Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Second photo agency apologises for selling images from Cambodia's genocide museum

Second photo agency apologises for selling images from Cambodia's genocide museum

People look at portraits of S-21 inmates at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh in 2014.
People look at portraits of S-21 inmates at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh in 2014. Eli Meixler

Second photo agency apologises for selling images from Cambodia's genocide museum

Another international stock photo company has issued an apology after admitting it improperly sought to sell prisoner photographs taken in the late 1970s at Phnom Penh’s infamous Khmer Rouge-era S-21 torture and detention center.

UK-based stock photo dealer Alamy confirmed via an email that the company had started its own investigation into its use of the more than 2,000 images taken at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and determined the photographs were being wrongfully sold.

The company’s sale of the images first came to light last week after regional publication Mekong Review called attention to Alamy and US-based Sprague Photo Stock selling the digital licenses of photographs from inside the walls of S-21, including portraits of individual prisoners.

For many Cambodian families, such mugshots are the only clues to the eventual fate of their loved ones. Nearly all those who entered S-21, also known as Tuol Sleng, never saw freedom again. That the companies would seek to profit from this tragic history – and the fact that the rights to the photos actually belong to the Cambodian government – raised ethical questions surrounding their use.

Museum director Chhay Visoth could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday. The photos being sold on both stock-image sites appear to have come from photographers who took them while inside the museum where the images are displayed, though the museum forbids visitors from capturing any pictures while inside the former prison.

Sprague Photo Stock issued its own apology message on Monday and images began disappearing from both companies’ websites late last week, seemingly in response to inquiries from The Post.

Alamy said it recently removed 2,111 Tuol Sleng images from its website after receiving a complaint and completing an investigation that found some of the images had not properly been marked for exclusive sale for ‘editorial’ use.

We take such licensing issues very seriously. We have a team dedicated to copyright and image management and we respond quickly to any reports of potential infringements.

This investigation concluded that the photographers who supplied the imagery did not have permission to photograph inside the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, and as a result, these images have now been permanently removed from the Alamy site.

We have apologised to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum for offering these images for sale in breach of their terms and now consider the matter closed.

Alamy also clarified that its open business model places the responsibility for setting the correct editorial or commercial licence options with the photographer or picture agency, but that when the sellers, as in this case, do not choose the appropriate option, the company has systems in place to rectify the error.

“We will never be perfect given our open-door policy and the scale of our operation, but we continue to work hard to improve the issue and our response rates to complaints received remains the fastest in the industry,” the statement said.

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