Where’s Hell For Leather?

It was an interesting experiment and cleverly executed; see how many other websites use information that you post first on your website, by embedding your logo surreptitiously in the accompanying images.

Words: Rob Harris. Pictures: Hell For Leather (unless otherwise specified of course)

It was an interesting experiment and cleverly executed: see how many other websites use information that you post first on your website, by embedding your logo surreptitiously in the accompanying images.



This is exactly what U.S.-based Hell For Leather magazine did by embedding their sheep-skull logo in various bike images that they posted as the stream of new model info flowed out from the recent EICMA show. Followed a few days later by an “exposé” of who had used said pics in a “Where’s Waldo” take, only this time it was “Where’s HFL.”

Oh, very clever I thought. Well, until I saw CMG listed in their article of shame.

But true enough, there in our pic of the new BMW concept scooter was a little HFL skull logo with the caption “Man, we get around. The guys at CMG are our buddies too and, like Autoblog, should know better, but that doesn’t stop them from pulling their content straight off our site!”

Oh dear, but there was more …

“Because just about every other motorcycle publication on the Internet rips its content directly from HFL, these logos were scattered far and wide … [snip] let’s take a look at each of the publications that’s ripped us off in the last few days.”



Hang on, did you say ripped off?

Okay, so we had more than one of the HFL-doctored pics of the EICMA released bikes (and more on that shortly), but pulling off content too? That just wasn’t true.

First off, let me clarify our mandate in this matter — to only use information from a verified trustworthy source, or if not possible, to cite the source in the article. Granted, I’m not going to stand up hand on heart and say that we’ve had this in place over the 14 years of our existence, but as we’ve grown, so have our rules to ensure accuracy.

I can say that the information for these articles came directly from trusted sources (generally press sites and press releases sent to us via email). Unfortunately the pictures to go with them were not always available in a timely manner, which is when a web search comes in.

But before I go on, a little about the rights to use manufacturer images. Basically they grant us the rights to use such images provided it is for editorial use only.


KTM’s rights of usage agreement.
pic: pretty sure this came via KTM

Sometimes, as is the case with KTM, they actually request a photographer credit accompany the pics. But essentially for what we do, the images are copyright free, which means we get nice shots of a bike and the manufacturer gets their bike images out there. It’s a win-win.

Now the argument that HFL put across was that our use of these images that had been posted by them constituted ripping them off. Especially if we didn’t at least credit them with an “image via Hell For Leather” tag.

But can you rip off something from someone when they don’t own it … and the owner has already said that you can use it?

I put this argument in the comments section of said article of shame and was countered by the argument that they “spent a significant amount of time cropping, resizing and compressing [the images] for web usage.”


Take it, please …
pic: CMG. Yep, we got a CBR250 flown in special from Thailand and paid Annie Liebovitz to do the shoot. Not as inspired as we’d expected, but it’ll do.

Maybe, but that doesn’t grant copyright and although it may be frustrating, I believe that once you put such a pic up on the web, you pass it on to the rest of the world. Of course, if you are the original source of the pic it’s a different story, but in this case, they didn’t take the pic, they didn’t pay the photographer, and no matter any doctoring that was done to it by them did not create ownership.

And we practice what we preach: It’s fine with me if someone grabs an OEM image off CMG and uses it (and I’ve seen that a few times) so long as it’s not one that we produced ourselves (now that would be ripping off).

Okay, but what about giving the originating website credit for getting the pic?

Maybe, but then how do you actually know where the pic originated from? In the same article they list all the sites that supposedly “ripped off” their pics, but what if you take it from one of those sites, who in turn had taken it from HFL? How would you know where the pic originated from? Surely by then adding a credit, you’d be crediting the wrong site!


See if you can count all the hidden CMG references …

No, I think once a manufacturer pic is out there, it’s out there. Well done for getting it out there first, but that’s it. If you want credit for that, then do what is generally the accepted format — watermark it with your logo. That way anyone that uses it automatically credits you because your name is on the pic.

It would be interesting to hear what the manufacturers think of that as I’m not sure giving out the right to use includes altering the image with a watermark, but I think it’s fair enough and likely much more acceptable to them than actually altering the image with a semi-hidden logo. In fact, doing the latter makes it appear that the logo is actually pasted to the vehicle in the picture, and not added to the image later.

