Butz fails to get clearance
In September, PokerPaint’s Brett Butz spoke to VegasSlotsOnline News about his decision to move into the new and potentially lucrative NFT (non-fungible token) space. At the time, PokerPaint was selling art pieces undeniably derivative from photographic work, often iconic poker images.
echoes of French Cubism and German Expressionism
Some of PokerPaint’s pieces had been gifted to high-profile poker players, others had been sold, and some were commissioned. There were many positive reviews for the colorful works that had echoes of French Cubism and German Expressionism, and Butz was looking to expand his business model.
The goal for Butz was to enter into a reciprocal relationship with the poker community. He expressed how he was inspired by the achievements of the players but he also wanted to provide inspiration to them. Sadly, the type of reciprocal relationship that Butz actually cultivated was an antagonistic one, specifically with the photographers who it turned out had not cleared their works for his recreations.
Photographers speak out
While PokerPaint was busy promoting its NFT adventure, a number of photographers spoke out about the issue of intellectual property and how it pertains in this situation. Pokernews photographer Hayley Hochstetler blew the whistle on what she interpreted as a clear breach of copyright by PokerPaint:
Butz was very defensive initially, his comments betraying a lack of understanding of copyright laws. He claimed that his pieces were original works despite clearly using the photography of others as a starting point. Begrudgingly, he said that he was “not opposed to giving photographers a percentage.”
you need to remove all content you don’t have the authorization to display or sell.”
This did nothing, however, to sway veteran photographers Joe Giron and Danny Maxwell who joined Hochstetler in condemning Butz’s behavior, requesting that PokerPaint remove their artworks from its website and NFT collection. “If you are truly committed to making things right to us content creators,” said Giron, “you need to remove all content you don’t have the authorization to display or sell. Then, a process has to start to make an audit and full accounting of your sales as it relates to the sold works of art from the unauthorized usages in order to compensate us.”
Speaking exclusively to VSO News, WSOP and EPT photographer Danny Maxwell told us why Intellectual Property must be respected. “It gives recognition to the artist that they are the creator of a piece of work. In my case, it gives me a tangible association with a photo that I have taken.”
Butz says sorry
Eventually, Butz tweeted out a contrite statement via Twitter, acknowledging his shortcomings and promising to make changes in PokerPaint’s business model. He also pledged to remove all applicable pieces from his website and social media:
While this did not satisfy many of the offended parties, it did seem to take the heat out of the issue for a time. For some in the community, it was a good starting point from which Butz could potentially forge some collaborative relationships and move forward with his business idea. Perhaps an equitable profit-share arrangement could be reached with willing photographers.
Maxwell and Amato refuse to sign over their work
Three months on, however, this doesn’t seem to have transpired and Butz is back in the headlines, having seemingly not been true to his word. This time, Maxwell was the whistleblower, taking to Twitter last Sunday:
Maxwell went on to say how “2020 was a rough year for a lot of people and like a lot of other people I was out of work while @PokerPaint @brettblaster were profiting off my work & the work of the other poker photographers out there. His level of ‘reaching out’ is sending an email with just a contract and no other information thinking that we would just sign over anything to him. Lunacy!”
he takes zero accountability”
Maxwell is not the only person to receive this treatment. Fellow photographer Drew Amato said that Butz “has never spoken a word to me and randomly emailed a contract [that] he expected me to sign that had everything listed at 10%… he takes zero accountability and constantly makes out like we owe it to him to work together.”
Butz ill-tempered, Maxwell remains gracious
VSO News followed up with Maxwell to get into the weeds of the problem at hand. “Brett was sent a cease & desist letter already which should have put a stop to this,” said Maxwell. “Negligence isn’t an excuse and certainly not when it comes to willful copyright infringement. He should have been the one to reach out to individual photographers in the first instance and not for us to have to collectively engage with him. There were some good faith negotiations initially but he was not open to reasonable offers. Now it appears that he is moving forward with his ‘art’ based on copyrighted work and that is not acceptable.”
It certainly isn’t, nor is the petulant way that Butz responded to Maxwell’s legitimate issues on Twitter:
Yesterday, it was reported that an ill-tempered Butz had a feisty exchange with Pokernews as he seemed to revert to a defensive posture under the mildest of interrogation from Chad Holloway who asked him which photographers had agreed to partner with him.
By contrast, a gracious Maxwell concluded his interview with us by simply saying: “I’ve always felt very fortunate to have a job I truly love. The poker world has given me more than I will ever be able to give back. Myself and many other poker photographers have found our little niche and are thankful that we get to be a part of this world. I’d rather not have to deal with all of this but I will stand up for my rights and the rights of my friends and colleagues.”
To Butz, all I can say is that nobody is giving Danny Maxwell a platform. He already has a platform and it is one that he has earned due to years of hard work in this industry, as have the other photographers whose work you have re-imagined.