The Vancouver Sun’s Douglas Todd Stole My Photo [UPDATED!]

[FINAL UPDATE:Douglas Todd, the Vancouver Sun, and its owners – Canwest – have so far refused to answer my demands for payment. No surprise, and so be it. For now, I think it’s worth noting that Douglas Todd’s blog continues to post uncredited photos. That is to say – he continues to steal intellectual property from other writers and photographers, apparently with the full consent and support of Canwest and the Vancouver Sun. I guess I wouldn’t mind so much if he was something other than a so-called ethics columnist. So what’s he thinking? What the Sun thinking? Well, whatever. A more litigious update to be published later this year.]


[SECOND, BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: Douglas Todd/Vancouver Sun probably stole from Getty Images, too! SEE END OF POST FOR COMPLETE DETAILS!]

[THIRD BREAKING NEWS UPDATE! Douglas Todd – ethics writer! – caught posting comments to his blog under a pseudonym! See images at the end of this post, under Third Update!]

Imagine this blogger’s delight when his news feed picked up a Vancouver Sun article entitled “China’s stress on “harmony” keeps tight lid on religion.” After all, a solid 25% of the posts on this blog have concerned Chinese religion (and religious freedom). And, I must admit, my excitement rose when I read that the writer of said article was one Douglas Todd, whose biography (printed above his column) suggests a veritable Caesar of the Opinion Pages:

Douglas Todd has gone on to become one of the most decorated spirituality and ethics writers in North America. He has received more than 60 journalistic and educational honours, many of them international.

Surely, the Sun’s readers were in sound hands: Internationally renowned ethics writer!; Thinker of religious thoughts! Douglas Todd, International Man of Many Awards. What could be better?

Well, to start, that Buddhist temple photo that he used to illustrate his piece about Chinese religion? It wasn’t taken in China. It was taken in Hanoi, at 12:59:42 PM on June 16, 2007. Yeah, that Hanoi – the one in Vietnam.

How do I know that? Because I took the friggin’ photo and posted it to Shanghai Scrap in a post that – in its first sentence – mentioned that it was taken during “an inadvertent tour of old Hanoi’s vast catalog of small Buddhist temples.” Here’s my post and photo. And here’s a screenshot of Douglas Todd’s column at the Vancouver Sun, taken ten minutes ago [UPDATED: at some point between 8 AM and noon, Vancouver time, somebody at the Sun decided to find some China photos; see update at the end of the post]:

Now, I suppose Todd (or his art department?) can be forgiven for the oversight. After all, he talks about Buddhists, and really – what’s the difference between Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists? They’re both Asian, aren’t they?

Racial oversights aside, I do believe that there are three things that Todd and his cheapskate paper cannot be forgiven for doing:

1. They cannot be forgiven (until they pay me) for using my photo without asking for permission. And this first sin is made ever so much worse by the fact that Todd insists on promoting himself as an internationally renowned ethics writer. I guess stealing the intellectual property of folks he finds via google image (or whatever) doesn’t register in Todd’s ethical universe.

2. They cannot be forgiven for running the photo without attributing it to ME.

3. Todd’s column stinks. I mean, unbelievably awful, filled with fact errors that even an elementary fact-check – hell, google search – could have straightened out. My favorite:

What is the long-range future of religion and spirituality in China? Despite the rising optimism of many convert-seeking non-Chinese Christians, I don’t expect Protestants or Catholics will experience dramatic growth in China for a long time

Say what? If there’s one certain for those of us who cover Chinese religion, it’s that religious belief – especially Christianity – is the fastest growing social movement in contemporary China. Nothing else even comes close. And this is an opinion – nay, fact – supported by foreign surveys, and by surveys taken in China and reported by state-owned media.

Then again, what should we expect from a columnist and/or paper that illustrates an op-ed about Chinese religion with a photo of a Vietnamese Buddhist temple, stolen from a blogger in Shanghai.

