theft. educational kings of incompetence

The story of how my alma mater, University College Østfold, broke the intellectual property laws, stole my work, refused to pay, notify, credit or apologise.

I finished my bachelor in Digital Media Production at the University College Østfold, and in october 2010 recieved an email from a lecturer asking if they could buy some of my photos for their new IT-student website. I said yes, and heard nothing more.

Two months later I discovered that they had taken 13 of my photos and published on their new site without permission, credits, payment or informing me. I was not impressed. I emailed a handful of people I knew would have been involved, including the webmaster, the dean and the Chief Information Officer and asked what was going on, and asked them to remove the photos until we had come to an agreement.

No answer.

I send another email, a tad more formal, outlining that Norwegian intellectual property law had been broken, what the common practice is in cases like this, but that I would like this solved in a manner that both parts could accept. But that this is not possible without communication. Basically: talk to me.

Silence. They remove the photos from the site, bar one.

I send a letter snailmail, repeating what was in the email, and added that I would send an invoice, but I hoped that this could be solved in a friendly manner. In addition, I also said that when an agreement had been reached, they would be allowed to use 10 out of the 13 photos. The remaining three I would never have allowed them to use in any case. I also point out that it is their responsibility to get permission from the people in the photographs. You know, that is another law…

Deafening silence.

A few weeks later, I talk to them. He said he would email me an offer.

I hear nothing. I send an email reminder.


In March I receive an email asking me about something else, some files I had worked on while studying. I take the opportunity to remind them again.


In august I send an email saying that since I have heard nothing, I assume they would accept an invoice on what is current practice. That would set them back about USD 13.000.

No reply.

Being abroad for most of the summer, I return, and in december, with a heavy heart send them an invoice. They do not want to talk to me, I do not have any options left. If I am stuck in a corner, but I did not put myself there. According to normal practice, I should have invoiced the price of a photo times three: once for the image, once for lack of credits, once for lack of an agreement. Normal freelance price for a photo is estimated to about NOK 2000. That would have brought the total up to approximately NOK 78 000 (about USD 13.000).

I snailmailed an invoice of NOK1000x2 pr. image. 1000 kroner pr image, 1000 kroner pr image for lack of credit and agreement. This is cheap. This is getting off easy. Bear in mind they will be allowed to use ten of the images. This is, essentially, normal price for a photo.

Finally, a reaction. A phonecall. He offered me NOK 3000 for the lot as “compensation for a misunderstanding”. 230 kroner pr image. USD 38. An offence. I insist he sends that “offer” in an email. He is very reluctant to do so. He gives me time to “think about it”. He calls back a few days later, I and tell him that this is not acceptable, and that I have to consider where I will take this further. I am so angry I am shaking, but I speak slowly and calmly.

He calls back, and tells me he has talked to the university college solicitor. He repeatedly refuses to tell me what the solicitor said, but now the offer is NOK 1000 (approx. USD167) pr image. I am asked to “meet them half way”. The gall. I could have invoiced USD 13.000. I should have done that! He does not want to give me the name and contact information to the solicitor as he “does not want to bother him with this”. Finally I get the name and number of the solicitor, his rationale that me calling the solicitor could not possibly take more than ten minutes. I have no guarantee or faith in that this guy has given the solicitor the whole picture. Or that they have talked at all.

He does not want to send me this new offer in an email. I insist. He refuses, on the grounds that “he does not have the time right now”. I say he can write it as we speak, I helpfully suggest: “we offer you 1000kr pr image. Best regards, signed Mr. Weasel”. He would have had time to do that in the time it took me to argue this point. No, he does not have the time. It is friday. It is half past four.

Again, I am given time to think, and he says with a sternly, fatherly chastising tone, that “we should get this thing done with”. I have tried to get this over with for over a year! They have had a year to give me an offer and start communicating. And now I am given the impression that this is my fault. He also starts the argument that “you are not really a photographer“, and that “the images was not really on the internet for a long time“. They were only removed because I found them – through Google! 

He thinks the price is steep. It is not. It is really really really cheap for breaking the law. And if the total is large, that is due to the fact that they took 13 images. Not my doing.

