Back in September, a controversy broke out after several prominent poker photographers charged art company Poker Paint for using their photos with neither permission nor compensation.
Based out of Washington, DC, and run by poker player Brett Butz, Poker Paint commercially sells art pieces and NFTs by taking a photograph and slightly alters into multi-colored stylized versions. In the process, all copyright watermarks, oftentimes including the name of the photographer, are removed.
Hayley Hochstetler, who has taken photos for both Run Good Poker Series and PokerNews, was one of the first to speak out against Poker Paint’s practice.
This account reached out for my permission to use one of my photos back in June. I politely declined and explained… https://t.co/lILFKh6X6m
— Hayley Hochstetler (@hayleyocho)
“He’s been doing it for a while,” Eric Harkins of Image Masters added at the time. “We don’t hate his stuff, but we are frustrated with his ethics – or lack thereof.”
The issue concerns copyright law, notably Poker Paint profiting off the work of others without permission, let alone compensation.
“A copyright infringement occurs when someone else exercises one or more of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner without his or her permission,” the Professional Photographers of America website explains.
Initially, Butz was defensive over the criticism on social media believing his work represented original works. However, he did state that he was “not opposed to giving photographers a percentage.”
Poker photographers Danny Maxwell, Drew Amato, and Joe Giron were among those who requested Poker Paint remove the applicable artwork and to be compensated.
“If you are truly committed to making things right to us content creators, you need to remove all content you don’t have authorization to display or sell,” Giron wrote. “Then, a process has to start to make an audit and full accounting of your sales as it relates to the sold works of art from the unauthorized usages in order to compensate us.”
Eventually, Butz issued an apology promising changes in his business model before removing all applicable pieces from his website and social media.
The matter seemed to die down after that but was recently reignited when it was alleged Poker Paint was continuing to sell copyrighted material.
On December 5th, Maxwell noticed that his work, among others, was still being used by Poker Paint. He proceeded to call out Butz on Twitter.
“Brett you are still using some copyrighted images in your pictures mine included please cease & desist and remove any/all of my photos from these images,” wrote Maxwell.
Butz responded with a tweet that read: “Let’s not give this guy a platform, thanks.”
Award-nominated poker reporter Christian Zetzsche countered: “There are several copyrighted pictures that I can spot within a few seconds to which you have no rights whatsoever. It doesn’t seem as if you have learned your lessons from the previous infringement.”
Poker pro Daniel Strelitz then picked up the issue by asking whether the issue was a legal or moral one.
Is what pokerpaint did legally wrong or just morally wrong?
— Daniel Strelitz (@dDeoxyribo)
Poker media and content creators were quick to chime in.
“Yes it’s blatantly illegal. What do you suppose would happen to you if you took Avengers: Endgame, ran it through a snapchat filter, and tried to sell Blu-rays of it?” Thomas “SrslySirius” Keeling responded.
“What he is doing is absolutely illegal and he’s well aware it is .. many major poker entities has served him with Cease & Desist letters and he’s knowingly violating those … next step lawsuits,” Dan Ross of Hold’em Media said.
PokerNews spoke with several poker photographers who confirmed they sent Butz and Poker Paint a cease and desist.
In addition to poker photos, Poker Paint offers several other collections inspired by landmarks, animals, etc. For example, they’ve utilized several scenes from Star Trek and turned them into artwork as a part of the “Star Trek: Lower Decks” collection.
Butz Responds for Poker Paint
PokerNews reached out to Butz to seek clarity on the situation.
“I’m trying to work with almost everyone,” Butz said. “Only reason this is dragged on is because some people wanted 40% … 40% is a bit ridiculous. I respect shooting for it, but it’s not that big of a part of the creation process, I moved up from 2% to 20-25%.”
When asked if he could share the names of any photographers he was currently working with, Butz responded: “It’s not as many people as I thought but there will be plenty of ambitious photographers to work with over the summer at next WSOP!”
When asked again if there were any photographers working with Poker Paint that PokerNews could verify, Butz simply stated: “Don’t see why that’s relevant.”
PokerNews then asked if Poker Paint had changed anything in the way they do things (I.e. not using certain images, reaching out to photographers for permission, etc.).
“Plenty of things, I’m not a fan of how you’re asking these questions,” Butz retorted.
He added: “They decide to slander my company instead of reaching out to me? This is already blown up more than it should.”
When asked who constituted “they,” how they slandered the company, and whether or not Butz believed those who’ve spoken out have legitimate concerns, he responded: “It’s being figured out.”
Butz declined to elaborate on what exactly “being figured out” meant.
PokerNews spoke with several poker photographers and while a select few confirmed they have been in talks with Butz, others stated firmly they have no interest in working with Poker Paint.