In 2006, I had a weird run-in with an internet nutcase named Euan Donegan.
The story you're about to read is 100% true, but, personally, I have trouble believing it myself. Make sure you're comfortable in your chair, grab something to drink, and prepare yourself...
As a photographer, I have become accustomed to having my images stolen. It's happened about 2 dozen times, so far (in fact, the same images, in some cases!) - I suppose I should feel flattered. And, frankly, I do. I figure that someday maybe someone will be stupid enough to steal one of my images and use it in a way that makes them a lot of money. At which point, it'll be worth my coming around with a lawyer and asking for my share. If no money's involved, I really don't mind, as long as the stealer isn't claiming it's theirs. When I catch someone doing that, I usually email the site administrator where they're hosting the images, and *poof* another image-stealer is gone. It's not worth getting upset about, or personal about. Usually, the image-stealer slinks off and goes someplace else to steal someone else's photography.
Except for Euan Donegan, that is. I've never seen such a glutton for punishment, before. But I'm getting ahead of my story...
The story begins before I realized it was beginning. In August, 2005, I got an email from one Euan Donegan, asking for a member account to my private gallery. Being the nice guy that I am, I set one up and sent him the password. Cheers! We even swapped a couple of mails back and forth and he sent me some of the stuff he was shooting; obviously the work of a beginner. But that's fine - everyone's a beginner someday. We stopped chatting and I completely forgot about him until he resurfaced in February, 2006.
I got an Email from the boyfriend of a model I've worked with. Matt had been contacted by another artist who had recognized some of Matt's work in an online portfolio. Matt checked and recognized my work, too. I checked and recognized yet another artist's work.
As usual for an image-stealing situation, I started contacting sites and asking them to take down my work because it was stolen. Ho-hum, nothing new or different.
I usually get curious about image-stealers' motivations and sometimes I contact them. Donegan was the first who actually emailed me back. He claimed that he was "needing inspiration" and not stealing. Somehow I find it remarkably hard to believe that he posted a bunch of mine and Matt's stuff on modelmayhem.com "to get inspiration."
As modelmayhem.com shut down his profile, and a few other sites began shutting him down, he emailed me asking what images were mine, so he could remove them, and to please stop shutting down his sites. What? Up until this point, I had been mostly amused - but now I was offended. He didn't even remember whose work was whose that he'd stolen? The only reasonable thing to have done would have been for him to take down his "gallery" and repopulated it with his own images - not try to take down just the ones he'd gotten caught out on. I replied with a bit of browbeating bluster suggesting that he take up another hobby - like knitting. I also, more seriously, suggested that if he put up an apology, we'd probably be satisfied with that.
ModelMayhem Steps Up - I never managed to get the exact details about what happened (because they're pretty good about privacy but around this time I got a private message from one of the modelmayhem moderators asking if I could prove that one of my images was mine. I assume Donegan must have tried to convince them that the image was, in fact, his, not mine. "No problem" I replied and Emailed the moderator a screenshot of Photoshop with the file browser up showing the image in question as well as the color original and the photographs on either side of the photo in question. I also suggested that if they needed further corroberation, they could talk to the model (who lives in New York City - nowhere near Scotland) and ask her if she'd shot that picture with me.
(Is this sufficient evidence that I did the shoot? Or did I photoshop my own head over Brad Pitt's body?)
And, just for fun, I included a photo I'd taken of myself with the model about 10 minutes after the photo in question was taken. Of course it could be faked - if I was a photoshop wizard with lots of time on my hands. This made me realize an interesting thing: a lot of photographers I know worry about watermarking images so they can "prove" they are the original copyright holder, etc. If you never post a complete set and never post a full-resolution original you pretty much don't have to worry about it. How could Donegan have possibly proved that he'd shot that photo, when I had 250+ other images from the same shoot, with more or less the same lighting and model? More to the point, since every image I post goes through photoshop post-work, the original has all kinds of stuff in it that the thief could never duplicate - like consistent camera CCD dust-spots, shots of the background (like above) or shots of the model and the photographer standing side by side during lunch break.
