Editor's note: Author Teresa Gubbins serves as an appointee to the Animal Advisory Commission for District 14, and has also donated $100 to Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston's campaign. David Blewett's campaign was offered multiple opportunities to comment on this story and declined.
A Dallas artist is calling out a political candidate who stole one of his photos and altered it in a negative way for use in his campaign.
In mid-May, Dallas musician and artist Bruce Richardson discovered that David Blewett, who is running for the Dallas City Council in District 14 against incumbent Philip Kingston, had used a photo he took of Kingston in at least three negative attack Facebook/Instagram campaigns. Richardson copyrighted the photo, meaning that it could not be used by anyone but him.
Richardson, who is a Kingston supporter, says that the theft is particularly galling given the fact that Blewett is making ethics a platform of his campaign.
"This is a violation of my copyright, and violates U.S. Copyright law," Richardson says. "My photos show up on album covers, film productions, talent agencies, and in publications like the Dallas Observer."
That includes a portrait he shot of his friend Neil Emmons, who passed away in 2016, which accompanied a story by Jim Schutze. We are not talking about photos of his cat.
"Photography has been important to my artistic practice since I was a kid, following in my Dad's footsteps," Richardson says. "I made money with my camera before I ever played a paying music gig."
Facebook's copyright policy supports intellectual property rights, including images that are copyrighted. Facebook also bans misuse of photos when it comes to areas such as hate speech, bullying, or abuse.
Richardson's attorney, Angela Langlotz, says that when Richardson uploaded his image to Facebook, he didn't give up his copyright protection.
"Just because Bruce posted this photo, doesn't mean someone else can download it, edit it, create a derivative work, and then run it in an ad without paying him," Langlotz says.
On a Facebook post, Richardson goes through a step-by-step breakdown, establishing that it was his property and displaying the before-and-after shots.
The photo that was stolen shows Kingston at an event, engaged in conversation with an unidentified person.
Blewett's campaign stripped out the other person, leaving Kingston isolated. They reversed the image, then drained the warm, natural skin tones to make him look pale and unhealthy. Their manipulated photo changes the context of Kingston's facial expression in a negative way.
Not the first time
This is not the first time anti-Kingston forces have appropriated photos to smear Kingston. A flyer sent out on April 25 used photos of two men, Bill Weinberg and Paul Hille, who've served for Kingston's District 14 as voluntary appointees to city commissions. Their photos were used without permission and were dramatically altered to make them look dark and malevolent.
Weinberg says he was shocked to see a badly doctored photo of himself arrive in the mail.
"I don't know if Blewett broke any law, but I think that the common practice of photoshopping pictures of your adversary is unethical," says Weinberg, who is a lawyer.
Kingston has served on the Dallas City Council for six years, and is running for one final two-year term. During his time in office, he's worked to stop mismanagement of Fair Park and the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System.
His efforts to increase accountability and transparency have made him a target among those in Dallas who seek to maintain the status quo.
After Richardson saw Blewett's negative ad, he contacted Langlotz.
On May 19, she sent the Blewett campaign a notice of copyright infringement and demand. The letter was sent via email to Blewett's campaign office, and through U.S. Mail.
The letter directed Blewett's campaign to cease using the image; pay a retroactive licensing fee; and have their attorney respond immediately.
On May 20, Richardson observed that all of Blewett's campaign ads were rendered inactive.
On May 21, the Blewett campaign reactivated all of its ads, except for one: the ad with his stolen photo — which would seem to be an indication that they knew what they did was wrong.
Unfortunately, deactivating the ad did not make it go away. "Anyone who had seen or commented on it could still see this unauthorized use of my photo for days after the ad was deactivated," Richardson says.
Richardson says that, according to the Blewett campaign's own ad data, up to 20,000 people have seen the badly edited and colored version of his photograph.
The campaign has yet to respond to Richardson's attorney.
However, Blewett did post a comment on a neighborhood page in which he responded to questions by saying, "Meh. Keep trying. You guys are getting ridiculous."
Richardson says that his property was used to attack "a decent public servant and a personal friend who has been a model representative for District 14."
"I would never have agreed to grant usage rights for this ad knowingly," he says.