a DMCA takedown notice with YouTube and sent Donna this email:

Donna, Just so you know, you have no permission to even have posted my copyrighted video, which you had posted with my name on it, but then you took my name off. You’ve infringed my copyright by posting it, and by subsequently removing my copyright management information, which is my name, you have committed a DMCA violation that has stipulated damages of $2,500 to $25,000. My copyrights are registered with the United States Copyright Office. I will be defending my copyright to fullest. Remove my video from YouTube immediately, and do not use it for anything else. And remove my copyrighted photograph from your YouTube page as well, and do not use it for anything else.

To which Donna left an even nastier message on her YouTube page.

“No Thanks blurry Bad Memories. this line up was my least favorite. No Thanks thanks no one. Enjoy the blurrrrrrrr. we will not comply with any orders either should you.”

And Donna sent me this email:

Sorry., NO THANKS owns copyrights for the music. You do not have permission to use any photos of band members of NO THANKS [ Donna or Jaime]. In 2007 NO THANKS paid you 100. for a copy of the video to place on you tube in which you agreed. NO THANKS also paid for the production of the video.So you are infringing on NO THANKS and face a copyright infraction.
Thank you

Three hours later, Donna sent me this email:

I made some changes to NO THANKS you tube page. I hope it is sufficient. We made a deal in 2007 when I had to buy a copy of my own work back from you. REMEMBER …clearly stating I was using the video for the band’s you tube channel. Now in 2020 you have set other conditions which is ludicrous. The video on YouTube is not monetized. I will not take it down since the project was a collaboration in which we [NO THANKS] paid for recordings, rehearsals and editing.

I’ll fix meta tags soon.

(Just for the record, Donna never paid for any of my film or printing costs, nor for my time and effort making the video. She did not pay me anything beyond the copying cost.  It was not a collaborative effort. I did not contribute the copyright to my photographs to any joint copyright of the video — my photos are not Donna’s. Donna did not do one iota of anything to create this video. Tom did all the work, with my photos.)

My final reply to Donna:

Donna, I demand that you take it down. I never gave you permission to put it on YouTube. I’m sure you have our emails, which clearly state that it was for your personal archive, and not for publication on YouTube. You can look up my copyright on the U.S. Copyright registration website, and certainly read up on copyright on the U.S. copyright website. It is an infringement not only to use my work without my express permission, but to actually to take my name off of it, and today’s display of disrespect for my artwork by altering each and every one of my photos in the video by defacing them with a patterned blur shows me that you are no one to trust with my intellectual property and I don’t want you using my photos anymore.

Donna is like a hardcore anarchistic person acting out some narcissistic fantasy she personified in her band, still after all these years. But don’t all copyright infringers have a similar misinformed nasty selfish attitude?

Gee wiz, I asked for a photo credit as nicely as I could, and instead of simply doing what I asked her to do (I do have rights!), Donna spits all over my photographs.

YouTube removed the video.

Taking an artist’s name off of her work is a DMCA copyright violation.  Altering an artist’s work by deliberately defiling it without permission is a copyright infringement.