The Thick Plottens - After a bit more back-and-forth Donegan switched over to blustering and claimed that he makes thousands of pounds sterling on his photography. Uh, right. I wouldn't know - it's hard to sort out his work from the stolen work. Unfortunately, his writing is so incoherent it's hard to make out what he's saying. Meanwhile, he was responding to Kaitlin's enquiry about purchasing a print. Got that? At the same time that he was saying that he was just using the images for inspiration and he wouldn't have sold the stuff he stole, he was negotiating with Kaitlin (under an assumed identity, of course) to buy a copy of a photograph that Matt had shot of her. Donegan made up some nonsense about how he'd done a bunch of photoshop work on it and so forth. Unfortunately, Kaitlin didn't save those Emails (and they wouldn't be mine to post, anyhow) but we all had a laugh over them at the time.
Renderosity Strikes Out
As the whole situation evolved, I decided to post screen-shots of Donegan's site on renderosity.com, because it appeared that was where he had done most of his image-shopping. Ironically, Donegan complained that I was launching "personal attacks" against him, and the renderosity folks took down my screen-shot and issued me a warning for acting inappropriately. Euan sent me warnings of his own: "i have seeked lawyers advice and i have a case so he is writing to the US Authority" Wow. Considering that most of the photos on the screenshots were mine or belonged to other artists, I find it ironic that anyone would complain! My having posted the screenshots on renderosity worked out well, because two more renderosity artists recognized their work on Donegan's site based on the screenshot. I felt that renderosity didn't handle things well - they adopted the position that Donegan hadn't done anything wrong on renderosity, so they didn't even yank his account. All he'd used it for was shopping for images to steal. I complained to the moderators at renderosity and was unsatisfied with their response, so I deleted all my images from the site and stopped posting any more.
At this point I expected the whole affair to die down and that I'd never hear from Euan Donegan again. But, like some kind of weird pimple, he kept coming back no matter how hard I tried to burst him. But then he decided to escalate things further. Let me see if I have this right: he feels that I damaged his reputation by catching him stealing my images and calling him on it? So I guess that, in Donegan-land, attempting a payback would make sense.
I got an Email from my friend Bruce Schneier. If you're not a computer security person and you got to this link through my photography pages, you may not have heard of Bruce. But then again, you might. Bruce is a very famous security expert who writes periodically for WIRED Magazine, keynotes lots of conferences, has bestselling books, etc. I have often debated Bruce, and have appeared in his blog a few times, etc. I guess Donegan must have searched my name and attempted to contact people who he thought would care and who'd believe him. Rather than damaging my reputation, he's providing a source of amusement for my friends!
(Update: A bit of searching shows that he's also attempted to trash me in a few blogs related to computer security.The response of the security readership has been pretty much "WTF?")
A great big WTF?:
"I have heard about the Euan Donegan and Marcus Ranum thing.I am a professional model and to have seen Euan`s website destroyed and my images off was very hurtful indeed.I have had a photoshoot with Mr Donegan an Amatuer and to have a Businessman not legitimate qualified photographer say differently.I in person think that it is nonsense to have an up and coming guy to be banned from the internet and to have a business.I and the model agency i work for whom released me to Mr Donegan is also inquiring about this matter.
I do have information about Marcus Ranum and here it is.Hope you are able to resolve this matter
The funny part about this is that computer security people are some of the most paranoid individuals you'll ever meet. We deal with phishing scams, Nigerian Bank scammers, hackers, industrial spies, etc. In short - we deal with weirdos on the Internet. What's amazing is that this "model" writes exactly as badly and in the same structure as Donegan. Of course it's Donegan, not "Lin Ayres" - who probably doesn't exist.
Monet Talks, Bullshit Walks
Donegan's emails veer between dada-esque surreal poetry and incoherent attempts to sound threatening. I started to get into the spirit of the thing - figuring that, if I'm going to be poked, I'll poke back. So I did a photograph of a model holding Euan's self-portrait from his website posted it with the title "Masks" and the explanation that "on the internet, you never know who you're dealing with." When I posted this on renderosity.com, I didn't put Donegan's name on it, but someone complained and renderosity took it down and banned me for a week as punishment. So I put it up in my personal gallery:
This is the picture that made me leave Renderosity. I used the image of Euan Donegan, a photo-pirate, on the mask that the model's holding. Apparently that was considered a "personal attack (a violation of the terms of service), so they gave me a 3 day ban, which I chose to make permanent. The idea of this image was to illustrate that nobody really knows who they are dealing with on the internet; I just thought it was extra funny to use the face of someone who was a photo-pirate. *sigh* -- when an artist can't express his sense of humor in a forum, it's time to go.
