Ricoh Pentax update: confidence restored, resolution and conclusion

Ming Thein Official Letter

Firstly – and a lot of you will probably consider this ironic – I’d like to attempt to retain some objectivity in this matter. Here are the facts:

  • The developer/ agency at the instruction of the locally appointed Indonesian representative, and without any protest from them, used one of my images without permission or licensing.
  • The Indonesian representative – or claimed representative of Ricoh Pentax – was clearly aware of the matter and removed the image together with an unacceptable reply of “The decision to used your picture are my decision to fulfill my target to make my company’s website looks wonderful, therefore please accept my deepest apology.”
  • Ricoh Pentax HQ was informed through every possible channel I have had access to. Though they were not directly responsible, an agent claiming to represent their brand and acting as their brand was. However, it is the responsibility of the principal as any person who sees that representation would assume in good faith that it is affiliated with the principal.

There is no distinction between ‘our brand’ and ‘your brand’: marketing 101. I continue to defend my decision to use social media because in the past, infringements met with a polite letter and bill for licensing have gone completely ignored, especially to Indonesia. On top of that, if camera companies get the message that there are no repercussions to images without permission, this sets a very unhealthy precedent.

This brings me to another disappointing observation: there are a lot of web observers who think I overreacted. I have not threatened anybody, I have stated facts. I have used channels not usually available to most, only because I’ve put the time and effort into cultivating them. You might not like it, but I’m defending your rights, too. You cannot call yourself a photographer if you do not value your own work – and if you don’t, nobody else will.

And yes, it’s personal. I care about what I do; there are a lot of things – this site, for instance – that are done for free in my own time simply because I want to do them. Yes, this gives me visibility and a platform. But it also gives me responsibility: in this case, defending the rights of photographers. Those who have the forum but say nothing and accept it are no better than the perpetrators. Somebody has to say something on behalf of the people who can’t or will never be heard; or even worse, those who never find out their images were taken. I was only made aware of this because of one of my readers. We have witnessed the professional market eroding to the point where it’s very, very difficult to make a living, especially in Asia. One of the reasons this site exists is to educate: be it through technique, philosophical discussion, or example.

But there’s no point in doing any of that if pervasive general perception is that it’s okay to take images for free. It isn’t. By doing so, one has no respect for the effort and equipment put in by the photographer; yet there is obviously sufficient appreciation for the work want it. If we do not defend our collective rights as photographers and the value of our images, nobody will. And sooner rather than later, that will be the death of the industry.

Use of images without permission is theft, regardless of who does it. If a person takes something from a store without because it ‘makes their house look wonderful’, do you think the proprietor would just write a nice letter and wait for a response? More likely the alarm would be raised and police called. On top of that, the offending page was last updated eight months ago – which means that HQ or the local principal has had at least that long to do something about it.

I could have gone the legal route, but all it would have done is given the offending party a private slap on the wrist. It does nothing for photographers’ rights, nor does it discourage similar thefts from occurring in future. On top of that, it is unclear whether the case would have had much strength because of the cross-border nature of the infringement. In the end, the only people who will have won are the lawyers.

It appears Pentax Ricoh HQ Japan shares my views on this, and accepts responsibility for their agency in Indonesia because they represent the main brand, but also acknowledges that it was the unsanctioned rogue action of the distributor. Furthermore, they plan to increase QC to prevent something like this happening again – well done.

Here is the reply from PR HQ:

Ming Thein Official Letter

This has never been about money: it’s about respecting the photographer, and their customers. No compensation was offered and none was asked for. Many have said that I should have gotten paid, or pushed for it. I believe the publicity is a fair tradeoff against awareness for intellectual property rights of the photographer: look at it this way: I took one for the team.  All I wanted was a public apology and acknowledgement of photographers’ rights. This has been duly given, and I am both satisfied with the outcome and impressed with the response of the Ricoh senior management. If anything, my confidence in the leadership of the company is increased because they handled a potentially disastrous situation very well.

Special mention must be given to Rissa and her team at DSC World Malaysia, who are the local distributors here for Pentax Ricoh. It was clearly not their responsibility, but they intervened with HQ without my knowledge because they were smart enough to see that it would affect the brand as a whole for all regions. They took initiative to address the situation and furthermore went out of their way to keep me informed; this is deserving of commendation and restores my confidence in local support for the 645 system.

