Haverford Grad Says “Old Images of Philadelphia” Stole His Photos

Brian Hsu alleges some 200 acts of copyright infringement on the popular Facebook page.

If you live in Philadelphia and have a Facebook account, you’ve probably been exposed to Old Images of Philadelphia, the Facebook page featuring, well, old images of Philadelphia. Lots and lots of old images. More than 20,000.

The page and its creator, self-described “History Channel freak” and West Philadelphia resident Carl Manley, were the subject of “Share This: Old Images of Philadelphia on Facebook,” a Philly Mag piece that appeared on the Philly Post in January. “It’s sort of like therapy,” Manley said. “It was never my intent to make something that would touch people emotionally and spiritually, but the feedback is remarkable and overwhelms me. My page is tying into their memory banks.”

It sure is. Old Images boasts that it is “the most loved Philly page on Facebook”, and with more than 60,000 “likes” (by comparison, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has just over 57,000), the page clearly has plenty of fans. But Brian Hsu is not one of them.

Hsu, 25, is a 2010 graduate of Haverford College. While a student there, he developed an interest in architectural history, and in 2008, he started Brian Goes to Town, a blog featuring “then and now” photos of Philadelphia locations. (Manley started Old Images one year later). The “then” photos Hsu found in various photo archives, like phillyhistory.org, while he shot the “now” photos himself. Hsu also added historical information and commentary to each set, a task that Manley mostly allows his Facebook commenters to handle. The blog still exists, but Hsu hasn’t updated it since he graduated.

Recently, Hsu says he realized that Manley was using the blog’s content to populate Old Images on Facebook and that he was doing so without permission or credit. In at least one case, an Old Images “then and now” photo set is labeled “Made exclusively for Old Images of Philadelphia Facebook page,” although Manley’s “now” photo seems identical to the one on Hsu’s page.

By Hsu’s count, Old Images has used approximately 60 of Hsu’s original photos in about 200 posts, meaning 200 potential copyright violations. It’s simple enough to do, and it happens all the time. A couple of mouse clicks and, voila, copyright infringement. The Internet is an intellectual property abyss.

“He took many hours of my work,” complains Hsu. “For each post, it took me a minimum of two hours to do research, write about it, treating images in Photoshop, taking the pictures.”

Hsu did reach out to Manley to assert his copyright and to request that Manley remove the photos from Old Images. At first, according to a series of written exchanges that Hsu shared with me, Manley was apologetic. But he gave Hsu a technical excuse as to why he couldn’t remove Hsu’s photos. Hsu wasn’t buying it, so he persisted, and an annoyed Manley sent this response:

Go ahead and do what you have to do. I have no more discussions on this subject. I’ve tried every avenue to work this situation out amicably but you refuse to meet me half way. I have no more desire to communicate with you and any future e-mails or correspondence from you will be blocked!

Manley also has other detractors. Here, a comment from “Roman Zark” on our January post:

It is a shame that it takes a printed article to point out where Old Images copies and pastes the photos and info from, (there are many other sites too that Carl copies from that are much better than face book). as Carl is very reluctant to credit his sources. Oh and heaven help if anyone would comment with some helpful criticism, your comment will be removed and you will be blocked from further comments. I could go on, but I will leave it at that…

And a response from a commenter identifying himself as Carl Manley:

Roman Zark you sound like a jealous fool because I’m getting all that press. My page has over 55,000 likes and making negative comments about the good work that I have done, only makes you look like a idiot. It’s the like that old saying “If you’re not stepping on some toes, then you’re not doing something right and it’s quite obviously you’re toes have been stepped on ! get a life and stop hating on me because my Facebook page is more popular than the weak Blog you post photos on !

Hsu says he is weighing his legal options and that he has contacted Facebook about the alleged infringement. I emailed Manley asking him if he wanted to talk about Hsu’s accusations. I have yet to receive a response.

“This is a clear violation of my intellectual property rights,” says Hsu. “And it’s my opinion that anyone who really took history and research seriously, well, that comes with a commitment to respecting laws and properly citing sources, which is not done on his site.”