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Left: According to photographer D.K. Langford, this is the Texas vehicle inspection sticker designed from his photograph. Right: This photograph is exhibit A in Langford’s suit vs. the Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. (Source)

At last. I’ve been waiting for one of these legal disputes to have a prison angle! From the My San Antonio News:

“A photographer is suing the state over roughly 4.5 million vehicle inspection stickers that appear to incorporate, without his authorization, an image of a saddle-toting cowboy he created in 1984. Plaintiff David K. Langford wants the court to block the Department of Public Safety from further use or issuance of the stickers, the design of which he says is based on his copyrighted photo, Days End 2.”

“The stickers were produced by state prison inmates under a Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) contract with the DPS. […] The suit says Langford’s photo was illegally appropriated by an inmate who scanned it from a copy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine in 1998.” [My bolding.]

Langford, the photographer, seems quite tenacious here. He argues simply that the State of Texas should be more careful about how it sources its images.

I want to avoid the lazy joke about a prisoner “stealing”. It’s just a shame that when prisoners working for the Texas Correctional Industries which is, for some, a form of modern slave labor (I withhold comment), the products of their work are at the centre of a substantial lawsuit.

This story was brought to my attention by Bob, who says, “I guess Texas is always full of unintended ironies.”

The TDCJ refused to comment, and of course there’s no response from the prisoner. I would want to hear from the prison-artist who originally ripped Langford’s image. He ended up producing a nice piece of graphic design!

With 4.5 million stickers in circulation, the prisoner has quite the visible profile. There’s more of a story here. Texas journalists! Get on it.

In November, I penned a piece for about the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s ban on two books that advocated for prison reform.

This week, friend Matt Kelley brought to my attention that Texas is now banning John Grisham novels. Kelley describes the sophisticated approach of the TDCJ:

The system is fairly arbitrary – prison mailroom staff look for offensive images and make the decision on the spot. Prisoners can appeal to state officials, but it’s tough to argue on behalf of a book you can’t see.

C’mon! Really? Add your name to over 500 petitioners.


Three months ago, I wrote about Silja Talvi‘s excellent book Women Behind Bars.

It turns out the Texas Department of Criminal Justice also noticed it. They banned it – along with another book, Perpetual Prison Machine by Joel Dyer. Both books are distributed by Prison Legal News – a phenomenal non-profit based here in Seattle that educates America’s incarcerated class on its human and legal rights.

Prison Legal News has launched a lawsuit against staff and senior officials of the TDCJ. Money is not as issue here, principle is. “PLN is seeking compensatory, punitive and nominal damages plus declaratory and injunctive relief for violation of its rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as attorney fees and costs.”

“It is a sad commentary when government officials censor books sent to prisoners – particularly books that deal with prisoners’ rights and conditions in our nation’s prisons,” stated PLN editor Paul Wright. “Apparently, the TDCJ prefers that prisoners remain uninformed about issues that directly affect them. We believe this is a poor rationale for censorship.”


Visit and read my brief article.

Download the full PLN lawsuit (PDF).

Sign the petition to the TDCJ for reversal of their censorship policy.


prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com


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