Image theft is a crime


Imagine jumping on a plane and in your boredom you pick up the in-flight magazine to flick through and as you stare down at the photo it seems so familiar to you, only to find that it was your image stolen and used without your permission.

This is what happened to a photographer friend of mine recently when flying Jetstar back home to Japan in May 2011. His photograph was stolen from a popular photo sharing website without his knowledge and it was only by chance that he came across his photograph of a Snow Monkey in Japan.

Initial reactions

Now, there are two common responses when this happens to a photographer.
1) “Wow, they picked my photo to be printed”; or
2) “Pretty sure I don’t remember being asked or paid for that image to be used”.

The second response is usually from a serious photographer, full time professional or somebody who values their intellectual property. After all, they have spent a great investment in their camera gear, computer to edit their photographs, insurance and also studying and time to learn the art of photography and even traveling to and from the location the photograph was taken.

My photo got stolen, now what?

14th May. I found out about Trent’s story as it popped up on his Facebook profile and we discussed what the options were publicly (as his Facebook privacy settings allowed anyone to view and read it). As the debate grew, some argued that you shouldn’t pick on a budget Australian airline, others argued that it was great exposure while the rest of those involved agreed that the matter should be followed up and compensation should be made. After all…

Jetstar may be a budget airline but that is irrelevant. The fact is Jetstar do not compile or publish the magazine. The magazine is outsourced to Ink Global‘s Singapore office and this is where the copyright infringement takes place.
For those that think being published is great exposure – no credits were given to the photographer.

Curiosity killed the copyright

My curiosity got the better of me and I decided to spend some time to see if any other images were used without the photographer’s permission.

Out of the 14 images in the “International Adventures” section;

  • 9 images were found on Flickr,
  • 9 of which the photographers had no idea the image was used,
  • 1 photographer has yet to respond, 25/6/11 last photographer has made contact
  • 2 images had not been found online,
  • 3 images came from stock websites.

The Magazine

Let’s have a look at the May 2011 Edition of Jetstar Magazine which has a circulation of 56,500 flying across the world. There is also an online version which can be found at The publishers, Ink Global are based in Singapore and for those interested you can read up on Singapore Intellectual Property Law.

Photographs in question

Note: I’ve decided not to post the magazine screen grabs and post them up even though I have permission from photographers to post their images.

Page 104
LHS Photo: Brian Gortney – Sigatoka River
RHS Photo: Not found

Page 106
LHS Photo: spiraldelight – Tsutenkaku
RHS Photo: mctrent – Inspired Snow Monkey

Page 108
LHS Photo: geoftheref – Otara Markets II
RHS Photo: KM’s Photography – Dux de Lux Christchurch

Page 110
LHS Photo: Shutterstock Photo
RHS Photo: Elle Cross – Blue Lights

Page 112
LHS Photo: iStock Photo
RHS Photo: Shutterstock Photo

Page 114
LHS Photo: williamcho – What’s cooking over at Clarke Quay lately?
RHS Photo: Billy Simon – Don’t Fall

Page 116
LHS Photo: Not Found
RHS Photo: Binder.donedat – Phuket Vegetarian Festival

What’s the cost of a stolen image?

Anything and everything. It’s up to the photographer to price their own images and really up to them what compensation they want. There are no pricing rules or structures in photography – there are only guidelines and it’s only through stock websites etc that have usage calculators. A general rule some photographers use for copyright infringement is multiply the value of the image 2.5 to 3 times the normal usage fee. However, other photographers may simply add a copyright infringement fee on top of their usual fee. There are tools such as stock image pricing calculators where you simply list the information such as if the image is used for commercial or editorial use, how long it will remain in circulation, distribution, size of the photo and can also include where geographically.

I have listed the details based on this scenario below.

Type of usage: Editorial
Duration of use: Up to 3 months
Distribution: 50,000 to 100,000
Size of photo: 1/4 page
Located: Inside magazine
Region of Use: Worldwide

Low Price: $175.00
Average Price: $275.00
High Price: $375.00

So based on the average price of $275 x 2.5 the total cost of ONE stolen photo is US$687.50.

Comments from the publisher

I thought it would only be fair to ask the publisher Ink Global to comment on the situation.

15th June

This is a one-off problem which has only recently come to our notice also.

We are investigating to get to the bottom of it.

It is by no means intentional as we manage our international reputation very seriously.

I will also be discussing this matter with Flickr.

I then received another email, this time from the Design Director.

16th June

I am the Design Director in the INK Singapore office.

Please let me explain the situation further and assure you that the irregular use of the images was not intentional.

We, as a company, employ an intern scheme in all areas of our business.
This allows us to help people get a better understanding of our industry and also for us to find potential staff.

In this case we used an Intern in our Picture Department who, we have now realised, used his personal Flickr account to download images without contacting the image creators and also not alerting the editorial team of their source.
This is no excuse and please be assured that I am and will be contacting all the photographers to arrange credit and payment for the use of these images.