I should have entitled this photo "A nude model photo with three boobs in it."
Indeed, this was escalation on my part. If someone's going to start trying to annoy my professional acquaintances, it's going to eventually annoy me - and I only feel it's appropriate to spread the "annoyed" around. This netted me a threatening missive from our friend: "As we say MONET TALKS AND BULLSHIT WALKS looks like you`ll be walking or swimmin with the fishes as we Dons say."
Now I'm scared. Thank god I have an aeron chair - if I pee myself in terror it won't make a puddle. Those mesh seats are great when you're getting death threats!
Isn't My Problem
I assume "Poindexter" is another facet of Donegan's multiple personality syndrome. I think he was attempting to conceal his identity through the clever use of the CAPS LOCK key! And another. "I'll be paying you a visit in a couple of days" That sounds serious!! I'll make up the guest-bed and let him know about Miles and Jake: "Don't mind my dogs; they're just 150lb german shepherds. They're playful but they don't usually kill strangers."
At this point, I was getting quite mystified until I finally had the brainstorm of searching Google for "Euan Donegan" and - uh-oh:
I've actually been trying to be conciliatory. In fact, I had long-since expected Donegan to go away and that I'd never hear from him again. This whole experience is bizzare, indeed. He seems to have a whole family of people inside his head - like some kind of weird VMWare cluster. And they all write badly the same way! I got another series of weird emails from someone purporting to be his son (uh-huh!) and kept insisting that if Donegan would simply leave me alone, I would leave him alone, too. But that seems to be too much to ask. I finally tried to make it clear in one email in which I explained:
"So, let me tell you how this is going to pass. If I hear one more word out
of you, ever. INCLUDING a response to this Email, I'm going to write a
web-page about this whole experience and what a bizzare psycho
you appear to be. I'll link it to my photo gallery page. Since my page
is read by about 500,000 people a year and google indexes it,
the name "Euan Donegan" will be at the top of the google list with
my page about this whole experience."
...and this, dear reader, is that page. A man's got to do what he says.
Like a Zombie... He's Back For More...
Tony Bradley is another security industry person, who writes, teaches, consults, etc - and who has used me as a source in some of his articles in the past. So, I suppose Donegan must have searched and found my name somehow associated with Tony. In another bizzare outburst, he Emailed Tony a spew of half-truths (well, less than half, really):
"He has been reported several times to IC3 and Legal action has been taken from USA by my family lawyer although Scottish my wife is an American citizen and she has the family lawyer" ... "Get that word around I am NOT a pirate like he says in google search"
As I said above in my message to "Christopher" - if I ever heard another peep about Euan Donegan, I was going to publish this material. Contacting Tony was just far enough over the line to justify my taking the time to write this page and post it. Why? Because I started to write Tony a long Email explaining what a nutbar I was dealing with, and it occurred to me that it'd be easier to just send him the URL to this page.
Leopards and Spots
You know the saying "A leopard can't change its spots"? I was googling "Euan Donegan" to see if Google had spidered this page into its index, yet, and stumbled across 2 other images "belonging" to Euan. Remember - this is the guy who repeatedly claimed that he's not stealing images and that he did no harm.
The screenshot on the left is an image sales site featuring a listing by Euan, offering an image called "Aly" for 12 pounds sterling a copy. On the right you have a screenshot of an image called "Aly" on renderosity. Such a coincidence!
And then you have "A whiter shade of pale" by ErrantMinion, where Donegan demonstrated that he actually does know some photoshop -- by deleting ErrantMinion's logo from the upper right hand of the image. I guess it would have been hard to sell with that annoying logo on it, huh?
This retard is so retarded that he changed none of the image titles. He's not even that creative. Which made it pretty easy for me to find the original artists of all of these images and contact them on renderosity.
