For the past week instead of spending time gathering photos from the wetlands and empty properties with owner permission, cleaning, drying and scanning photos for families in Union Beach that lost everything they held dear, I have been in a deep battle with Maurice van Es also known as Maurice de Leeuw and the websites that he published photos that he said he found and gathered. He also put (c) righted by Maurice van Es on some of the photos. I am not sure how a grown educated adult who is an artist does not understand the rules of (copyright). I am not sure how an adult doesn't understand creative copy when you are educated as an artist. As an educator and not an artist, I was informed that creative copy is when I took photos of the photos in the aftermath of the storm. When I held the pictures in my hand and snapped shots of the photos so they could be posted on the facebook page for the owners to see so they knew where in town to look.
My definition of found must be different than a news organization or European dictionary. Because found to me doesn't mean going to a Facebook page that is named Union Beach Photos and Misplaced items or a website that is labeled http://unionbeachmemories.wix.com/unionbeachmemories, right clicking and saving to my desktop. I naively believe in copyright, creative copy and the rules of plagiarism. I naively believed that when someone was called out publicly they would right the wrong. However, it amazes me how many news organizations used the word "investigate". What is there to investigate? Maurice van Es never stepped into the United States, never came to NJ and never stepped foot in Union Beach so "found" was then changed to "collected". This does not change the end result. He did not search the internet. He didn't scour hundreds of websites, he went to the max of two. He didn't collect photos with permissions from the families, he blantly just downloaded the photos for his own personal gain. He says no "telling the story of the photos". How can you tell a story of the photos when you didn't experience what the photos experienced? If I told the journey of the photos or the families told the story of the photos and related it to the personal experience that we had during the storm, that would be clearly understandable. If we told how this specific image took us back to the exact moment in time, it would be believable. However, when a complete stranger tries to tell you a story they don't have a personal link to the story or image how is that believable. Again, maybe I am naive and people do not care they just want to see the project.
He muses in one post that the owner of the photos would be difficult to identify. Not really, within days of the storm we were returning photos in rapid pace. Within days of the Facebook page going up my family (residents of Union Beach) were saying Mine, I picked it up, I am not in town but hold onto it. The rightful owners were coming forward. The people that owned the copyright stepped forward. So the photographers were found. They were common hard working families that longed for something from their past.
Maurice van Es, has been tweeted, facebooked, and emailed by me, by the families and I am sure by the editors of the blog sites that he posted the photos on. Some of the websites were not pleased with me hounding them to take the photos down. All I can say, is I am sorry that I had to go this route. However, I will do anything to protect my families right to privacy, right to copyright and righting a wrong.
Here are a couple of messages:
apowl.com removed the post after families contacted them and I also contacted them. Their message to me read: It has been removed.
We'd appreciate it if you and your associates would now stop sending vitriolic messages to our site. Thanks.
Now I am not sure about vitriolic the messages were from others. I just stated the facts.
http://itsnicethat.com tweeted "The post has been removed while we investigate fully and we will make a final decision next week"
At least it is down for now. As I said, not sure what they are investigating. Maurice van Es had no right to just remove and claim the photos for his own. As an artist, he didn't change the photos just brought them to his blog. He didn't really write anything. He just posted the photos. Maybe I missed his writing. Maybe he wrote it in special ink that only Non-Sandy survivors can see.
Another website said:
animalnewyork.com said "Can we credit you then? It's a shame to take them down" - Why is it a shame? If I had to take the photos down to protect the families copyright and the families are not able to search for their photos why should your site continue to use the photos to drive traffic to your site so you generate revenue. The families these photos belong to aren't getting any financial gain from this.
I cannot be credited because these photos are copyrighted by the families. The moment the shutter was pressed they owned the image.
I have asked the families if they wish for the photos to remain, since this is a holiday weekend, I am still waiting for a response. My gut tells me it is going to be a HUGE NO.
One of the saddest pieces of this whole thing is that Union Beach families have been very open with the press. We were photographed at our worst, down on our knees when we returned to our homes that weren't there. We were photographed waiting in soup lines. We were photographed trying to survive the day before the sun set and it was too dark to see your hand in front of your face. We were photographed wearing the same clothing that couldn't be washed for a week. And we were gracious to the reporters and photographers that entered our lives. I am still friends with many of them and they check in on me on a regular basis.
Tomas from the Star Ledger was the first newspaper reporter to speak to me about Union Beach Memories. He learned of my mission from my nieces mom Becky. He walked a mile through the debris and block aides to find me. He took the time to understand what it was about. This wasn't about personal gain, this was about making sure families in Union Beach had something to hold on. The first few days after the storm, I was raw, my first video interview I stood in my pink fleece PJ's. They were warm and honestly I had 2 outfits. Pink PJ's and black sweats and a black shirt. It was so cold you had to wear both.
Then came Fox news reporter, who accidently found me covering voting in my small town. He saw the moment that I gave Carol S. her second photo of the night. She lost her entire house. The two photos was all she had left of her home.
At each interview and each showing of the photos the families that shared their photos gave their permission. The only family that was "ambushed" was the Torres family. I was being interviewed by CBS Nightly News about the photo project and a message was sent about a photo album that I held minutes before. We raced to return the album and they gave permission to the news crew to share the moment.
All the press this project has received, we in Union Beach have been very blessed to have news organizations that understand the fine line between the public need to know and the families of natural disasters and tragedy right to privacy. The news organization so many from around the world have come into our lives and been 100% respectful of the family's wishes.
Union Beach families with Maurice van Es and the websites that refuse to remove the content are forcing families into fight or flight. We will not flee when it comes to facing this. We are here to stay and fight for all we can legally.
All we are asking is the following:
1) Remove the photos from your website. Maurice van Es. It isn't enough that you point to where the photos came from. You should have hyperlinked to the photo you wanted to muse about. That would have kept this legal.
2) You want to do a project about the photos ask the family's permission.
3) You want to report on this project contact me. I will gladly get you in touch with the families under the same method I have used for EVERY single reporter that wanted to talk to families. I post your name and number in the Facebook group and have the families contact you directly. Or we ask that you join the Facebook page and you can contact the families via Facebook.
I know the world should know about this project. But families should be able to control who, what and where these photos are shown. We want the world to know what a wonderful project this is. We want the world to know that if you are in a natural disaster that this is something you can do to help your community.
Union Beach maybe a small town in NJ. We are a small town with a huge heart. We treat each other as we are all family. We are protective. We are eager to welcome people into our lives, homes and community. What we don't like are thieves that come in the night and steal from us under our noses. We don't like being lied to. The omission is lying.
Our family wants to move on and return to our healing. We want an apology so that this chapter can be closed and we can forgive. Because harboring resentment and hate is not what our community teaches. We teach love, compassion and friendship.
I want to return to the positive energy that the photos gave the town. It was like finding a special surprise in your mailbox.
Do the right thing. That is all we ask.