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from an article in the "Detroit Free Press":

"GM clamps down on stealth shutterbugs after photos of new SUV turn up on Web sites.
By Ed Garsten / The Detroit News

General Motors Corp. gumshoes are out to squash the shutterbug who secretly snapped photos of the automaker's upcoming line of large SUVs.

These aren't the garden-variety spy shots taken by professionals who make their living lurking behind trees and fences, hoping to snag a few frames of soon-to-be-released cars and trucks.

The three photos that started popping up on the Internet last week show the new Chevrolet Tahoe and Cadillac Escalade in what appears to be a photo studio or warehouse, giving GM the suspicion this caper was an inside job by someone hoping to make a quick buck.

"We're still trying to understand the who, what, when, where or how," GM spokesman Jeffrey Kuhlman said. "In this case it was a private photo session, and the potential exists the person was involved in the setup or organization of this event."

The practice of capturing images of new models automakers aren't ready to show publicly has long been a cottage industry. Myriad auto enthusiast magazines, Internet sites and newspapers, including The Detroit News, pay to publish spy photos.

But GM is fighting back in cases involving some of its most important and profitable models.

In November 2003, a photographer captured an uncamouflaged shot of the much-anticipated 2005 Chevrolet Corvette. The new 'Vette soon surfaced on the Internet, crimping GM's plans to reveal it to the world at the Detroit auto show the following January.

Then last year, a GM photograph of the high-performance Corvette Z06 showed up online after it was distributed to journalists who agreed not to publish until a later date.

This time, GM hired security experts to track down the source of the leak and warned several Web site operators against publishing the photo.

But the Corvette Z06 had already digitally raced around the world, taking some of the buzz away from the car's premiere at this year's Detroit auto show.

The shots of GM's new SUVs now circulating on the Web are especially troubling to the company. The highly profitable vehicles mean so much to its financial turnaround the automaker killed a rear-wheel drive vehicle program to devote money and people to bring the new Tahoe, GMC Yukon and others to market six months sooner than originally planned.

"We don't want the competition to have any insight into the products," Kuhlman said.

In addition, GM is waiting to show the new models publicly to maintain consumer interest and sales of the current Tahoe and other large SUVs.

But in the age of the Internet and blast e-mails, a giant automaker's efforts to keep a hot model under wraps can go astray.

Automakers typically give photographs to journalists early under the agreement they won't be published until an agreed-upon date. The practice raises the risk that the photographs can leak onto the Internet, which triggers other news organizations to publish in an effort to remain competitive.

And these days, it seems, more photographers are willing to break the rules to bag their quarry.

Spy photographer Jim Dunne of Popular Mechanics magazine says he lives by a code of ethics when skulking around for his money shot, often hiding behind the fences at GM's proving grounds in Milford.

"You have to be careful not to go on private property," said Dunne, who once rented a helicopter to get a shot of a Corvette prototype.

Dunne sells his photos to other publications after Popular Mechanics gets first crack at them, but he won't sell to Web sites. "They tend to give away the secrets," he said.

Brenda Priddy, another oft-published spy photographer, says she'll sell legally obtained spy photos to Web sites.

Priddy said she received a call from a man who said he had taken the photos of the new GM SUVs and was looking to make a deal. She declined to handle the photos because she was concerned they may have been taken on GM property.

"I don't touch anything that was taken inside," Priddy said. "It's not worth my reputation with the car companies."

Priddy says the person, whose name she doesn't remember, told her he was invited by an employee into the building where the photo shoot was taking place, so he didn't feel he was trespassing. But she warned him not to distribute the pictures, apparently taken by a camera phone.

"I told him, 'I can't touch them and you shouldn't post them,' said Priddy. "You're going to have somebody knocking on your door.'"

Nevertheless, the photos soon showed up on several Web sites.

Robert Lane, publisher of the popular Web site, said he decided to place a link on his site to another site that published the photos. The reason is simple: "Our photo galleries draw the most traffic by far," Lane said. "It's absolutely good for revenue."

The episode shows that anyone with the opportunity and a camera phone can expose a company's secrets.

Automakers are taking a harder line as technology threatens to turn their employees and visitors into potential spy photographers.

At DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group, imaging devices are strictly forbidden on company property without authorization, spokesman David Elshoff said.

"That includes, but is not limited to film, digital cameras, video cameras, PDAs, handheld computers, cell phones and/or watches with image capturing," Elshoff said.

GM enforces a strict ban on camera phones in product development and design areas.

Even spy photographers are now concerned about having their work ripped off, especially when they sell it to a Web site, Priddy said.

"I do worry a little bit because things get out of hand, especially in Korea and the countries around Russia because the photos get taken (without payment)," Priddy said. "
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