Friday, January 1, 2010

Stealing or "Flattery" Part 1- Photos

It's been my experience that cake decorators are a very generous group, in that we post a lot of pictures for other bakers to see. This gives people an opportunity to find inspiration and try new techniques, but it also opens the door for a lot of unethical behavior. And no, it isn't flattering, as the title of this post might suggest.

One of the things I recommend that brides ask bakers they interview is whether the pictures in their portfolios are actually cakes that they've made or not. People who aren't in business for themselves probably don't think about it too much, but the unauthorized "borrowing" of other bakers' photos is pretty common.

I had put off watermarking my photos, thinking that it wasn't a big deal, until a customer brought me a picture from my website to show me during a consultation. It was printed on glossy photo paper, and I realized how easy it would be for another baker to do the same thing and use my photos in their portfolios. I bought a watermarking program and spent a few hours switching out the pictures on my site. People still print out the pictures, but when they bring them to me they have a nice big watermark on them.

It isn't just cakes, either. I've heard from professional photographers who said that they've had people tell them that they printed photos off of their sites to give to their friends. Not only is that just plain rude, it's also a federal copyright violation.

The openness of the internet gives people the feeling that everything should be free and available to them for any reason they want it, but that's just wrong. I find it interesting that many people say that you should just ignore that kind of thing until it happens to them, then their attitude changes. One wedding forum that I read has banned discussion of stolen photographs because it gets everyone so angry, they start to bombard the offender with nasty emails.

I've seen websites that have photographs of cakes from books in their galleries, with no mention of the fact that the baker didn't do the work. I've also had people take watermarked pictures off of my website (which just proves that nothing is foolproof) and put them on their websites in their cake galleries. Some websites are so well-known for doing this, bakers will check them periodically to make sure that none of their photos have been stolen.

Claiming that you did the work in a photo that isn't yours isn't just unethical, it's false advertising and often gives brides the impression that you can do work that's better than what you can actually produce. Many people try to get around this by posting somewhere on the site that the photos aren't all cakes that they've made, and that they're included for "inspiration" or to show what can be done. The problem with that is, how do you know it can be done? If a decorator can't show you a photo of a cake they've made in that style, you might end up with something off of Cakewrecks in the "what they ordered/ what they got" category, like these:

So if you're a bride, make sure to ask. If you get any kind of answer that feels slightly weird to you, you might want to take a closer look at that baker's work. If there's a wide variety in the quality of the photos, or if some of the cakes look markedly better than others, it's possible that the photos were taken from other bakers. If you're still not sure, make sure to ask around for references from people you know, or from your other vendors. If a baker has a huge portfolio of beautiful cakes, but nobody in town has heard of them, something might not be adding up.

If you're a baker who has other peoples' pictures on your website or in your portfolio, there's no excuse for that. Just go take them off, and stop claiming that someone else's work is your own.

Next in the series coming soon: Designs

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, cake supplies online at and
 Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at and


veron said...

I've had some businesses stealing pictures off my blog. It's really sad when they can't even show their clients pictures of their own work.

Anonymous said...

i've also heard that watermarks can be erased in photoshop and other such programs :(

Kara said...

Yeah, there's not much you can do if someone is really determined to steal your work. Just shows what kind of ethics they have, though...

Anonymous said...

Great Post! I just do not know what would make someone think it is ok to steal someone elses photos. It is really the same as walking into a store and stealing. It is outright wrong and dishonest. And what happens when someone posts an awesome picture and someone wants them to recreate it and they can not???? It will all come out in the end... too bad there has to be the dishonesty to begin with.

meena khalili said...

Hey Kara!
In reading this I'm reminded of similar issues within the Illustration and Graphic Design profession. It's such a shame that we have to deal with this kind of unethical practice. Have you ever thought about going with a Flash website because it is virtually impossible to extract photos (no click and drag option) on a Flash site. Just food for thought, so to speak :)

Kara said...

Ha, I'm so technologically un-advanced the thought of changing websites scares me! Thanks for the information, though. Anything to deter people with itchy right-clicking fingers is good to know.

Tara said...

the Flash site option is a great one but if you are still posting pic on sites like facebook and the likes they offer no protection so the image can still be stolen.And even watermarking is not safe as they are easily erased.
Some people are just so blatently rude and nothing will stop them from getting what they want.

Great blog. said...

Love this post, Kara. It's a blight all the way around. You'll get responses from people: oh, I just say that I make cakes LIKE this one, not that I made this one...same thing with flowers, decor in general (and yes, even straight up logistical coordination). A tiny percentage of rotten people ruin it for the rest of us.

Thanks for educating brides and pros alike!