PokerPaint NFT announcement stirs photographers' unease, possible rights negotiations frozen

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Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: December 11, 2021 17:43 PST

The saga of PokerPaint and its founder Brett Butz's battles over claims of copyright violations returned to the fore following a social-media announcement this week that Butz and his PokerPaint operation planned to enter the non-fungible tone (NFT) digital collectibles space. Butz's announcement triggered another wave of ire from numerous professional photographers who had already served Butz and his company with cease-and-desist notices in October regarding his earlier use, without rights, to many photographers' poker images.

The latest round of fire between the two sides followed a post on the PokerPaint account in November declaring, "We’re back on the grind! I’ve been reaching out to many photographers, met with them, made license agreements, understand IP law better, and look forward to spreading love through art." It isn't clear, however, that Butz has made deals with any of the photographers aggrieved by his earlier actions.

At least five professional photographers are represented together for legal purposes by long-time Image Masters head Eric Harkins. Besides Harkins, that group includes Hayley Hochstedter, Danny Maxwell, Neil Stoddart, and Drew Amato. A sixth veteran industry photographer, Joe Giron, represents his own interests and those of a few other photographers separately. None of those photographers have reached any sort of deal with Butz or PokerPaint to date.

Harkins issues statement, resolves mistaken-identity situation

Harkins, who described himself to Butz as "the old guy of the group," detailed to Butz in recent days why Butz's public demeanor and failure to publicly correct some of his earlier copyright missteps has led to mistrust with the very poker photographers whose work he'd like to use.

The two conducted reportedly civil discussions on several topics related to the PokerPaint fiasco, but only after Butz realized he hadn't been responding to the correct "Eric" on Twitter. Instead, Butz had mistaken assumed another Eric on Twitter was Harkins, one that had joined in the public attacks on Butz in late September and early October.

Despite the introduction of civility, the two sides remained some distance apart. Harkins also informed Butz that he was acting as a mediator of sorts regarding some of the other photographers, who in essence still want nothing to do with Butz's PokerPaint imagery business.

After their chats, Harkins offered a notice on Twitter regarding the continuing situation. "Hey all- I’ve attempted to negotiate with him on behalf of the group, as has @JoeGironPhoto. The hope is to find common ground. Percentage isn’t as much the issue as transparency about his operation. The damage and mistrust may be too great to overcome.

"On a personal note- from ALL involved we are grateful for the support of the Poker Community. We didn’t intend for this to blow up into such a public thing. Usually such issues are handled quietly (offline). We appreciate every one of you who offer support & encouragement!"

No new cease-and-desist notices

Despite the new wave of public ire, including some public features, neither the Harkins nor the Giron group have issued Butz or PokerPaint a new cease-and-desist regarding the NFT announcement. Since the NFT-signed images have yet to be released, there's no way to know if any of the previously impacted photogs would have their altered images included.

The same holds true with PokerGO, a corporate entity and holder of image rights that was also reputed to have sent Butz a cease-and-desist notice. Butz made vague declarations elsewhere regarding license agreements, but at the present time, he has no deal with PokerGO. "PokerGO unfortunately isn’t going to collaborate with me for now," Butz told directly. "They’re still my favorite poker show, going to have to give it time."