It is a relief to me, as I’ve long believed that Ricoh was one of the last bastions of a ‘photographer’s camera maker’ – you will all recall my enthusiasm for their products, especially the last GR; I’ve never had any relationship with them until this point. I only wish contact could have been made under happier circumstances. In any case, it is good to see that this belief is not unfounded, though they really need to take better care of their brand image internationally. I am happy to say that I consider this matter closed to satisfaction and we can go back to making images. Thank you all for your support.

And yes, I’m still eagerly awaiting my 645Z. MT

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Comments

  1. I just read this thread – it’s a long time since this happened, now being May 2016. With the perspective of time, the remaining sentiment I have left in all this affair is that .. Ricoh Japan lacks class for not offering any goodwill token to their acknowledgment (a factory discount, some free product, whatever.. ). Not really their fault, probably something to do with either culture (“losing face”), or legal (possible precedent, being cautious etc.) – nevertheless still total lack of class. Maybe this is something not taught in the culture/ upbringing, at least of the leadership of Ricoh.

    • I felt that getting the official apology was tough enough. But yes, a double slap considering how many GRs I sold for them – and one of the reasons I sold my 645Z system. I just didn’t feel confident in getting support in the case of anything breaking, which made it a very expensive toy that didn’t quite cover my professional needs, either (no movements).

      • All’s well then – I could imagine, in your shoes I’d not feel too happy using /buying any more Ricoh after this incident leaving a bitter taste, that 645Z would have to be really unique to justify continuing to use it.

  2. Hey Ming, you have to do what you feel is right, but if it were me, I would re-submit the invoice if they ignore the one you sent and don’t pay. If they still don’t pay, I would direct it to the attention of the executive who who contacted you, and if they still don’t pay, I would write a follow up blog post. I’m glad you feel heard and acknowledged… but in my mind, they need to pay the bill the make it right.

    Being contrite and apologetic is nice, but they are trying to sell you the products you use to earn your livelihood. Depriving you of your due income from your photography is seriously messed up. If I buy a hammer, I shouldn’t be expected to use it help build the CEOs house for free. I don’t know how much you charge for the use of a photo, but I’m sure its a drop in the bucket for Ricoh, and if their agent doesn’t pay, the corporate office should step in and pay the bill… for a number of reasons I’m sure I don’t have to list. Stiffing you on the bill while sending you a nice apology seems pretty insulting. I mean… if I steal one of your images, but send a really contrite letter of apology, does that mean I wont have to pay you? I’m WAY poorer than Ricoh imaging…

  3. I guess ultimately the web designer working for the Indonesian distributor who was instructed to “do something cheap” will have been the scapegoat for said furious distributor’s loss of face towards Ricoh HQ and is now (at best) flipping burgers, or whatever the equivalent is in Indonesia. Collateral damage, I suppose.

  4. I think you handled this well. Sometimes an online response or social media is the only way to get through to these companies. I recently had multiple repair issues with another manufacturer. The manager of the repair department was as high as I could get and he was part of the problem. I contacted the main USA offices via their contact page and was referred back to the same repair department.

    With the advent of email and dead-ended voicemail systems it’s often impossible to voice a concern and have it raised to a level where someone actually cares. You earned this platform and in using it to protect yourself you sent notice to these companies that there are consequences for their actions. Something that helps us all.

  5. I completely agree with your stance on this; no one should get away with using a photographers work without acknowledgement. However, I do think this has been an own goal for Ricoh. Whether it was a rogue agent or not, it was a great opportunity for them to demonstrate their sincere apologies and their good will by sending you an appropriate cheque. Not only have they had the free benefit of your work for a period of time, which they should have paid for, but it would also work as good publicity and marketing for them, making it look as if they have some integrity. I have no doubt that the extra sales that would result from the creation of a reputation for honesty would more than outweigh the cost of any reasonable payment to you.

    • Sadly I don’t think most companies see it this way. Extra costs must be justified and finance must be kept happy. Damn the PR issues and all that.

  6. I didn’t even know Ricoh made cameras until about a year ago but I bought a GR based on positive impressions posted here and on other photography sites. I love the camera, wouldn’t want to part with it. And it seems like it’s made by a company that understands and supports photographers. Ricoh may be a giant corporation, but my sole interaction with them (the purchase of the GR) has is in fact been extremely positive, and I see them as one of the good guys. I don’t know anything about their other corporate practices. Perhaps they are not so good, who knows? Do they have a history of unscrupulous behavior that we need to be vigilant about? I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and my loyalty, based on my experience so far. So while I am grateful that you stood up for photographers around the copyright issue, I wish it was handled in a more delicate way. Maybe give them 48 hours to respond before hitting social media. But that’s just me. I like to avoid confrontation, perhaps to a fault.

