Photo by Muffy Aldrich
The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Thursday, December 16, 2021

How to Run a Fashion Web Site Using Stolen Photographs

 Note: I am going to have to spend hours today issuing copyright take-down orders to protect my intellectual property from people who illegally procured it.  Many are to US based individuals who continue to take my photographs and text and pass it off as their own. Given that, here is some of what I have learned. (The following is satire, of course!)  

A lot of people want to be seen as experts in the area of classic clothes but don’t have any actual expertise. Thanks to social media, this is no longer a problem.  For them, the easiest way is to steal the photographs of strangers.  Sure, this is illegal, but let’s be real, fines and jail time are few and far between.  Why take photographs when you can take photographs?  Here are a few tips for running your own kleptographer site:

  • First, create a web site or Instagram account with plenty of references to “Expert” or “Authority.”  
  • Budget about an hour a day searching images on Google and Instagram and call it research.  Try image searching JFK or Slim Aarons to get started.
  • Do not steal photographs from publishers like Time-Life.  They will send pesky cease-and-desist letters, and they are serious.  They know you have blown through the fair use laws on day one.  Instead, steal from alumni magazines and individuals.  
  • If you are on Instagram, do not follow the people from whom you steal.  For kleptographer blogs, do not give credit to people you rip off (a rookie mistake); credit does not make it less illegal.  Remember, if someone knows you stole their photographs, they may tell you that you are committing a crime.  But if they don’t know, they can’t!  You’re welcome. 
  • Certainly don’t feel guilty that you are putting the people from whom you steal in awkward positions. In fact, resent the people you steal from right off the bat.  You will eventually anyway.
  • If you are running a kleptographer blog, here is some bad news and good news.  The bad news is that you should probably write about seven paragraphs for every stolen photograph.  But the good news is that such writing is very easy on a fanboy site.  Come up with a good title for your post and a good picture.  For the first two paragraphs, use the same process as the photographs.   Steal them from strangers.  Never quote sources.  But here is the best part.  Paragraphs 3 through 7 can be about anything.  What you had for breakfast.  Getting lost in a city.  Your right toe.  It doesn’t matter. Incoherency makes you sound profound.  Just write anything to make it look like you have written something. 
  • Never refer to the readers as fanboys.  The jig may be up with all of the stolen photographs, but they don’t want to be reminded.  Tell them how sophisticated they are, and fanboys will passionately defend you.  If you need to recruit guest columnists, lovebomb them as well.  Tell them and the world how qualified they are.  It is easier than paying them. 
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to potential advertisers who might value your unique ethics and situation.  For example, there are plenty of suit sellers who might find it advantageous to work with a commentator on business clothes who doesn’t have a job.
  • Speaking of which, when you apply for a job with any company that does fact checking, take your kleptographer site offline.  Put it back online when you don’t get the job, and blame it on technical errors to your readers.  “Everyone does it” creeps out those uptight HR people.   
  • On your site, be sure to talk loudly of how ethical you are.  When you are writing a post about the importance of ethics, spend the extra time to steal powerful photographs that illustrate this.  

A few warnings:

  • Again, kleptographer sites are illegal.  You are breaking the law.  If you start taking paying advertisers, you may actually find yourself running a criminal enterprise. 
  • There is anecdotal evidence that stealing photographs from strangers leads to depression over time.  Avoid the temptation to drink heavily.  
  • You will not keep any moral people as readers.  But the actual number of decent people is quite small anyway.  In contrast, fanboys are a dime a dozen, and the real source of volume.   
  • You cannot publish any of your brilliant compilations in any respectable venue. Magazine and book publishers are so 20th Century when it comes to following the law and getting the owners of photographs to give written permission. Their loss. Don’t forget, you are now a publisher as well.  

These warnings aside, the upside of a kleptographer site is unmistakable.  If you spend enough time stealing tasteful things, you become known as a person of taste.  And how could you achieve that any other way?

Disclaimer:  This is satire.  Do not start a fashion web site or Instagram site using stolen photographs.  Do not visit sites that steal photographs.  If you want to use someone's photographs, ask for their permission.


  1. Very sorry to hear this. Please know that what you do is appreciated far more than you can imagine.

  2. I didn’t realize this was “a thing”. Good luck. I hope the crooks do the right thing.

  3. Wow, me neither. I am not a fan of many social media sites as many of the ones by individuals (not all, obviously) seem like such vanity projects anyway, and bore me to bits.

  4. Great satire but a serious issue. Between photo theft and YouTube, our copyright laws are pretty much unable to function as they ought. Likewise for recipe theft without even source acknowledgement. Why would I want to create a website about clothing when I can simply read SWNE?

  5. Sounds like you need a refresher on fair use laws.

    1. Sounds like you're a bit of a fanboy.

  6. And of course there's a troll. Someone running one of the kleptographer sites in question?
    Your style is so unmistakeable that people who know it will know when they see it anywhere else. The problem is, people who know it aren't likely to stumble on ripoff artist blogs to witness the theft in question because they're drawn to the real deal. Agreed with Vecchio Vespa that our copyright and intellectual property laws are currently no match for the present Internet environment. The major platforms (I should really say *publishers*) don't vet or take any responsibility for their content, and it's a free-for-all.

  7. Your comments brought to mind another example of kleptography. We were looking at apartments for our graduate student son and found an attractive one on Craig's List. However, given the street address in State College, PA, we could not for the life of us figure out where it was. Somehow through some serendipitous web searching we discovered those advertising the apartment in State College, had stolen attractive pictures from a realtor's site advertising an open house in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. What scam they were trying to pull off eludes me, but then one could accuse me of being naïve, I suppose.

  8. This. Is. Brilliant.

  9. I feel I would know your photographs anywhere and I am so grateful for your work every day. If they steal your photographs you have the ability to take more and better ones the very next hour.

  10. You above all people DO NOT deserve such a problem! We all cannot thanl you enough for all you do for us, and look so forward each day, to see what new, and wonderful things you have to share with us. Good luck! Cheers!

  11. I assume your cease/desist communications include appropriate teeth. The demand should include a copy of the registration and request payment of statutory damages. 17 USC 504 provides for $750 minimum and $30,000 maximum per infringement. Whether you choose to pursue damages or not, whoever reads what you send should take it seriously and feel unpleasant about what they did.

  12. Anyone else doing a Google image search on "JFK" and "Slim Aarons" to see if you can i.d. a perp?

  13. Sometimes the world is disappointing. Please remember that you are doing a service for people. And I’m sure you understand that a couple of bad apples don’t ruin the whole bushel. It’s quite a lot of fun to read your posts. Been following since the beginning. Thank you

  14. How tiresome! I suspect whoever said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery didn't have to deal with social media. Hope all goes well with your quest to run off the perps.

  15. And this is why I avoid facebook, instagram, twitter, etc. I'm not generally an advocate for government regulation but the time has come.

  16. Well done, hope no one copies that!

  17. Very well written, love it! I can sympathize too as I was a victim at one point (and probably still have people stealing my work). I'm tired of the idea that it's okay to do this, or even publish substandard crap and then expect to be respected. Those of us who blog and take it seriously put in countless hours writing, photographing/editing and coming up with ideas. It gets really old after a while. I like the snark, bravo.

  18. I truly had no idea that this is an issue.
    I guess I don't look at that many websites.
    So much for imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.


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