Discovering you’ve unwittingly made your way onto TV or into the background of an online photo is often a pleasant surprise for many.
Some will even gloat among friends and family about their blossoming onscreen career, albeit tongue-in-cheek, but not all people share the same enthusiasm.
One Queensland man is now wondering, with growing concern, just how his image became plastered across the internet.
Brisbane’s William Stopford, 27, has become a feature in images spread across the web after he was snapped sitting down, speaking on his phone without his knowledge and permission.
With the help of Yahoo7 News, Mr Stopford has decided enough is enough and it’s time to get to the bottom of just how his image appeared across the globe.
Discovering his image online
He first came across his newfound fame earlier this year when a bemused friend messaged him about a hotel she was looking to stay at in the US.
“I got a message from my old housemate saying she was looking at the website for Hotel Moxy in Seattle and in the lobby photo there was me,” Mr Stopford told Yahoo7 News.
He says the superimposed image of himself on a sofa at the hotel was baffling considering he had never been to Seattle but, despite his initial curiosity, he thought nothing more of it.
But just weeks later, Mr Stopford received another message from a different friend saying his photo had popped up again – this time superimposed into a train’s carriage along with other random people in an artist’s impression.
“It was a rendering … it’s the exact same photo,” he revealed.
The image was used to promote a new fleet of trains in NSW and was used by a handful of news outlets online.
Mr Stopford, a content writer, began to browse through old photos from friends and family, but to no avail. He could not find the image.
Judging by the clothes he was wearing, he managed to narrow the time it was taken to around 2014 when he was living in New York. Yet he still had no clue as where it was taken, saying it could have been “literally anywhere”.
“Clearly the way I see it, a photographer was taking photos, I happened to be in the background and they’ve ended up putting me on some stock photo database,” Mr Stopford said.
While he says the whole mystery has left him amused, he has some concerns over where his image might end up.
“It does make me a little worried, I’m curious because it could turn up anywhere and without my permission,” he said.
“I don’t want my picture ending up in something like an erectile dysfunction ad.”
Mr Stopford told Yahoo7 News if he ever found out who was distributing his image, he would make sure with them it was not being misused against his will.
“I just want to know where the photo was taken and where it is stored. I really want to know where all these images of people are kept.”
Admitting he was “scared” to find out the truth behind the picture, Mr Stopford could still see the funny side of the new venture and said he would not ask for payment from the person responsible.
Unravelling the mystery
When Yahoo7 News contacted NSW Transport as to where they had sourced Mr Stopford’s image they confirmed they used a graphic design contractor to create the artist’s impression of the new train.
However, after speaking with the contractor NSW Transport, at the request of the graphic designer, refused to give out their details.
Heading further afield, Yahoo7 News contacted the company responsible for the Seattle hotel image –US architectural firm Ankrom Moisan.
The firm was able to point us in the direction of Spanish website Architextur, which allows designers to download textures and figures to create artist’s impressions.
And there Mr Stopford’s image was, as predicted, among an online database of hundreds of other people.
According to the site, the photo had been extracted from an image shot by photographer Ed Yourdon.
Following a brief search online, Mr Yourdon, from New York, turned out to be a leading software engineer who passed away in 2016 aged 71.
Up until his death, he was an avid photographer and contributed several photos to leading US publications including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Tracking down the original photo
Mr Yourdon shared thousands of photos he had taken from around the world online, with most images shot in New York.
The photographer uploaded all his images to popular photo-sharing site Flickr under a licensing agreement via non-profit organisation Creative Commons.
The agreement allows users to “share, copy and redistribute the material” and “adapt, remix, transform upon the material” as long as it is not used for commercial purposes and the image is rightly attributed.
After flicking through thousands of images shared by Mr Yourdon, Mr Stopford’s mystery was eventually solved.
The 27-year-old’s image appeared in a photo shot at New York’s Seventh Avenue IRT subway station at 23rd Street where he sat among four women, three of them also using their mobile phones.
Mr Yourdon chose the picture as his ‘photo of the day’ on October 26, 2013.
“Some of us read, just like in the good old days. But most of us don’t,” Mr Yourdon wrote in the caption on the image in reference to the phone users and one woman reading a magazine.
A Creative Commons spokesperson told Yahoo7 News the likelihood was Mr Yourdon had reached a separate agreement with companies using his images for commercial use.
A bittersweet discovery
When finding out the mystery of his image, Mr Stopford told Yahoo7 News the moment was bittersweet.
“It’s like one mystery solved and that feels good, but then I’m still hung up on the fact where else has it been used? I could be on some billboard in Zambia,” he said.
Mr Stopford revealed the subway station where the photo was shot was the one closest to where he worked while living in New York.
He says he is baffled as to why such companies do not delve into the huge market of professional stock photo models.
“I can’t believe the fact that companies are cropping random Flickr images when there is a whole cottage industry of people who sell stock photos,” he said.
Mr Stopford revealed he now plans to contact the Spanish website and discuss further the use of his image, and find out just exactly how far his picture has gone.