As Rachel mentioned we pride ourselves on our professional reputation I will ensure that it does not happen again.

We commonly use Flickr images and value the relationship we have with the contributors to the site.

Giving them benefit of the doubt, perhaps it is a one off occurrence and we all make mistakes, right?

Comments from Flickr’s PR

Instead of guessing what Flickr might say I decided to contact Yahoo’s Copyright Infringement email address which only responded with a generic response, however Flickr’s PR came from a real person (which was nice).

16th June

Flickr takes privacy and copyright issues very seriously. Our members have full control (via settings on their account page) over who can see their photos, download, print, comment on, and search for their photos or even their profile.

We also offer our members a variety of licensing options to support our members’ intellectual property rights. Flickr members have a choice between All Rights Reserved and Creative Commons. Flickr does not own or control the rights to the photos on the Web site and is not in a position to license photos, offer permission for their use, or answer questions on behalf of Flickr members. We strongly encourage individuals or entities wishing to use photos they find on Flickr to contact the owner directly for the appropriate permissions.

Were any of the photographers contacted? Nope. Not a single person. Even after they were told that 9 images were taken from Flickr did Ink Global make ANY attempt to contact the photographers? Of course not. They waited until the photographers contacted them.

A call from Jetstar

17th June

I received a call from Jetstar’s Managing Editor to discuss the situation and they were understanding of the situation. We discussed what the appropriate steps to resolve the problem would be, how to better use images from the web and overall there was an understanding on their part. It was a welcomed conversation and unfortunately when you outsource a magazine with your brand on it you do take a risk.

So what’s the big deal?

The magazine makes a profit from advertising. Ink Global makes a profit from publishing. So why is it such a big deal to spend some money to pay for photographs?
What are the odds that you happen to fly on an airline in a particular month that happens to have your image printed in their in-flight magazine?
Would they have contacted the photographers in question to let them know their error so they could have paid them some sort of remuneration?
Was Jetstar’s inflight magazine publisher willing to take the risks or was it well and truly a big error on their part?

Timeline & Updates


Ink Global Senior Photo Editor accuses Trent of changing the Creative Commons – Attribution – NonCommercial 2.0 Generic and asks for proof that it wasn’t changed after reading his Facebook profile.


More photographs are found in the magazine and more photographers contact Ink Global. Senior Photo Editor then passes all correspondence to the Ink Global Editor.


Design director compares the requested fees with previous invoices they have from previous image purposes. Reminder: Previous images weren’t stolen!


Ink Global include their Legal Manager in the emails and accuse a photographer of blackmail.


mctrent has received payment of $100SGD after original offer was $75SGD
geoftheref has agreed on $200SGD, payment to still be made
Brian Gortney’s image had a watermark which had been cropped out he is still in negotiations with Ink Global along with other photographers.


Billy Simon has been refereed to Ink Global’s legal department and still in negotiations
William Cho has updated his Flickr about the incident


The last photographer has responded and had no idea their image was used and hadn’t been contacted by Ink Global


Ink Global finally contacted a photographer before they contacted them
William Cho has been offered $750SGD but the deadline given to Ink Global has expired and has rejected the offer
Binder.donedat has accepted payment of $100SGD, payment to still be made


I had received a call from Ink Global’s London office who have informed me that they were contacting photographers involved and that they were indeed looking at tightening up procedures.


Article about the story was published in Singapore’s New Paper.

My Take and Personal Opinion – 11th July, 2011

As the world wide web continues to grow and we are encouraged to share our knowledge, ideas and of imagery there will be an increase in Intellectual Property (IP) theft. Whether it be intentional or by accident the IP owner will have the option to claim damages, but how far they want to drive the matter rests on the individual as it can be a long tiresome process and/or costly to go through a legal representative.

In this case, the photographers and Ink Global were indeed both lucky. How?
Ink Global had acknowledged the error and offered compensation. Unfortunately on their part, their original offer was more a kick to the face to the photographers then anything which kinda annoyed several people. So this was a win to the photographers as Ink Global then began proper and fare negotiations.

So what was Ink Global’s benefit in this scenario? In Singapore and also here in Australia, copyright is automatic so the photographers didn’t need to register their work like US photographers and artists do. The IP infringement law in Singapore when found guilty can cost up to $10,000 per image. So you could imagine 9 photographers combining their efforts, that’s a potential loss of $90,000 plus legal fees. A costly mistake indeed.

Should any photographers find themselves in a situation where your images have been taken without your authorisation or credited, you have the right to contact the infringer however it will be taken more seriously through a legal representative. What you don’t want to do is come out swinging with fireballs shooting from your eyes and mouth trying to drag the person/business/company down. It’s unprofessional and if it was an honest mistake on their part, sure they may (and should) compensate you – but don’t burn your bridges. You never know, your next assignment could be coming from them.