RIOC, sleazy, cheapskate or just incompetent? stole my work…

RIOC, sleazy, cheapskate or just incompetent? stole my work…

RIOC stole my work, a photograph I caught live of my friend, Roy Eaton, on Roosevelt Island Day in 2019. Although not totally surprised, I was, at first stunned, seeing my work in their monthly promotion.

By David Stone

Roosevelt Island Daily News

Update, March 25th, 2021:

So, was RIOC “sleazy, cheapskate or just incompetent?” In the time since RIOC brazenly stole my work and used it for self-promotion, I’ve checked off all three.

  • Sleazy: Stealing someone’s work and selfishly repurposing it without permission is sleazy in itself, but then rationalizing that it was okay, falsely claiming it wasn’t copyrighted sauces the sleaze.
  • Cheapskate: RIOC’s notorious for wasteful spending but refuses to cough up a fee for using my work. That’s worse than cheapskate and, mixed with the sleaze, worse.
  • Incompetent: It’s a challenge. Who’s more incompetent? The bloated “communications” staff for the original misuse? The chief counsel for tangling together lame excuses for them? Or the CEO for not stepping up and putting a stop to it? Hard to say, but I’m calling it a tie.

As of today’s date, RIOC has still not paid up or even apologized for the misconduct, but they are investing tens of thousands into defending the cardinal misdeed of firing Susan Rosenthal for highly questionable reasons.

If you wanted to buy the Mona Lisa, would you go to Leonardo or Mona?

I know, I know, RIOC’s just being RIOC. Nobody should be surprised.

End of Update

What stunned me when RIOC stole my work was seeing my photo of Roy Eaton used in a marketing pitch the state agency pumps out roughly once a month.

RIOC stole my work, this photo of Roy Eaton at 89.
I loved this picture because, with his permission, I took it after Roy announced, “I just turned 89!”

I skim the alleged RIOC newsletter, checking on what their trying to sell lately. And that’s where I saw it. RIOC stole my work to promote themselves, a plan for which I would not have agreed.

And I knew how they got their hands on it.

RIOC failed to credit the photograph and later implied it wasn’t even mine. But I can prove it, and I can also show the trail from my work to their stolen property.

But that’s what makes it even worse…

Was it just incompetence?

Maybe. RIOC’s got more than enough of it, free floating around 591 Main Street and beyond.

But no, they say.

Because I contacted them about copyright infringement, right away. And I sent them a $100 invoice.

The cheapskates didn’t pay, of course, but did what they usually do when approached about a gaffe. They ignored it, or so I thought.

When you work in journalism, you either use your own photographs and other media or you get permission. That’s the simple rule, and if you have to pay for use, you pay or do without.

RIOC did neither, although — hilariously — claiming otherwise.

Where do they award law degrees for this…?

My suspicion that RIOC ignored my request was dispelled when, yesterday, I got an email from their top lawyer.

“We have reviewed the above correspondence and consulted with our staff,” wrote RIOC General Counsel Gretchen Robinson on February 23rd.

Then, she soaped it up.

“RIOC takes every measure to ensure that its staff is trained in the proper use of photographs and other intellectual property… and would not knowingly use such items without receiving permission from their owners…”

Fair enough, except that they already did it, but then came the hilarious, in a dark sort of way, kicker.

“To that end, RIOC received permission for Mr. Eaton to use his picture in the RIOC News! publication and published the same,” Robinson concluded.

Now, let that sink in for a moment. Then, ask yourself this, “If someone wanted to buy the Mona Lisa, would they ask Leonardo or the woman posing for him?”

Let’s make it more clear. If I use this photo…

group of people having neon party
Photo by Marcin Dampc on

…, do I need an okay from the people in it or from the photographer?

And, yes, I have permission, and I pay for access.

Roy Eaton is a giant in my eyes as well as those of many others, but he never owned the photograph. So, how could this 90 year old gentleman, confined at home for a year, give RIOC permission?

Everyone knows the right thing to do, and most of us do it.

RIOC stole my work, then jumbled together excuses for it

Robinson wasn’t finished yet.

But first, she threw me a sideways insult.

“To the extent you claim copyright privileges…assuming the facts are as you state them, we would sincerely apologize.”


“A review of the photograph did not indicate that it was in fact protected by copyright laws…” In other words, I lied, according to Robinson, RIOC’s top lawyer.

And if it wasn’t protected, why did RIOC’s alleged Communications Team ask for permission, if from the wrong resource?

“Based on the above, RIOC will not honor your request for payment,” she concluded.

That’s sleazy. RIOC wastes resources right and left. Why not just pay up and be done with it? Wouldn’t it just have been easier to do the right thing?

But that would call for sound judgment and sound ethics, things in short supply at 591 Main Street

RIOC stole my work, and here’s how they got it…

As we approached Black History Month, I engaged Haynes, repeating my frustration with how local people of color are so often ignored in Roosevelt Island media.

On January 9th, 2020, after a meeting at the CBN/RI Senior Center, after chatting with him about it, I sent then RIOC vice president Shelton Haynes an email. His wife, he told me would be interested because she’s in advertising.

“My Roy Eaton bio I told you about at the Transportation meeting earlier today:

Click the link, and you’ll see the very photograph RIOC stole and used a year later, claiming total innocence.

“A sincere thank you for this,” he answered.

Original shot of Roy Eaton at 89.
For the record, here is the original photograph I took of Roy Eaton on Roosevelt Island Day, 2019. I edited it carefully to illustrate the shining genius of this man, but RIOC stole it, refusing even to credit my work.


Yes, RIOC stole my work, but after my initial anger, I felt pity for them.

How frigging twisted must you be to make a gross mistake like this and, then, turn it around, cobble together a flakey rationale and refuse paying up for using unauthorized work?

Face it. The place is a mess. I told Robinson, in a return email, to keep the lousy $100. I don’t need the money that badly.

But you can’t really shame the shameless.

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