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. A case of image theft.


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?

Maybe we could all chip in and send Ink Global a How to Credit poster.


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 negoitations
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.


Media Links

Other useful links on Copyright

Similar Cases

Special Thanks


About Me.

My name is Pat and I’m the Director of Event Photos Australia. The above post is based on facts through emails and phone calls I have received with the photographers involved as well as my communications between Ink Global, Flickr and Jetstar.

Why do I care?
It first got my attention when a personal friend, Trent, was involved and I was simply giving some basic advice on the options he could take. It wasn’t until I looked into the situation a bit further and contacted the other photographers that I found there were a lot more cases (in this edition alone, who want’s to go through previous editions?). As I looked at Intellectual Property Laws and what rights people have it became very interesting. For example, which country’s laws do you go by? The country you’re in, the country the magazine is in or the country the publisher is in.

I quickly found that there were a lot of people asking the same questions and this became more about gathering research not only on how to protect images online as photographers, but also getting information on where you can get photographs online and what steps to take to get proper licensing should you ever come across a photo you would like to use in your printed or online material. I hope this is an eye opener to not only photographers but anyone who uses the internet to source images.


By Pat Brunet

38 thoughts on “Image theft is a crime

  1. Very good initiative. William Chao and me are making a living with this passion which we enjoy so much. Thanks for your effort. You are welcome to view my work at flickr site.

  2. Great work Pat, publications have used the ‘it was the intern that dun it!’ too many times and delayed their way out of payment for breach of copyright through pointing the finger at subsidiaries, contractors and various third parties for long enough to hopefully get rid of complainants.

    From experience in dealing with similar issues, delivering an invoice offering them the option of 14days to pay full commercial rates for the image usage or face the full copyright infringement invoice of $1500/image usually results in faster payment.

    My images had been taken from a publicly available internet source by a publicist who then emailed them over to a major publisher who put them to print live before anyone bothered to ask me for permission to use same images. To add insult to commercial theft, they had cropped out the watermarks or photoshopped them off. The publication responded swiftly to my complaint and paid my invoice promptly, however the publicist denied all responsibility for claiming the images were available for use. To my knowledge this publicist has lost some favour with that major publication after causing them considerable costs.

    Ideally, more publication editors really need further education on copyright and need to have quality assurance measures in place to avoid situations like this.

    Members of the Media Entertainment Arts Alliance can also receive help in pressuring publications in Australia to do the right thing after a breach of copyright.

  3. Shame on JETSTAR they’ve outsourced for a better deal and got bitten in the backside…Oh but because they’re Jetstar they’re taking steps to resolve the problem, WTF? Seems more like give us some time to come up with why its not our fault.
    Why is it I can’t go and buy some cheap arse camera gear outsourced from china or Korea, use it to shoot a days Wedding make loads of extra money from the savings I made from outsourcing, and when the bride complains about the images, I can just say “Oh let me take my time to go through some steps to resolve this issue, it must be the fault of the outsourced company thats ruined your wedding images”
    Its just unfair on the little guys!!!!!!!!

  4. Excellent And Important Information, $ 375.00 Is No Compensation For Art, No Matter What The Media, Obviously You Liked The Stolen Work To Represent Your Company Worldwide, Shame On You JETSTAR Go So Low, The Advertising Staff Should Be Fined & Put In Jail Your Company Has No Principals!!

  5. The Australian Copyright Act is very strongly in support of image creators and the photography specific part especially clear. It is important to not negotiate away your rights.
    My terms are simple – I own the copyright and license usage to my clients. In the case of my advertising clients, this is usually for 2 years and in specific media, unless negotiated and paid for differently.
    A little over 2 years ago, a friend called me (I currently live and work in Dubai) to tell me that a shot of mine that had been commissioned 8 years earlier had just been used in a full-page ad in a magazine, by the original commissioning client. He thankfully included a scan of the ad and the mag cover as well.
    Upon contacting the client (a global software company), I was fed the usual rubbish about “we didn’t know” and “please prove we don’t have a licence”.
    The law is Very clear – the publisher is responsible for proving they have permission, proof usually being written permission.
    I promptly wrote back, pointing this out and copying their legal department. I also attached an invoice for $13,000.
    After some attempted obfuscation- “it’s our ad-agencies fault and they are not trading anymore” etc, that went on for about 2 months, my patience ran out.
    I sent a letter of demand for payment (a legal formality) for the by-now-overdue payment.
    They even tried the “we didn’t know it was covered by copyright”. Nice try, but they are a software company whose very existence depends on robust intellectual property rights protection.
    They got the message and paid in full.
    Protect your rights. It’s worth it.

  6. Stealing is simply theft! Good on you Bryan. There should be punitive damages to on top of payment for the usage by stealing. I think a minimum fee of USD13,000.00 per image is fair amount to pay for the dishonest attempt to get away with the idea of stealing.
    It is not so much the size or scope of usage or the image but the dishonest intent to profit from somebody else’s property for personal gain that you have to pay for punitive damages to discourage these people with little or no integrity to attempt the risk of having to stealing other people’s intellectual property. So if you are willing to take a chance to stealing an image rather than paying the photographer for using his/her image, your have to pay a penalty for the unlikely chance of getting caught. WE have to tilt the odds to be fair to the victimized party rather that the thief who may think that they can just pay the normal value of the stolen property if they get caught.
    Shame on you Jetstar!

  7. I’m having issues in Seattle with three publications using my photos without my permission. The frustration is endless.