[Addendum: Vancouver Sun staff may reach me through this blog’s contact form to make arrangements for the unauthorized use of my photo. Otherwise, just respond to the email that I sent to]

[UPDATE: Well, you wouldn’t know it from looking at Douglas Todd’s blog, but somebody – Todd himself? – decided to seek out some China photos to replay MY Vietnam photo. Now, I owe my knowledge of this Vancouver Sun subterfuge to a devoted friend and reader, by the name of B, who called from another time-zone to tell me – in the middle of the friggin’ night – that somebody at the Vancouver Sun was covering tracks. So, as of 4.5 hours after I blogged this post, the Vancouver Sun now has TWO – count them, TWO – undeniably China-based photos illustrating Doug Todd’s column. Here’s the embedded URL info in the image. And Here’s a screen shot:

Now, there’s plenty of interest here. First, somebody at the Vancouver Sun changed the photo without any notation, correction or otherwise. So – violation of basic print and online media ethics, 101, right there. Second, the Vancouver Sun/Doug Todd – doesn’t bother to attribute the photo that replaces mine. Even worse, Mr. Todd and the Vancouver Sun do so in express violation of the terms outlined at the site,, from which the first new photo was taken:

The Web-site and the Web-site Content, including the text, graphics, button icons, audio and video clips, digital downloads, data compilations and software, may not be copied, reproduced, republished, uploaded, posted, transmitted or distributed without the express written permission of IgoUgo and/or its third party providers, except you may make a single copy of the Web-site Content on your hard drive or in print for your own personal, non-commercial use, provided, that you do not alter the Web-site Content.

The Vancouver Sun is in total violation of this agreement, nevermind the fact that the image title – “China-Buddhist_Boulder_Figure.jpg” – meets Doug Todd’s requirements, perfectly. Especially after having screwed up with a Vietnamese photo.

But, for the record, we’re not done. For whatever reason, the new version of the article includes a second photo, sourced from this URL. I’m not adept enough at surfing URLs to figure out the terms, much less the author, but needless to say, it’s highly unlikely that Douglas Todd, much less his paper, bothered to obtain permission for commercial use of the image. Here’s the image:

If anybody has info on how I can contact the owner of the image that the Vancouver Sun is now using, please let me know.]

[CLARIFIED! Several comments and emails have suggested that a junior art department staff member – and not Douglas Todd – was responsible for stealing my photo. Thanks to Douglas Todd, we now know that this is not the case. In the comments section of the column in question, Douglas Todd posted this response to a comment (by me) that the photo was taken in Hanoi, by yours truly:

Adam: Sorry about the photo error. I had the understanding the photo was public domain and taken in China. I removed it several hours ago. I found the photo on a public website called “Religion Facts.” I have not yet read your blog, but will take a look. Doug

So, I went over to Religion Facts (couldn’t find my photo, by the way), and – within 30 seconds – found this under the heading “What are the terms of use for articles on Religion Facts?” (halfway down this page):

Any page on ReligionFacts may be printed, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes only (e.g. for personal or classroom use). You may not reproduce any pages, articles, charts or tables on another website. You may, however, include excerpts with proper attribution and a link to ReligionFacts, and you are more than welcome to link to any page.

For the record, Douglas Todd writes for a commercial entity. So, either Douglas Todd, ethics writer, didn’t bother to read the terms of use at Religion Facts before stealing my photo. Or, he did the unethical thing, read the terms, and posted it to the Sun’s commercial website, anyway.]

[BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: Thanks to a comment (below) from Sean, we now know the source of the second of the two images that Douglas Todd/Vancouver Sun used to replace the one that they stole from me. It comes from none other than Getty Images, one of the world’s largest, and most important providers of digital stock photography. You might be okay stealing photos from me, but you’re definitely NOT going to be okay stealing photos from Getty. Here’s a sceen shot of Doug Todd’s column from yesterday:

And here’s the home page for the photo, clearly identifying it as being licensed by Getty Images:

Now, you may ask, what evidence do I have that this photo was stolen, and not paid for? Fair question, and here’s the answer: since Sean’s comments to this blog ID’ing the Getty photo, the Getty image has been replaced with yet another unattributed photo:

Does anybody begin to get a sense that the Vancouver Sun and its ethics columnist don’t want to pay for photos? What is it with these people? Can’t CanWest (the Sun’s owner) afford licensing fees?