  7. Hello Ming,

    did follow the thread since day 1 – was bewildered at first by your harsh public stand (would have expected ‘silent’ try for solution 1st before making it public, that’s me being European I guess). But after reaction by Pentax I must say I am 100% with you and personally quite dissapointed they did not pay you for the picture, just to make the CREDIBLE point that they do care. This would have been the ethical thing to do and should be part of their corporate ethics manual … sadly it is not!!! I thought about getting the 645 as well and I must say that I am quite hesitant not as Pentax continues to loose appeal to me by being so shallow in their response … I may go the Leica M or S route to sattisfy my amateurish gear acquisition lus now …

    Keep up the great work and effort (and your emotionality as it keeps all of us human 🙂 )

    Kind regards,

    Jay

    • Thanks Jay. Things work a bit differently in Asia unfortunately…silent tries go ignored and the evidence quietly disappears. And it’s impossible NOT to be emotional if you actually care about your work!

      Still trying to keep two things in perspective: it’s the Indonesian distributor, though ultimately representing PR as a brand; and the S is an order of magnitude more expensive nearly…

  8. Michael Matthews says:

    You took it to the right court. And you won your case, hands down. Well done.

    • Thank you.

      • Gastronauta says:

        I can see how the whole thing might be construed as “social media terrorism ” by men in suits being served tea at their meetings on the penthouse floors of architectural icons… and I’m loving it. While the bitterness may take some time to fade I think your ability to get down and dirty (which at first did surprise me to a point) etc is as you’ve stated a privilege you’ve carved for yourself through endless hours that might as well have been devoted to more pleasurable activities. We do not come here for the pictures only (maybe now, but I didn’t hear of you until I was redirected to your review of the D800 upon release) and in today’s internet landscape you’ve carved a reputation photographic wisdom and generosity out of a solid block of marble…using a wooden spoon. Those guns are yours to pull whenever you deem necessary –and God knows this was THE perfect scenario.
        I too hated that this happened precisely with Pentax-Ricoh, and celebrate that the whole thing’s fixed.
        May this become an example in the future to prevent similar situations and/or help fix those that (will sadly and inevitably) arise.
        Congrats,

        • It’s not terrorism. There are no threats or taking something that wasn’t entitled to me to begin with. I want to be taken seriously, and have my – and others – IP/ image rights respected. That’s all.

          The reason you didn’t hear about me before the D800 was because I didn’t much exist online 🙂

          Reputation or not, wooden spoons or not, sometimes there are a lot of ungrateful and rude people online…sadly I am but one drop in a very, very large bucket.

  9. Even though you say you didn’t ask for compensation, I am very surprised that none was offered, That’s a top quality image that they’ve been using without permission to make money.

  10. I think you were absolutely right to make your point clearly. Using your images for commercial purposes without your permission – and without paying – is theft. Simple as that.

  11. Hi Ming,

    They knew full well what they were doing and it’s only right that it is resolved in a way that means something. That is, payment of your fee in full. It’s about principle. I can’t even believe they have not offered to pay, this is a very big company with the finances to properly resolve the matter. It makes them look even worse, IMO.

    You’ve said it yourself – If you walked into one of their shops and took one of the Pentax 645’s and your excuse was “I just wanted to make my photography look beautiful” I’m sure it would be a different case entirely. This is a typical corporate brush off and one that I personally do not stand for. The law really is on your side here and I have succeeded on several accounts. It would most likely be solved with a settlement because of the terribly bad PR it would give the company.

    • Koji Yanagawa says:

      Ming,

      Sorry to hear about your troubles, especially with a Japanese company. So much for their lauded sense of honor. When you say “give an inch lose a yard” in Asia versus the West, does this apply to most Asian countries you think? Also, what would have been your options for a lawsuit? International court?

      • Sadly that’s the case especially in the less developed parts of Asia. I would have to litigate both HQ and the distributor in Indonesia and Japan – for the potential settlement, my pockets just aren’t that deep.

        • My experience is that even in the West, litigation often turns out to be a very poor investment even when the circumstances are very clear and in one’s favor. Attorneys will do their best to use procedural maneuvers and to make false insinuations against the offended persons all in order to defend the guilty. It’s not even clear from my experience that outcomes have statistical tendency to be made in favor of the injured party; it appears to be more like engaging in a duel or some alternative dangerous game for the wealthy to play. And the attorneys win regardless of who is killed in the duel….

