Enlarge /. 30 October 2019, North Rhine-Westphalia, Cologne: Svea Simonis (l-r), Antonia el Ghali, Chany Dakota and Ana Lisa pose in a pink Cadillac in the Supercandy Pop-Up Museum. The "Supercandy Pop-Up" museum will open in Cologne on November 1st, offering photographers, bloggers and influencers the perfect backdrop for self-expression.
Rolf Vennenbernd / Image Alliance via Getty Images
The first time Lucy Kyselica's face was stolen, it showed up in the window of a beauty parlor in the small American town. Kyselica is a Dutch beauty YouTuber who mainly makes videos about historical hairstyles, but she also made a video that shows her subscribers how to thread her own eyebrows. The salon took a screenshot of this video, enlarged it to poster size, and used it to advertise eyebrow threading services. On the other side of the ocean in the Netherlands, Kyselica only found out because some fans recognized her and asked if she was working with the salon or if she even knew her picture was in his window. It wasn't her; she didn't. She sent an email and never heard back. "It can still be there," she says.
In the six years since then, Kyselica has used its image to keep selling other people's products. She was the face of hair styling tools, hair thickening products, and beauty pills. "The products are always a bit dodgy," she says. Most recently, it was clip-in pony sold by a Chinese retailer on Amazon. Kyselica decided to make her problem known and made a video about it: "I ordered my own pony from Amazon 🤔 🙅♀". You see, Kyselica's bangs, which are her signature look, aren't actually clip-ins. They grow out of their scalp.
Image theft is not only found at Kyselica or even social media influencers. If you've ever seen (or bought) a designer handbag or sunglasses that "fell off a truck," you've already seen a version of it. The internet has made the sale of imitations child's play, especially because providers can only use a picture of the original item in the listing and the customer only realizes the difference when the inevitable plastic and terrible counterfeit appears on their doorstep.
With influencer marketing growing in popularity, using images from their accounts has become the logical next step. Instagramers often complain that Chinese fast-fashion companies are copying their looks and using their photos (often with their faces cut out) to sell cheap imitations. Beauty YouTubers constantly encounter advertisements with their own eyes, nails or entire faces, as well as inboxes and DMs full of fans, who tell them about such advertisements. In an economy based on public trust, the products can be a real blow to your business. Most of the time, they have no idea what to do next.
It's certainly not a good thing, but a brand that cheats on your outfit at a cheap price and sells it with a photo of your headless body can be a sick best-case scenario. For one thing, you have this plausible denial: If I really approve of this (shitty) product, why should you cut my face? For some, the scandal can even be an advantage.
This is exactly what happened to YouTuber Bernadette Banner, who makes historical sewing videos. One morning around 6 a.m. she found her DM inboxes – Facebook, Instagram, Etsy – full of messages from fans. They all told her that a fast-fashion company had one of her dresses – a 15th-century dress she had copied and sewn from a painting for over 250 hours – with her (headless) picture for $ 40.98 advertised less than half of their material costs. "I just woke up. I was incoherent. I never got angry, ”says Banner. I thought, 'What would happen if I bought it? That would make really good video content. "Without getting up, I ordered the dress." The resulting video, which she calls "an educated roast," went viral. It reached 3.5 million views, doubled Banner’s subscription volume, and had five numbers in sales.
Banner's business is based on the presentation of its expertise: it did not design this dress and it does not sell it anywhere, so the counterfeit did not really cost anything in the lost business. This also applies to many beauty influencers. They derive their income from pictures of their faces, hair and nails so that they can lose a lot more if these pictures are stolen. Even prominent YouTubers are affected. The nail artist Simply Nailogical, which has 7.5 million subscribers, has experienced so much picture theft that it has watermarked every picture and video that it uploads – and people are still painting them for advertisements. Make-up guru Tati Westbrook, who has over 9.5 million subscribers, has made a video every time her picture and voice have been used to promote products she doesn't support.
People are almost always dismayed when this happens. "It is just creepy to see my face in something that I am in no way associated with," says Kyselica. "It hurts my business. Also on a personal level, the trust of my followers means a lot to me. I have concerns about having my face used if the products are made in a way that is unlikely to be ethically produced, like a sweatshop in China. “The ethical problem arises frequently: Banner publicly criticizes fast fashion companies in general, so it was particularly frustrating when their dress was copied by one. "There is probably someone who basically works as a slave to make this dress," says Banner. "I was uncomfortable buying it, but I would like to believe that I can prevent hundreds or thousands of other people from buying it."
With YouTubers and other influencers, there is a feeling that nothing can be done to scream into nothing. There is often a language barrier between the influencer and the seller. Companies rarely (if ever) reply to their emails, and the images are often displayed online again within a few days or even hours as advertising for various companies. (Usually all brands share a parent company.) "It is always discouraging to find out that it happened again," says Kyselica, particularly because in its own way it is a symptom of their success. "It's our job to create beautiful pictures of ourselves and make them findable on Google," she says. "If you google pictures of girls, it’s not surprising that we show up." In other words, SEO is now a professional risk.
However, if the products are advertised on US platforms such as Instagram or Amazon, recourse is possible, if somewhat complex. Using a person's image for your commercial gain without their consent is illegal. “The platforms are supportive, but they have to be communicated in their format. If someone sends an email saying "I want my image here," it isn't enough, "said Fred Dimyan, CEO of Potoo, a company that deals with this problem for hundreds of major brands." You need the specific one Notice infringement. Is it a trademark or a registered trademark? That's the level of granularity. "People without lawyers or platform experts will find this difficult, but it's not impossible.
Platforms are not currently proactively dealing with image theft on behalf of influencers. It is up to the individual to report this. Luckily, they have legions of fans watching feeds on their behalf and can post abuse of their pictures if this happens. Sometimes it even helps. After talking to me, Dimyan agreed to help Kyselica contact Amazon about promoting these clip-in bangs. Your pictures have been removed for the time being.
This story originally appeared on wired.com.