Poker Photographers Sue Company Over Copyright Infringement

Accusations of copyright infringement shook the poker world recently. Several photographers who have worked at poker events charged a limited-edition poster company with using their photos without permission or compensation.

Poker Paint, based in Washington, DC, specializes in gambling and poker-themed limited editions. The works are colorfully stylized in the manner of Andy Warhol. The print editions are limited to 5 to 10, and some are offered in different sizes; for example, a print featuring poker legend, Stu Ungar, is offered as a 16”x30” print for $400, and as a 40”x60” print for $1,200. Known for his blue-lensed hippy glasses, bad-boy image, and quick mind, Stu Ungar was a poker superstar throughout the 1980s and 90s. Sadly, Ungar died alone in a Vegas motel at the age of 45 due to a drug overdose. 

Apparently, 25-year-old Brett Butz is the artist behind Poker Paints; Butz is both a talented artist and an ardent poker player. In fact, Butz took a seat at the table at the 2019 Borgata Winter Poker Open dressed in a giant pizza costume. At that time, Butz had dreams of opening a pizza machine franchise, modeled on pizza kiosks he had seen in Europe. 

However, less than 2 years later, the “pizza delivery man” from the 2019 WPT had shifted his focus to fine art. Unfortunately, Butz based some of his prints on photographs without obtaining the permission of the photographers. This has gotten the young artist and his fledgling company in trouble. 

Copyright Infringement?

The photographers accusing Butz of copyright infringement say he never sought permission to use their work or offered to compensate them.

Joe Giron and Drew Amato are of the two photographers, and both have worked for WSOP and PokerGO, among others. Amato has said he’s not opposed to his photos being used to produce the prints, but he wants the photographers to be compensated. He feels that the prints offered on Poker Paints amount to artistic theft. 

Eric Harkins is another photographer who discovered his photos stylized as prints and offered on Poker Paint, including an iconic photograph of Chris Moneymaker holding up handfuls of cash. 

What irks Harkins is that the prints are being sold as original works, when in fact, they are merely colored and stylized photos. 

Without Permission?

Photographer Hayley Hochstetler said that Butz did contact her about using her photos. Hochstetler declined the offer, but Butz went ahead and used her photos anyway. The photographer has posted tweets of messages from Butz with refusal to allow her photos to be used. 

The Professional Photographers of America says that copyright infringement happens when someone uses the exclusive rights of a copyright owner without their permission. 

However, copyright law does allow for “fair use.” But, fair use only applies to research, journalism, and other non-commercial uses. Obviously, fair use does not apply to the prints offered on Poker Paints that sell for hundreds, or thousands of dollars.

Poker Paints Responds via Twitter

Butz responded to the accusations via Twitter. He believes his work is original, noting that he used pictures posted on social media for some of the prints. He also offered to compensate the photographers but didn’t say how that would be accomplished.

However, Giron responded by demanding their work be taken off the Poker Paint website. Then, he demanded an audit be done, to sort out what was sold, and how much compensation was due to each photographer.

Hochstetler believes Butz blatantly went against her wishes, disregarding copyright law. She does not believe that the prints fall into a fair use gray area, since he is selling the work for a significant profit.

Butz offers an apology and promises to change his operating style

After issuing an apology via Poker Paint Twitter, Butz promised to make changes in the way he does business. He also points out he is only 25-years old and had limited knowledge of copyright law before starting Poker Paint.

The young artist says he sincerely believed that what he was doing was nothing wrong. He based hand drawings on the photos he found on social media then turned them into pieces of pop art. He thought that since the photos were freely available online, that they were free to use.

However, several of the photographers that have complained of Butz using their photos had their lawyers involved already. Butz has promised to seek legal counsel to make sure his artwork complies with copyright law. In the meantime, he’s pulled all of the offending prints from the Poker Prints website and social media.

While the poker prints in question have been taken down, there is still much to peruse on Poker Paints. Poker fans will still find renderings of poker legends, as well as cityscapes, nature prints, and cartoons.

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