Harmless? Is that horrible Ranum guy trying to ruin an honest artist's reputation? You be the judge.
May, 2007: Threats and Drivel
This afternoon I got another Email from one of Donegan's personalities. Apparently "Anna Donegan" learned to write at the same school that Euan did - although she claims to be from the US (New Jersey) she writes like English is a foreign language to her. Her grasp of invective is lacking, as well - I haven't been called "dorkface" in anger since 6th grade.
"I was just in the states on family business last month.Expect a few surprises (...) SO YOU NERD I AM CHALLENGING YOU PRINT THIS LETTER ALL OVER THE INTERNET SO EVERYONE CAN KNOW WHAT A SAD LITTLE HA HA MAN YOU ARE.gET A FUCKING LIFE. PS EVERYONE OUT THERE KNOWS YOU NEED ORIGINAL FILES TO SELL PICS.do write back.if you have the balls to take me on."
Pathetic, really. "if you have the balls to take me on"? Well, 'Anna', if I may call you that, people who make shoddy attempts to anonymize their Emails by bouncing them off u2's website like you did really shouldn't be accusing others of cowardice. If it amuses you: my response.
Ever notice how the angrier "she" gets the more "she" sounds like Euan? Now it's just incoherent drivel like something you'd expect out of a 12-year-old who found out they can type "doo doo" at strangers over the Internet.
Mounting False Claims to Websites
This afternoon I was contacted by the copyright department of Onemodeplace.com. Apparently Euan (or Anne - one of his aliases) lodged a complaint that I was violating his copyright. Presumably the image in question is my parody shot of the model holding his picture. But we'll see. By request from the copyright people at onemodelplace.com I am not going to post their response to him. I'll state for the record, however, that they handled it very well: they asked Donegan to provide proof of origin of any photos he's claiming I stole and they asked me to provide the original of my photo. I was heartened by the fact that the copyright enforcement analyst at onemodelplace appears to have read this page and pointed out that if Donegan was making a falsified claim they'd ban him from the site. I'm predicting "another one bites the dust."
Meanwhile, some woman claiming to be Donegan's wife called my house on 5/9/2007 asking to speak for me. That night, when I got home late, the phone rang at 2:00am and 3:00am from an "out of range" number (i.e.: international). Verizon's security department and has a log on the phone, so presumably the 2:00am and 3:00am calls will have been logged. I almost hope they're stupid enough to keep this up! I don't know what the UK's laws are about making threats and crank calling are but in the US it's a big no-no.
A Lesson in Copyright and Fair Use for Donegan
Here's the trippy part: Donegan is apparently claiming that I'm the image thief, because I stole "his" photo:
A photo of a print-out of a photo of a nitwit
When I created "The Mask" artwork above, I used the picture of Donegan's grinning mug off his site to create a parody of him as an image thief. Under US Copyright law, that's protected as "Fair Use" - the doctrine of Fair Use says that a parody is a protected form of expression under the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, and there have been loads of test cases bearing this out. In my screenshots of Donegan's site, above, I am protected under Fair Use because they are "quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment" and my photo above is a parody artwork: "use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied."
Personally, I find it amazingly funny that someone who steals other people's work, photoshops their logos off, and tries to sell them on the web - would have the unmitigated gall to complain about someone using his likeness in an artwork making fun of him. The irony is exquisite!
Dear reader, I hope you've had the patience to make it this far. It's a pretty bizzare story, and just trying to assemble all the weirdness into a single webpage has been both a source of amusement and anger. Sometimes, I wonder if it's all just a practical joke that's being played on me by one of my friends - but it'd be too much work for so little payoff.
My mind boggles at the fact that this guy has the nerve to complain and accuse me of violating his copyright by posting screenshots from his website - which largely consisted of stolen images, or by using his likeness in a parody-photo. That's just about the dumbest thing I've ever heard of. Just about, because it's not as dumb as trying to send people email from fake identities that all write equally coherently and use the same lack of sentence structure and capitalization. I can't decide whether I should be amused, annoyed, or puzzled.
I will update this page periodically, whenever Euan attempts some other bit of goofiness.