Example of A Common Copyright Violation in Storm Photography

Back in the early 1990s, Fred K. Smith of Okeechobee, FL, took one of the most dramatic weather shots ever known–a tornado over Lake Okeechobee, adjacent to a bright, forked lightning strike. [The lake was behind some trees.] The WeatherMatrix BLOG, among other sources, legitimately reports on and properly credits the image. However, they have the date wrong–it actually was 15 June 1991 (not 1993). I actually was out the same night, attempting with much less success to shoot lightning with different storms, about 100 miles south of Fred’s position.

I have a signed print of the photo sent by Mr. Smith himself, a souvenir of a photographic exchange that Fred and I had in ’93, shortly after I moved to Kansas City from South Florida. All the evenings I spent photographing storms in the heat, humidity and mosquito clouds of the Everglades never yielded anything like that! The image ended up in National Geographic and several other legitimate publications, surely earning Fred some well-deserved shekels for his retirement.

Unfortunately, illegal scans of Fred’s iconic photo have been circulated around the Internet in countless forms over the years, including e-mail relays with an oil rig faked into the photo and passed off as being in Texas. About.com has an urban legends page devoted to that incident. All manner of bogus “facts” have been assigned to the image.

It just keeps happening. I’ve blotted out names and avatars of all but the person who is propagating Fred’s image without his consent.

No. No! No!!! NO!!!!!

This is NOT yesterday night’s North Platte tornado. Whomever first claimed it as such is a bald-faced liar. And everyone underneath the photo, in the comments section, has been jobbed too, by being misled into wrongful attribution of the image.

Let’s not rush to conclusions and blame either Jim Logsdon or his son yet. Both of them could have been played like a fiddle by somebody else passing off this Florida tornado as being from North Platte. Still, nobody should pass along photo claims without verifying their authenticity; and that’s where Mr. Logsdon definitely erred (along with six of his Facebook followers). Let me be clear: Ignorance is no excuse.

This photo, at some point, was stolen from its owner and propagated without his permission. Credit needs to go where credit is due, and that is to Fred Smith. As a fellow storm photographer, I feel a rightful duty to call out this kind of untruthful garbage. Far more of this happens than I notice; but when it does, I won’t hesitate to bring attention to it.

I also will alert photographers I know to unauthorized uses of their imagery, online or in print. I am grateful or other storm enthusiasts who have afforded me the same favor. I have given, and will continue to offer, monetary reward from the copyright-violation settlement to anyone who finds a photo of mine that turns out to be used without permission.


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