Remember that one picture they did not remove? They say it was a photo taken by a lecturer. I said in that case we are not talking about the same photo. As it is a photo OF THE GUY who (they say) claims it to be his photo!

So. Where did I go from there? I had three options. Solicitor, media or the settlement office, the lowest rung on the legal ladder, where the aim is to reach agreements. I researched all three.

What they failed to see is that I could not let this go for a number of reasons.

  • they have offended me personally by refusing to communicate, not taking my letters and emails seriously, and by extension, offended anyone trying to communicate with them, including the students past and present.
  • They never offered and apology. The closes thing was an oral admission that “I see that we have not handled this very well“. My diagnosis is that they have not “handled” anything at all.
  •  They tried to weasel away by calling it a “oral misunderstanding“, and when I produced the email with the initial request, that certainly upped the stakes.
  • They tried to intimidate me by saying they had talked to a solicitor but refused to say what the solicitor said, and then tried to refuse me the contact information to said solicitor.
  • They tried to belittle my work, the value, the experience and the product of years of practice by saying “you are not really a photographer“. Well. By the same token: you guys are not really educators.
  • They tried to blame me: I was being unreasonable, I had misunderstood, my tiny little head could clearly not grasp this.
  • They said it was merely an “internal communication error”. But did nothing to rectify it.
  • They tried to weasel out of giving anything in written form, and generally just postponing, stretching time, “forgetting”, and the ever lovely “I have been very busy“-excuse. Seriously. I studied there for three years. I know how “busy” they are. And they had a YEAR.
  • It is also an offence to every photographer out there. It is incredibly unprofessional, and the most depressing thing is that this is not unique.
  • it IS a violation of the law of intellectual property. You know. Illegal.

 But most of all:

this is the IT-department in an educational institution that teaches their students about intellectual property law. They demand their students do their research and reference according to standards, and do not steal or plagiarise. I did my Digital Media Production bachelor there, but they obviously have no respect for the bachelor programme they created themselves, and the work resulting from it. Such as photographs. And somehow, the Norwegian law does not apply to them.

It makes me so furious I can hardly speak. And I am seldom lost for words.

They get away with this, I am sure, because most students are young and inexperienced. So I guess they are living in a tiny provincial bubble, where they can put on the “fatherly chastising”-tone, and kids will buckle. And you can buy young country-bumpkin students off with trinkets and shiny beads. You do not need the law then. They tried every trick in the book; pleading, accusing, blaming, intimidation, belittling. The thing is: I know these people. And they should know me, by now. Still: little cheap theatrics.

This whole thing has made me sick, my stomach turns every time I think about it. I am also angry at myself for not invoicing the full price. I am angry at myself for trying to be accommodating. I do want them named and shamed, and I want to warn current and future students about this himalayan incompetence, cheekyness and outright illegal behaviour.

I finally send an email saying I have nothing more to say, and that they will hear from my solicitor.

They decided to cough up.

Eirik Solheim, an editor with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation had pretty much the same thing happening to him, and he writes the story in this blog post “They stole an image of my son and just had to pay $4000“. The observant reader will see his point that the whole thing could have been averted had the violators promptly apologised and suggested reasonable compensation.

This whole thing could by and large have been solved a year ago, if, instead of burying their heads in the sand thinking it would go away and then subsequently trying to blame me, offend me, accuse me, intimidate me. A year ago, if they had given a sincere apology and a decent offer, this would never have happened.

It does not feel like a victory, I feel trampled on, misused. When the method of ignoring all my attempts at communication failed, they tried all the manipulative methods in the book. I have little interest in law, I believe in consensus, communication. But push a rat into a corner and see what gives.

I deeply regret that I tried to be accommodating. I should have invoiced the USD 13.000. I should have called a solicitor months ago.

Let this be a warning to anyone finding themselves in a similar situation. Please spread this story, as a warning and as an information about property laws.

Will they use the ten pictures they are allowed to? I doubt it. If they do, will they get permission from the people in the pictures, and will they credit me? I doubt it.

Then we shall see.