In a perfect world we’d all be able to get the OEM-produced images directly from the OEMs at the same time, but it ain’t so. Sometimes one site gets them first (and good for them for being able to do so) but it doesn’t make sense to not run with a story because we have all the facts but not an image supplied to us directly by the OEM.



We’ll take what we can get.

Since the article was first posted, I’ve argued my case with Editor Wes at HFL and he did agree to change the line that accused CMG of “pulling their content” to “pulling some of their pics” from HFL, something I do not dispute or indeed apologize for.

Furthermore he added “To clarify, we consider CMG to be a quality source of original content and, unlike some of the publications we’ve unfortunately lumped you in with, CMG does not plagiarize.”


Apparently Waldo’s pissed.

I guess that’s fair enough and I guess we’ll also agree to disagree as to whether using manufacturer pics from another site is ripping off or indeed in need of a credit.

I’ll also give them that they proved an interesting point in a clever and entertaining fashion. I’m sure they’re right in their claim that some magazines are in fact lifting their content straight off HFL and not giving them credit for it, but doctored photos alone do not prove this (only that they were sourced off the web) — citing passages would.

One thing is for sure: though they may not get the credits they are asking for, they have ensured that no-one’s going to use any pics found on their site anymore. There’s always a chance that it contains a sheep’s skull lurking somewhere in the shadows.

Now that’s clever.


  1. I need to clarify 2 points:1) “taking someone else’s time FOR granted.”
    and 2) the fact that I do not agree with them hidding their stuff on product pictures at all, and CMG is right about they should put a proper watermark. Anyhow, since they charge to rad their articles, their audience maybe limited already and they need some attention grabbing scheme.

  2. I would like to congratulate CMG on the articles and info provided for a long time to its audience, but as a web designer I have to admit it is a let down to read a justification for using someone else’s work (resizing, croping and very importantly, optimizing for web publishing)without their consent.Specially when you have paid advertising going on, there is no justification in taking someone else’s time or granted. Would it take too long to request permission saying “we are ready but they do not send us the pics, can we use it this time and you are welcome to do the same next time around? Thanks”
    Canadians are famously polite, so a mag with a Canadian related name should be aware of what their readership may think.

  3. No, I think it was all part of the plan. I have no problem with what they’re trying to do – it’s the Holy Grail of internet publishing to be able to charge for content, and so I wish them luck. However, I do disagree with their “Where’s HFL” stunt conclusions.

  4. Without wanting to get all “conspiracy;” but barely a fortnight after the huge “Where’s HFL” campaign, they decided to got the capitalist route.


    Initiate a campaign “proving” how HFL is superior as others use generic images, then charge users once they have justified this with their “evidence?”


  5. Doesn’t anyone remember anymore that originally the whole reason HTTP protocol and therefore the Net was created was SHARING of content? Just like the concept of copyright we’ve sure come a long way from the original idea… and by ‘long way’ I don’t mean improvement.

    BTW… with their new ‘pay for content’ model HFL are dead to me. But that’s another discussion.

  6. It’s close to being a matter of “fair use” of a copyrighted image, isn’t it? Images can be copyrighted and you can still use them no problem, either because the creator says so explicitly to you or because you are doing a critique, editorial, educational exposé, etc., (fair use).
    Yeah, HFL are getting a bit pissy. I’m sure CMG would have been happy to do its own web prep of a raw image, but HFL saved you the trouble and feel shorted. If they altered the image enough to visibly change it in the eyes of the average punter, they could possibly claim copyright. Cropping, compressing or even hiding a logo you can’t see doesn’t amount to that.

  7. You hit the nail on the head stating who is the actual originator of the photo? Manufacturer’s purposely leak photos all the time. They WANT web sites to grab them and spread them around – free publicity with little effort from them.

    Besides, HFL thinks their shit don’t stink, but I think their site does. The editors hate everything and rarely have anything positive to say about any bike. Who wants to read constant negativity? I read bike sites to get AWAY from all the negativity in the world.

  8. Interesting story of our modern world. I love your exposé of their exposé. Good for both of you (CMG and HFL); good to see CMG call them out and force them to be more precise in their accusations.

  9. Aren’t these the same guys who claimed the handling of the VFR1200 was “life threatening?” Amazing how a bunch of dumbass Canadian journos (most of whom have roadraced at one time or another) had no such problem during track sessions on two different tracks, innit?

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