          • He who wins invariably has the deepest pockets and most expensive attorneys. Justice? Hardly.

            • Hi Ming,

              That is not my experience and not something that photographers should think is the likely outcome. We are not helpless to bigger companies. I believe you could have gained a settlement with this. I have won a case in China, considered notoriously difficult, with an oblique course of action. In the UK it is far more simple and I have won on numerous occasions, usually with a settlement and agreement because the resulting action would have been far more damaging to their business than the simple paying of a fee for their wrong actions.

    • Just to add: They have been making a LOT of money from your picture….it’s only fair they pay up.

  12. A Y Chew says:

    I knew Ricoh Pentax HQ would take this case seriously and deal with it professionally, and I am glad the confidence towards the brand is restored. Kudos for the swift actions and reactions. Maybe some reverse image search against the Google database will reveal how serious this kind of theft is going on…

  13. Glad you got it sorted. Back to taking photos!

  14. iskabibble says:

    As expected, Ricoh had no knoweldge of this. I’m sure that a professionally written letter to Ricoh could have gained the same result adn that the hissy fit was unnecessary and damaging to your image instead.

    • No, it wouldn’t. Nobody would know about it, which defeats the point in pushing the issue for photographers’ rights, including yours.

      If my image includes bending over and being Mr. Accommodating, I think that has to change anyway.

      • iskabibble says:

        You really think there will be ONE less image theft in the world now? Really?

        • It seems you can only look at the single tree here, while missing the forest behind of it.

        • Why must you be such a rude, sarcastic, antagonistic person all the time? Every single comment of yours is deliberately inflammatory. If you have a problem with me – which you seem to – why do you come back?

          • iskabibble says:

            There’s nothing rude contained in: “You really think there will be ONE less image theft in the world now? Really?”

            It’s a question, one that contains a hint of surprise and nothing else.

            • Well, perhaps something is lost in translation online, I’m misinterpreting things or english isn’t your first language – though with MCS as you ISP I doubt that – but every one of your questions and comments happens to contain more than just a ‘hint of surprise.’

              To answer your question: yes, but neither of us will ever be able to prove it because nobody is going to admit to nearly stealing an image ‘except I saw the Ricoh Indonesia thing’.

              • iskabibble says:

                The number of images stolen per day must be an astonishingly large number. Heck the Malaysian government was nailed stealing an image for a stamp a short time ago. Everyone does it and nothing you, I, or anyone else is going to stop that at all. Just like downloading music/movies. That cat is out of the bag and outta the house.

                • The Malaysian government is hardly a paragon of virtue. They steal everything, including our pension money.

                  Not doing anything or even trying is giving up and letting them win. That’s effectively the death of professional photography. Is that what you want? It certainly isn’t what I want, so I’m going to do whatever I can against it – and frankly so should every photographer. I’m not admitting defeat, and the game isn’t over til it’s over.

                  • Ming – you might want to check out Iskabibble’s popularity at nikonrumors before engaging with him in debate… it is kind of pointless

                  • iskabibble says:

                    Where did I ever suggest no doing anything? I have re-read my posts and for the life of me I cannot figure out how you jump to this conclusion. Your constant mischaracterizations of what I post raises many questions.

                    • I didn’t say you did. And I’m not the only one who finds your tone extremely querulous.

                    • iskabibble says:

                      “Not doing anything or even trying is giving up and letting them win. ”

                      That suggests not doing anything. Your English skills seem to be the problem here. You cannot understand what I write nor even what you are saying.

                    • No, yours are. I didn’t suggest YOU do nothing, or YOU said do nothing. I am saying doing nothing -period- is equivalent to giving up.

                      How about this: let’s take a vote. Anybody else think my English is poor?

  15. Wei Chong says:

    I don’t think you over-reacted. You appeared objective when stating your case. And exhibited controlled outrage at this injustice. Not overly emotional or angry. And you got the results you wanted. Although I think you should get compensation from the bill you sent. Thanks for being honest and assertive.

  16. Excellent Result! Thank You for handling this well. Can’t wait for the 645z to arrive at your door.

  17. Chuck Colht says:

    There need only be one commandment. All crime is theft in one form or another. Steal a car: theft of property. Kill someone: theft of life. Use an image without compensation? Theft of said compensation as if it were already in your bank account. OK, that’s a little fuzzy but laws allow for potential income.

    Calling this ‘copyright infringement’ doesn’t change the spirit of the offense. Ming, you have taken the high road. It should be paved with gold but life isn’t always fair.

