Industrialized Storm Chasing, Part 1: Parasitic Lowlifes

Several months ago I got an e-mail from Karen Rhoden, informing me that an out-of-nowhere chase tour site (featuring a wacky looking school bus, for those who recall it), was using a few pirated images of mine. So I checked it out.

A few, my big stinkin’ rump! These shameless digital buccaneers had nearly 30 of my copyrighted and fully marked SkyPix images in their “Lightning,” “Storms” and “Clouds” galleries! Such brazen audacity…clearly these fools didn’t seem to be aware of the concept of copyright!

I was pissed. I promptly fired off my standard piracy e-mail to them (yes, I have a template for it because I’ve had to do it several times a year) — except worded a little stronger than usual, given their profuse pilfering of so many of my photos.

They were given a short deadline and one chance to delete all my images, or else the MOACL (Mother of All Copyright Lawsuits) was going to rain down on them in a blistering cascade of Shock-and-Awe legal pyrotechnics such as they’ve never before imagined.

Naturally, and very wisely, they moved with lightning speed to get those pix off their site. It was funny: Someone on the StormTrack boards who was watching that site saw the images vanish and remarked, “Looks like they’ve been cold-busted!” You bet they were, my friend.

I’m actually a trifle disappointed (as I told Karen later in a well-deserved note of thanks to her). I was hoping they would ignore me, so that I could get enough settlement damages from them to purchase that long-desired, high end, 12+ megapixel digital camera for the upcoming chase season…and so that Keith (my sharp-as-razorblades and ruthless-as-Khan attorney) would be able to renew his OU season tickets off their stupidity alone.

Alas, they complied. I suppose that, when you’re the web equivalent of a petty punk thief who had to face Stone Cold Steve Austin after taking some DVDs from his car, you back off and hand them back, nicely and with a deferential smile, before running very fast and far. And so they did.

I know many folks probably would have given them even less of a chance, perhaps hit them with a violation suit right from the get-go. But being somewhat old-school in that regard, ambush isn’t my style. My dad taught me to first give an opponent a fair chance to back out of an impending butt-whipping before actually commencing with it. >:-)

A few others found their pirated video on the same site, and unleashed their own legal smackdowns. One, at least, gained some well deserved cash from the experience. Now that website is dead and gone. Good riddance and RIP (Rot in Piracy).

Maybe the best (and IMHO, only wholly admirable) way to make money in storm observing is for others to steal your photos then fail to comply with your cease and desist orders. Bleed the bloodsuckers for all they’re worth, then pound ’em out of business, I say. I much rather would make $500 from a piracy case than $5,000 from a book or magazine cover. [And yes, I still don’t, and never again will, sell my video at any price. More on the reasons why in coming days.]

Let this be a warning to others who don’t have any worthwhile imagery of their own (because they haven’t actually chased enough to make any!), who want to proclaim themselves experts, and give their upstart chase-tour business a false image of legitimacy by pilfering somebody else’s pictures.

Copyright law is real and unforgiving. Copyright law is clad not in iron, but diamond. Copyright law is serious. Ignore it and there could be hell to pay. Violators, please, please, dare to call my bluff and make my day! I’ll cheerfully see you in court with bells on, before the judge awards me and my attorney your bank account and numerous assets, and I stroll away laughing with a fatter wallet — and more importantly, another victory over crime. Yes, crime.

Also, lose the garishly colored school buses. Who wants to ride with “Krusty the Klown” chase tours anyway?

I’ll continue to keep an eye on these “nobody’s heard of ’em” tour outfits from here on. So should anyone else who photographs weather and storms. Aside from stealing others’ property online, some of them are making some rather outlandish claims about “experience” and “skill” (what a surprise, eh?), despite that no hard-core, veteran storm chasers have heard of or met these people. They appear as profiteering roaches who have crawled out of the woodwork to lay claim to what legitimate groups like Tempest, Cloud 9, Silver Lining, Cyclone and a few others do for real. It’s getting ridiculous.

I much would rather have well run, insured and bonded, reputable tours in existence, run by longtime and admired storm observers, than either

  1. Tours run by parasitic shysters who know less about severe storms than my nine year old, and/or
  2. The people who are tourists instead trying it on their own with little or no understanding of severe storms behavior and morphology.

For the record, I do not oppose the legit chase tours. I also am not affiliated in any way with the tour groups except as personal friends of a few of their operators, and refuse to endorse any particular outfit. But the legit ones really need to form some sort of professional association or guild with strict and enforceable standards of business for membership, before their reputation goes down the toilet, and worse, some tourists get killed and the whole concept of chase tours vanishes under the weight of litigious fear.


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