Whatever the case, I’ve notified Getty Images of the unauthorized use of its image. I’m sure they’ll take an interest.]

[THIRD UPDATE! Even a cursory review of Douglas Todd’s blog will reveal that the man receives a suspiciously large number of awfully positive comments. For example, on August 28, 2008, somebody left this doozy in defense of Todd:

Goodness Rocco, do a little research yourself into who it is you are criticizing. To suggest that Douglas Todd, winner of numerous awards for his reporting on spiritual matters doesn’t “have a clue about what christianity is all about…” seriously undermines any other comment you might offer. And as an atheist, I am no apologist for organized religion or people dedicated to reporting on religious matters.

“Douglas Todd, winner of numerous awards?” Who writes this stuff? Douglas Todd?

Well, in the case of one of Todd’s recurring commentators/characters, the answer does appear to be Douglas Todd. Below, see a screen grab [click to enlarge] from a fairly lengthy thread on whether or not the Vancouver Sun should have identified a Christian group connected to a recent mumps outbreak. In the course of the discussion, Todd was accused of posting comments to the thread under a pseudonym by a poster using the name “Let’s see if you post this Comment.” [Full disclosure: I know who posted that comment.]. While reading below, keep in mind that the Vancouver Sun’s blog comment forms are sticky – that is, a user’s name is stored via cookie and only over-ridden when a new name is inserted into the name form. Click on the image for an enlarged version …

Now, I may be wrong (I don’t think so), but what appears to have happened here is that Douglas Todd posted as Cherryl at 10:01 PM at August 29. Then, on August 30, he returned to the blog intending to post as himself (as Doug). But in doing so, he forgot to insert his name into the name box on the comment form, and instead left Cherryl’s in its place.

I guess it’s possible that Douglas Todd has someone in his home or home office by the name of Cherryl who insists on posting ravishingly positive and complementary comments to Doug’s blog from the same computer that he uses to comment. But I doubt it.

Of course, this would and probably will be easily cleared up when the Vancouver Sun examines the list of IP addresses connecting to Doug’s blog. In the meantime, here’s a list of Todd blog posts for the month of August 08 that inspired “Cherryl” comments:

I wouldn’t be surprised to see “Cherryl’s” comments disappear over the next few hours (they were still there at 23:15 GMT, 30 August 08). But just in case that happens, I’ve taken screen shots of all of them.

Needless to say, this is hardly the kind of behavior that one would expect from the religion and ethics writer at one of Canada’s most important daily newspapers. Indeed, it doesn’t seem very ethical at all and – if I owned the newspaper – probably grounds for disciplinary action. But, then again, the Vancouver Sun and Canwest don’t seem particularly concerned about Todd’s prior theft of intellectual property, so I don’t see why they’d care about this, too.

Of course, all of this could have been avoided with a simple email …

[UPDATE: A friend emails to point out that there’s another instance of Todd signing a comment under a different poster’s name on same thread. Again, click to enlarge. The offending comment, in this case, is John Barr.

I really don’t know what to make of this except to suggest that Todd is getting sloppy/lazy. The ultimate proof, of course, is in the log of IP addresses maintained at the Vancouver Sun. But this sure looks pretty definitive. I’ve been reading blogs since the early days of Andrew Sullivan, and this is the first time I’ve seen anything like this.]


  1. Wow! Textbook awful China reporting/opinionating. Vietnamese, Chinese, hey, they all look the same don’t they? If it were my paper I’d fire his ass and then pay you quintuple the regular photo fee just to make you forget it. But nothing works that clean in this world and you know it.

  2. Nearly pissed myself reading this. You must make them pay you the full fee. Dough Todd is going to come and smack you upside the head for this. You better be ready.

  3. whoa. Judging from my reading of your post, and having had some experience working in newsrooms, it’s far more likely that a junior art editor made a simple mistake. Did you ask the Sun first for an explanation before you posted this?

