PokerPaint founder issues apology but refrains from abandoning business model

Haley Hintze
Published by:
Posted on 09/28/2021

PokerPaint, the poker-themed graphics artwork that was widely accused of mass theft of poker photographers’ copyrighted work, returned to social media today with an apology that many observers declared fell far short of the mark. Among other flaws, the apology posted on the @PokerPaint Twitter account failed to acknowledge the need to get any advance approval for photographic images used.

PokerPaint’s founder, Virginia’s Brett Butz, is believed to operate the @PokerPaint account, though he has not confirmed it to date. The personal details shared in today’s apology match to Butz’s known background, and he has been previously linked to the site’s creation and operations.

“I would like to apologize for not representing myself, my brand, and the poker community in a professional manner,” the @PokerPaint apology began. “I also want to apologize specifically to the content creators whose legitimate concerns I did not acknowledge quickly and respectfully enough.”

From there, Butz belabored the fact that he’s a 25-year-old entrepreneur with no knowledge of copyright law, who thought there was “nothing wrong” with creating what he called a “hand-drawn piece of pop art” based on someone else’s original photography, when said photos are accessible on the internet. Butz’s work appears to be little more than tracing the highest contrasting features of any given photo, while removing unwanted details. Those removed details, aggrieved photographer Hayley Hochstetler noted, included specifically removing her copyright mark.

Founder claims to be consulting counsel over legality of enterprise

Butz acknowledged making some mistakes and claims to be consulting an attorney over what aspects of his business violate copyright law. He stated, “I will do whatever is necessary to make up for past mistakes and make sure PokerPaint’s business model going forward is fully compliant with the law.”

However, Butz then offered a line that drew immediate wrath: “In the meantime, I have pulled from my website and social media accounts all pieces that have received complaints.” As several posters noted, that leaves his business in an opt-out mode, requiring any and all photographers whose work may have been stolen to scan Butz’ site in detail, searching for copyright-violating images. Only an opt-in mode, where Butz receives prior permission from a given photographer to use an image as the basis for his art, is likely to withstand legal challenge.

Hochstetler, one of the impacted photographers, noted that she “appreciated the apology” but that Butz’s planned changes weren’t enough. She noted that the time to remove all offending images was now, before “major companies get their lawyers involved.” Hochstetler named five such big corporate guns — WSOP, WPT, PokerStars (EPT, etc.), PokerNews, and PokerGO. Each of these companies has employed one or more of the affected photographers and may also own copyrights to many of the images pilfered by PokerPaint.

Hold’em Media’s Dan Ross noted to Butz that “Ignorance of the law is not an excuse.” And like other knowledgeable commenters, Ross declared that Butz had failed miserably, and that all images for which he had not received prior permission for use of an image had to be removed.

However, several images depicting poker players, derived from well known poker photos, remain active on the site. Still other pieces of PokerPaint art depict graphically altered scenes — usually gambling-related — from various pop-culture sources, such as TV’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation” series.

Featured image source: Instagram/PokerPaint