Gough Lui discovered that Netflix used his photos of VHS tapes in its “Stranger Things” packaging:
Initially, I was in disbelief for two reasons. I’ve not watched Stranger Things, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. Could it be true that my work has become a part of their product and I should be so honored to be part of it? The images I were seeing did not lie. They were my photos.
Then it turned into a feeling of betrayal. How could they, a large corporate company with day-to-day experience in handling rights-protected materials, use my material without so much as asking me for permission? How did they think they can get away with it? I’ll admit, I’m not a lawyer, but I do have a moral right to copyright over the images I take that does not require any registration. At the least, they have chosen my images because they are somehow special (e.g. well taken, high resolution), and I deserve to be compensated for it.
It’s pretty obvious what happened here. Netflix made a deal with a DVD distributor to sell the disc copies of “Stranger Things.” That distributor probably contracted with an independent designer or design firm to create the box and ancillary material—in this case, cleverly packaged as a VHS tape, fitting the 1980s setting of the show. And that designer searched the internet for photos of VHS tapes, found Gough Lui’s, and downloaded them.
The issue isn’t about a “large corporate company” ignoring his copyrights while fiercely protecting its own; this is almost certainly about of chain of contractors leading to a (probably low-paid) designer who thought it was okay to rip off some photos of VHS tapes rather than get royalty free images or shoot it themselves. This reflects badly on Netflix, but this is ultimately a story about a designer somewhere making a bad decision.