    I don’t know Douglas Todd. I’ve never met him, though I do like his articles. It is entirely likely that he had nothing to do with this and perhaps still doesn’t. Calling him a “thief” without knowing if, in fact, he stole anything is a much more egregious error than you not getting a credit. It’s also, incidentally, quite actionable under Canadian defamation laws.

    Yes, it’s unfortunate that they used your photo when they shouldn’t have. Get over it.

  4. Okay, “Let’s see if you post this comment” whose IP indicates an address in Vancouver – there’s your comment. As well as additional unattributed photo links in the Vancouver Sun. Did you ask the photographers before posting those two new unattributed photos? Listen here, pal – I’ve got plenty enough to worry about living here in Shanghai. So – the Vancouver Sun, its bloggers, and its lawyers? Pipsqueaks compared to my daily hassles. Bring it on.

  5. “(I)t’s far more likely that a junior art editor made a simple mistake” says an apologist posing as the voice of worldly experience.

    Adam, no, don’t “get over it”, get even. And anyone who doesn’t “expect Protestants or Catholics will experience dramatic growth in China for a long time” is a naif, clueless.

  6. Most people have the “get over it” attitude because they themselves don’t want to put themselves out on a limb to challenge how crappy and unethical the media system has become. And how easy the internet makes it for newspapers to take the cheap route of just pulling a photo off a blog.

    The person who said it was probably a junior art editor (and sounds like they too have some experience in a newsroom) isn’t considering that the cost saving policies of the paper are implemented from the top down. It would be much easier and more time efficient for the assumed junior art editor to just log on to a service like Getty images and have several clearly captioned rights-protected images of Buddhist temples in China, but then they would have to pay.

    Obviously they don’t want to pay and are betting on the fact that blogger A. won’t know their photograph was used and B. won’t have the money to prosecute them for the violation. Which puts the Vancouver Sun clearly in the realm of big business taking advantage of the little guy. How long as a society do we need to “get over” that?!

    As for Douglas Todd, ethical is as ethical does, if he doesn’t respond to your post, well, that says it all.

  7. What I find most interesting about this item is that it shows what a pathetically poor researcher Douglas Todd is. That column is spectacularly wrong about the situation in China. But that’s no surprise when it comes from a guy who doesn’t bother to look into whether his photo was taken in Vietnam or China. What else is he overlooking? If I were the Vancouver Sun i’d be seriously questioning whether or not this guy qualifies as a professional. There are plenty of junior copy-editors at the paper who are more careful.

  8. What kind of idiot uses a photo of a Vietnamese temple in an article about China? Total dumb ass.

  9. Sean – Thanks, and fabulous work! I’ve updated the blog, and sent a note (with screen grab) over to Getty’s licensing department. In the meantime, the Getty photo has disappeared from Todd’s column, only to be replaced with yet another unattributed image. You get the sense that someone at the Vancouver Sun is reading these comments? And that they don’t like paying for IP?

  10. I wonder whether the little guy becomes easier to ignore when he lives overseas — whether as the industry beats itself up over domestic plagiarizers like Jayson Blair, there’s less scrutiny on international coverage? Last year I came across a Christian Science Monitor article, reprinted in USA Today, that seemed lifted from an earlier Marketplace report (note identical photos, quotes, and interview subjects). I started a minor crusade to expose the cut-and-paste job, but didn’t receive a response from CSM or Marketplace. Gotta keep trying, though. Good work, Adam, in not letting the Vancouver Sun and DT get away with this.

  11. Yes you were certainly ripped off, but buhaoyisi you didn’t handle it very diplomatically. Your China experience may well have paid off here: remember, 1: preserve face, especially your own; 2: never let them see you get angry (see #1); and 3: don’t show all you cards at the beginning of the game. Remember kids: play it cool or look the fool.

  12. You may not get paid but you certainly inflicted damage. Google Douglas Todd’s name and this post is on the first page. Google Douglas Todd and Vancouver Sun and this post is number two.

