In a country with few copyright laws, images are easy to steal
Browsing Siem Reap – and even international – tour company websites, photographer George Mann often sees images that are oddly familiar.
That’s because they’re his photos, used without payment or even permission.
“They act like they’re embarrassed and blame it on someone else, usually their webmaster,” Mann said.
Mann and other Siem Reap-based photographers and writers say they are growing increasingly tired of having their work used by others with neither credit nor a fee being given in exchange.
And in some cases, they’re successfully fighting back.
“Imagery is critical to marketing,” said Christian De Boer, general manager of the Shinta Mani hotels, who regularly hires photographers to promote his properties.
“It really does make all the difference, and probably speaks for 10,000 words now that we’re in the age of Facebook and all the social media.”
Yet for those who have, on average, spent $10,000 on equipment and years honing their skills, there is nothing in it for them when others simply appropriate their work.
“If, as photographers, we don’t take infringement seriously, the problem will only get worse,” said Stèphane De Greef, whose work recently appeared on a global luxury hotel booking website with whom he is currently trying to negotiate a fee settlement.
But the bigger problem seems to lie with small local companies who either blamed their webmaster, refused to acknowledge they had done anything wrong or simply just didn’t reply at all.
“Many small companies think it’s OK to steal photos,” De Greef said.
“If they get caught, they think they can get away with it by just sending some insincere apologies and removing the picture from their site.”
Post Weekend contacted two tour operators identified by the photographers, who both chose not to respond to our queries.
Unfortunately, while websites’ search rankings may be penalised by Google for using non-original content, this is less likely when it comes to photographs.
“Content is king,” said SEO (search engine optimisation) expert Jeff Laflamme, the founder of AngkorHUB.
“You need to keep it relevant and updated, but there is no known penalty for duplicate images.”
While some photographers are assiduous in pursuing infringements of their copyright, others take a more relaxed approach.
Travel writer Lina Goldberg, who runs the popular blog “Move to Cambodia”, regularly finds her work – text and photographs – on other people’s websites and marketing materials.
“It’s sort of the price of doing business in a developing country,” she said.
“I don’t usually contact them unless it’s a particularly egregious transgression, or if I find it exceptionally annoying, like when it’s someone who should clearly know better or is trying to profit off of my work.”
“When I first looked up some of my photographs on Google Image Search and found hundreds being used by various sites, I ended up contacting a few of them.
Most of them ignored me and a few took the photos down. Sites that are based in Southeast Asia usually ignore me.”
Photographers are able to conduct reverse image searches of their photographs to find out if they are appearing elsewhere on the internet.
They can also use the the Digital Millennium Copyright Act – dmca.com – to have stolen content taken down without the offending website owner’s cooperation.
Photographer Anna Bella Betts chooses not to examine whether or not her work is being used by others.
“I’m not really looking. From watching others fight for their rights, I know that it is a time-consuming process with negative impacts on their lives in general,” she said.
She frequently confronts another problem though.
“I get a lot of charities, businesses and even newspapers and magazines asking me for images and in the same breath claiming that there is no budget for photography. This is utter nonsense,” she said.
“I’ve grown a pair of balls since my early professional days and refuse to be taken for a ride,” she added.
Imagery is essential to communication in the modern world. However, it’s not necessary to steal in order to use it, she said.
“Do the right thing and get your images on Shutterstock or elsewhere through legal means if you can’t get decent shots from someone in your location,” Betts said.