The saga of PokerPaint and its business plan of altering professional poker photgraphers’ work for its own fame and profit has encountered another wave of pushback from aggrieved copyright holders. This week, prominent media entities iBus Media Inc., the parent company of PokerNews, and Flutter Entertainment PLC, the parent company of PokerStars, both sent PokerPaint founder and owner Brett Butz cease-and-desist notices over imagery owned and by them and taken by staff photographers.
The images connected to the cease-and-desist orders include a photo of Fedor Holz, taken by PN staff photographer Jaime Thomsen, and an image of Bill Perkins taken by PokerStars photographer Neil Stoddart. The images referenced in the C&D notices were graphically altered by Butz in the style of the digital artwork continues to promote through his PokerPaint startup, despite significant headwinds from the poker community.
Butz’s use of the Holz and Perkins photos as the basis for his artwork renews the copyright battle between Butz and various poker photographers. Butz himself disclosed the C&D notice from PokerNews regarding the Holz photo on Twitter, while the similar notice from PokerStars and the Perkins notice was posted by Thomas “SrslySirius” Keeling, a well-known poker video creator and satirist.
The cease-and-desist notices have no specific legal authority on their own, but they serve as a “fair warning” to recipients that torts are alleged to have occurred and a lawsuit may be imminent if corrective action is not taken. PokerPaint’s business plan includes enhanced and altered imagery based on and using the photographers’ original work that is then digital signed with a non-fungible token (NFT) to protect it against counterfeiting.
Furor over PokerPaint offerings emerged last year
The latest cease-and-desist notices follow the fracas that erupted in 2021 when Butz was discovered to have used and altered photos taken by several prominent poker photographers, with Butz and PokerPaint never having obtained usage rights to the original work. At that time, at least six photographers — Eric Harkins, Drew Amato, Hayley Hochstaedter, Stoddart, Danny Maxwell, and Joe Giron — discovered their work having been adapted by Butz without their consent, leading to an earlier round of notices served on Butz, a Virginia resident. The photographers, led by Harkins and Giron, briefly attempted to work out a deal with Butz, but those negotiations fell through, especially after Butz announced his broader NFT-themed plans.
PokerGO was also reputed to have sent Butz a C&D over misappropriated imagery, but did not disclose publicly if such legal demands had been made.
At the time, Butz expressed some regret at using the poker photographers’ work, but he defended his business plan while claiming that the copyright issue was still unclear. The recent cease-and-desist notices indicate that Butz believes he still has the rights to use and alter the photographers’ work as he wishes. “Lmao go fuck yourself, using an image to create art isn’t stealing,” he responded to recent criticism on Twitter. Butz has also claimed to have invested $150,000 in his startup.
Holz turned down PokerPaint imagery
Butz originally attempted to sell his digital imagery at art-market prices, but later pulled most of the alleged offending pieces from online sites while attempting to give away some of the work instead. Even so, large swaths of the poker world appear to wish that PokerPaint would disappear from the scene.
In acknowledging the latest cease-and-desist notices, Butz also disclosed that he attempted to give the alleged copyright-violating piece depicting Holz to Holz. Instead, Holz “hid it,” likely turning off some form of public-viewing access, and blocked Butz and PokerPaint on social media.
Butz also posted in a Tweet aimed at Holz that he’d had to delete the NFT stamp that had been attached to the digital piece. Butz posted, “I’ll have to delete the NFT I gifted to you @CrownUpGuy even though you hid it and blocked my PokerPaint account. I don’t really care you did that just givin you a heads up.”
The cease-and-desist notice sent by iBus Media (PokerNews) to Butz makes a standard set of demands, including the destruction of all copyright-violating items created by Butz and PokerPaint, and providing a formal written accounting of all such artwork destroyed. iBus gave Butz until September 30, 2022 to comply, with the threat of further legal action in the event of noncompliance with the demands.