  13. weirenminfubu –

    Greetings from London. Good comment, good points and advice. No doubt this is not a diplomatic post, but mostly that’s by design. In truth, there’s almost no chance that the Vancouver Sun and its owners, CanWest, will ever compensate me for the use of my photo. Deference and face play no role in it: they instinctively know that there’s very little that I can do to obtain compensation from a giant media company. And that explains the very large number of comments by freelance journalists and photographers to this post (not all anonymous, either – follow the name links) – media companies, like CanWest, do things like this to us all of the time. Our content is something that they feel entitled to; but, say, if I were to steal some of CanWest’s content, well, here’s the link to their very detailed copyright licensing policies:

    Needless to say, I’m expected to abide by their policies. But they have no intention of extending the same courtesy to me, or other freelancers whose content they crave.

    Odds are, they’ll end up paying Getty Images, because Getty is a big company. But for folks like me, indie contracters with little recourse, they’ll just choose to ignore us.

    The great irony, of course, is that Douglas Todd – a man who holds himself up as a paragon of ethics and award-winning ethical journalism – is complicit in this bullying.

    So, with the obvious support of my freelance colleagues, I took the only step available to me: public shaming. If they compensate me after that, well, I’ll give them full credit. The invoice is at the paper.

  14. Did you get paid? Did Canwest even respond? I thought you should know that not everybody at the Sun is a thief, and a few of us still believe in upholding journalistic standards around here. Doug Todd owes an apology to the paper for making an ass of himself and its remaining staff. That column or blog or whatever they’re calling it was a professional atrocity. Canwest owes you money. Keep up the good work.

  15. Hi Granville Street. Thanks for the note, and a big tip of the hat to the good folks at the Vancouver Sun. Haven’t heard from Doug Todd or Canwest yet. No big surprise, though: if they start paying me, then they’re going to have to start paying everybody else whose photos they used without authorization. Heck, based upon what I’ve seen at Douglas Todd’s column, alone, the sum could pretty quickly equal the salary of a religion/ethics writer. In the meantime, I’ve noticed that Todd actually bothers to credit someone for a photo in his most recent post. Somebody must have given him a talking to. Progress takes a harsh path.

  16. Hello from the Sun. Why didn’t I ever see this post? I nearly spit coffee on my screen as I read it.

    Take it from one who knows: Douglas Todd is the most thin-skinned and insecure writer that’s ever walked through our paper’s doors. If anybody is posting comments to his own blog, it’d be him.

    Have you ever taken a look at Doug’s wikipedia page? It’s a running joke around here, mostly because it’s obviously written by Doug. Who else in his right mind would refer to himself as “Douglas George Todd, B.A.” BA! Not MA! Not PhD! BA! This, from a grad school drop out who spends most of his office time filling out applications for journalism awards that nobody else enters.

  17. Good Luck !!!
    with your pursuit here but, news media being what it is, their Egos will prevail.

    The so called “News” media its news anymore and anyone one with at least a sniff of Integrity can tell that Todd does not have it. I doubt very much that anyone would read his “The Search” in the sun if it were not for the (as he himself proudly boast) 12 times he has leached onto Eckhart Toole for an interview. His latest “Peace Summit” report had all the traces of a “wannabe” reporter with no clue as to what it was about by an opportunity to hang out back stage and pretend to be a “One in the know”.

    I read him to be one of the “Scribes and Pharisees” that someone once warned us about.

    Again Good Luck but I doubt you will very so much as receive an apology from Canwest, at the rate they are going broke, no $$$ reimbursement either.

    Next time I do enter a comment on the Todd “The Search” thingy I will be sure to ask him “What up” with is situation. This new communication method gives us the ability to “give back”

  18. Knock Knock and Hello

    I noticed this “quote” on your friend D. Todd’s blog where he is matching “morality” with his boss a Senior Editor of the Vancouver Editor ( Nov10, 2009)

    Todd says “First, I totally support Mihlar and Smith in thinking both the critics and defenders of big corporations must recognize that the virtues of prudence, honesty, fair-dealing and empathy are essential to the ongoing success of capitalism.”

    So there ay go. Perhaps you should visit him and his blog AND the Editor he is schmooozing with.

Comments are closed.