Photo society draws flak over use of others' images

Group used at least four photographers' works either without credit or permission

A screenshot of the Photographic Society of Singapore's website, taken last Thursday, showing images (centre of top row and bottom left) that were used without their creators' permission.

Melbourne-based photographer Belinda Strodder was surprised to discover that one of her pictures was used without her permission to market a course offered by the Photographic Society of Singapore.

Her image of a group of dancers performing on stage was used to promote the society's stage photography course, and was subsequently taken down in December last year.

When Ms Strodder, who owns the copyright, was notified of the use of her photo on the society's website, she was frustrated that the copyright had been breached.

"I didn't give permission for my work to be published by the society and have had no correspondence from them about anything ever," said the performing arts photographer, who is in her 40s.

She does not intend to take any legal action, however.

Ms Strodder is one of at least four photographers whose photos were used by the society without their knowledge and without appropriate credit. These images have since been replaced or taken down.

Two other affected photographers contacted were shocked when they found out about the matter and said they did not give the society approval to use their pictures.

San Francisco-based wedding photographer Amanda Tung, 30, whose images were used, said: "Unfortunately, it isn't a rare thing. It happens all of the time, and the effort and money it would require to take legal action isn't worth it."

Some photographers, though, have shared their photos under a Creative Commons licence, which allows others to use their work as long as attribution is made. However, the photos used on the society's website did not carry any attribution.

According to its website, the Photographic Society of Singapore is the national body representing photographic art in Singapore.

It has about 1,650 active members and more than 22,000 followers on its social media platforms.

The short courses, which include basic wedding photography and product photography, are conducted by professional photographers.

The society's president, Mr Goh Kim Hui, told The Sunday Times last Wednesday that its website was revamped last year and the developer it had engaged proposed the photos, claiming they were available for use for free.

"If there is a concern, we will take the questionable pictures down," Mr Goh said. "We will change the images to those done by our own local photographers."

The society was started by five friends in a warehouse in Boat Quay in 1950 to cater to a growing number of photo enthusiasts here.

"We are photographers, too," Mr Goh said. "And we want to protect the copyrights of photographers."

Rajah & Tann intellectual property lawyer Lau Kok Keng said if the photographers are indeed copyright owners, they may be able to demand an acknowledgement of their ownership, payment of damages and an immediate cessation of further use without their approval.

Lawyer George Hwang of George Hwang LLC, however, noted that even if the first ownership of copyright vests in the photographers, ownership and rights to use could be transferred.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 24, 2016, with the headline Photo society draws flak over use of others' images. Subscribe