Photoshopped Creative Commons image wins photography prize [updated]


posted Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 10:55 PM EST

Kevin Collins takes stunning images of insects, like this incredible photo of a giant leopard moth, which he graciously licensed under Creative Commons on Flickr and Wikipedia, where it was nominated for an award. But you can bet that when he uploaded the photograph, he wasn't expecting someone to take the image, modify it, then submit it to a competition -- and win.

Last July, carmaker Mini held a themed photography competition under the title Check-Mate, and Romain Sarkal Eloy of France won top honors using a modified version of Collins' image. He edited the photograph so that the moth's spots became large squares, like those of a chessboard. However, even though it has since been revealed that Eloy used someone else's image, Mini has decided to stand by their decision of awarding his work and giving him the prize of a MacBook Pro.

The specific Creative Commons license that Collins uses is actually different between the Flickr and Wikipedia versions, but both demand that if they're used for anything, that attribution to the original artist must be included, which Eloy clearly didn't do. Talking to PetaPixel, Collins said:

"When I release photos with Creative Commons licenses, I have the intent of helping out students, scientists, and nonprofits … giving them detailed images to use on posters, websites, research papers, etc.

I’ve never had the intent of helping a thief and rule-breaker win a MacBook Pro from a company that turns a blind eye to copyleft violations."

There's an argument to be made in Eloy's favor, in that his edits were truly transformative, and so he might not have broken the law -- but he still would have had to credit Collins. Even so, Mini's own rules state that submissions "must be 100% original work," which his entry clearly wasn't. Given this, it seems surprising that Mini's official statement was:

“[Eloy] digitally manipulated it enough -- wittily retouching the moth’s spots into checkers -- for it to classify as his own artwork, and for us to select it as first-place winner. Eloy’s work is not in breach of any copyright infringement laws and as such, we will not be making any changes to our winners selection and/or allocation of prizes.”

However, the increased scrutiny since this story broke may have changed the company's tune slightly. The webpage for this specific competition is now down,although you can still see the original page at It was up and running normally earlier today; perhaps Mini is reevaluating its position.

The edited image on the left, Kevin Collins' original on the right

(via PetaPixel)

UPDATE: Mini has reached out to us to inform us that they've rescinded Eloy's prize. In an email, the company told us "We have heard your concern and after a thorough investigation on the matter, the winning entry for the MINI Space Design Competition “Check-Mate!” has been disqualified retroactively. Thank you for your dedication to “Creative Use of Space” and for your team spirit!" The competition page has also been updated to reflect this.