  8. I have managed to get my photos removed from two of the three violating publications. One of them offered to pay ($200 for two photos went to print), but then didn’t contact me back until I went public on them. Going public via a blog entry and then Twitter got a response in less than 24 hours after I’d been waiting over three weeks.

    The third website claims that I gave up my rights when I added my photos to their Flickr pool. What they fail to realize is that if they don’t remove my photos, I will hire the lawyer. I don’t need the money, but I will sue them to make an example of them if my photos aren’t removed. I even went as far as to provide html links along with the jpg links so that they could edit their html so there wouldn’t be broken images. I guess it’s time to stop being nice.

    But today I accomplished something much bigger than that. I finally got Flickr Support to say that they would talk to Tumblr about what Tumblr has been getting away with for years. Flickr said they would get back to us (those that wrote in the ticket that I created) within the next week or so. It took annoying some Flickr staff by tagging them in a photo and using their copyrighted ARR photos to show what is happening on Tumblr. In short, Tumblr provides it’s users a simple button to click to bypass all protections on Flickr and instantly uploads photos that you can’t download on Flickr — and host them on Tumblr’s servers.

    If that can be stopped, I would be very happy. I know that Tumblr can stop doing this practice because Tumblr set up a script on their server to stop that from happening to my photos — likely due to my sending them at least 1,500 emails/DMCA takedown notices over the last couple of years. It wouldn’t really affect me — but it would be very helpful to those that have been affected — most don’t even know that this is happening to their photos because most users don’t check their Flickr stats or they see their photo on Tumblr and think nothing of it because, hey, they provide a link. What they don’t realize is that the Tumblr user didn’t save the photo from Flickr — they used a button to bypass Flickr’s protections and now their photo is being hosted on Tumblr’s servers — providing no protection at all. While the original theft of the photo may provide a link back — most Tumblr users are between 13-15 years old and strip credit/links and post thousands of uncredited/unauthorized photos on their “blogs.”

    Sure, theft would still happen on Tumblr. But at least Tumblr wouldn’t be providing the hack on their “Goodies” page — and would hopefully no longer be hosting Flickr users copyrighted ARR photos on Tumblr’s servers.

    So yeah, I’m a dork for feeling good about that. Now I just need to head over to the local publication’s offices sometime this week to try to speak face to face with the editor. I’m hoping meeting face to face with him will change how they choose to communicate with me.

  9. Well done Pat, this was a very well thought out and executed piece of research! It really makes you wonder how much of this is going on all around us without photographers being aware of it. With all of the benefits of the digital age there are also some drawbacks, mainly peoples ability to obtain photographs without consent and the lack of respect due to the photographer.

    Once again, very well done on following this through so completely.

  10. This is a very real issues, thank you very much for bringing it to our attention, I hope you don’t mind but I have shared the link through my facebook and twitter pages with fellow photographers.
    Best wishes

  11. Brilliant article and thank-you for raising attention to these issues that are affecting so many photogs. Have also shared through twitter. Really commendable and so wrong that photogs are having to spend so much time defending their profession,images and rights.

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  13. This has been really useful thanks, as I have just found my images all over the web, mainly for commerical websites and the horrible Tumblr where there is no credit to me.
    One of my photos has also been cropped so the signature is also missing and is being given away as free wallpaper for your phone, another photo has been turned black and white and someone other photographer is claiming it, and one my self portrait photos someone is claiming its them!
    I was shocked at what I found and really upset, so now i’m trying to work out how to claim some money for their use or how to get the photos taken off.
    The funniest one is a tour company in Mexico using a photo I took of Rochester, England to advertise Mexico! (must be a really legit company!)

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  15. Hi Pat. I found your website through the nice people at clubsnap after I found out 2 of my Lorong Halus wetland photos have ended up in a local website ( . After scanning through their website, a follow clubsnap-er have found many of their photos having different style which hint that chances of other photos being stolen too is quite high. Another thing is their advertisement found all over the website which hinted that they are earning money from the advertisement but they have to resort to stealing photos. That’s not good.

    I have just emailed them and ask them to response. I read your article and found myself equally pissed off at the Jetstar case because although I may not be a professional photographer, I think I am like many here who value our own intellectual property.

    Any advise you can offer me? Thanks Pat…

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  18. I run a small business with a web site.
    My web site has photographs of boats [which are watermarked]
    Another business lifted one of my photos from my web site removed the watermark and published the photo in a classified ad in the newspaper.
    Is this a criminal offence ,should I go to a lawyer or the police?

  19. The police won’t do anything Chris. First, you need to get all the evidence – screen shots, communication correspondence and if it’s on the website then send a DMCA notice to take the image down. If it’s in print then you can either contact a solicitor to help you, mind you any legal costs will out weigh what you will get in compensation. Get in contact directly with the people who did it, explain the situation and let them know you will be sending an invoice for a usage license and copyright infringement. See how you go contacting directly first.

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  23. There is a remedy that works very rapidly in all cases. A remedy i have used when simple honest negotiations fail. I inform the infringer that I will be writing to the managing directors of all the companies that use them and advertise with them.
    I state that I will inform these companies that My images have been stolen and used to illustrate articles for profit and that is a criminal offence.

    I inform them that now being made aware of this illegal practice, that they the advertiser, or company that is having the publication published in their name. That they will in future also be held accountable in the matter of infringement and will be duly requested for payment. they should in effect ensure that anyone carrying out business on their behalf be suitably made aware that any illegal transactions will not be tolerated. that the company will not use or steal copyright material.

    I have written this very it works. Anyone with a publication , website or whatever who has stolen an image is wide open to lose all their business very quickly. No company will want to be caught in the middle of an infringement case.

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