  18. Ming, I think your analogy of “taking an item from a shop” is very different, so different that people think “taking a photo from a site” is an entirely different story, which of course is wrong. When an item was taken from a shop, the ownership of the item was lost in the part of the shop owner. But taking a photo from your site didn’t have the same effect that you lose ownership of the photo, and they think that it’s Okay…. How wrong!!

  19. Thank you for sicking up for our rights and also doing it in a respectful and kind manner. I just cannot understand why these big companies would lower themselves to poach images instead of just hiring a photographer for a product shoot.
    Thanks again for all the knowledge you share here on your site.

    -Steve

  20. Alexander Lai says:

    Good Morning Ming. I am surprised some people said you have overly reacted. They need to be educated. You did the right thing professionally and legally. You have my total support.
    You have brought unimaginable value to people who loves photography through your passionate insights, technical knowledge as well as images that help us improve our photography and knowledge. I have followed every article you have written without fail though you may not have seen my comments but I have been following closely on all your insightful articles in your site. Thank you for your invaluable contribution to my learning.

  21. I believe you handled the situation properly.

  22. They should have paid you Ming – even if you never asked for compensation. Bottom line is that they benefited from your image for a considerable period of time and if the issue was played out in US or somewhere where the problem of cross border was not involved, they had no legs to not pay you. At the least they should offer you the rate at which they would commission a commercial photographer to take these photos for them.

    What is to say that the photo has already not in use internally or on their printed brochures which they are using locally in Indonesia. They have obtained a copy of your photo without your permission, what they do with it – thats their problem – they have the copy.

    All of this leaves a very taste in mouth. I’m totally with you on this one. I had my image stolen by smh for their National Broadband article and didnt got anything for it. Those who are scaring you into believing that you might be “blacklisted” – would you want to work for such a company anyway, when they couldnt take someone standing for their own rights.

    Good on you. For Ricoh Japan – words are cheap. Maybe next time we would all steal products from your shop, keep them in our bags and send you an apology letter as compensation.

    • I agree, but remember that Ricoh HQ aren’t technically liable. The Indonesian entity is, and trying to get anything out of Indonesians without serious legal fees and time/hassle is impossible. I take the visibility for photographers’ rights as a tradeoff, and no doubt they have not been positively affected by this whole incident.

      Blacklisting? They’d be stupid, because doing anything to me would also affect my readers by extension. And I don’t do work for any camera brands anyway because I’d rather maintain my editorial independence/ objectivity.

      • Part of the problem is the huge asymmetry in power between companies and individuals.

        Illegally download music as an individual in the US and you can be held accountable for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. But if a company does the same with an individual’s work, well you are lucky if you can get an apology.

        I am glad that the image is at least taken down and Ricoh responded correctly rather than trying to argue that they were not at fault.

        • It boils down to who has more expensive lawyers and can afford more court time. If you know you’re going to lose on this basis, the fight has to be taken somewhere else.

          • Glad it worked out for you Ming. I agree that one has to choose one’s battles wisely. Now that Ricoh Japan has apologized and your image has been removed from the Indonesian website, it was wise of you to let it go. One only has so much time, energy and money … better to use it more productively and doing what you enjoy. 🙂

        • plevyadophy says:

          Mark,
          You raise a very, probably the most, important point in these matters and that’s the issue of disparity in power between the parties.

          In the UK our useless uncaring government, who concern themselves with the interests of the larger enterprises only, are attempting to push through laws that will legalise the theft of a photographer’s work ( see the debate on the crappy Millennium Act ). You see, photographers by and large work as individuals.

          However, the downloading of pirated music or video ( both produced mainly by big business right?! ) is taken EXTREMELY seriously. Cases abound of tearful parents confronted by police forcing entry into their homes, arresting their child and confiscating computer equipment.

          Now, under this idiot Government’s proposed new regime you could have the perverse scenario where siblings are sitting side by side using their laptops, one sibling liberally stealing photographers’ work whilst the other chooses theft of music and video, and the latter sibling could find themselves startled by police entering their bedroom to confiscate his/her equipment and take him/her off to the police station for interrogation whilst the image thieving sibling is left untroubled by the police and and can continue on peacefully munching cookies and making the difficult decision as to which of five photographers’ images they would like to steal to adorn their blog. It’s insane, and the only fundamental difference between the actions of the siblings is that one stole from a little guy and the other stole from big business; of course our despicable government are quite consistent ……………. they always champion the wishes of big business.

          So in this Pentax Ricoh matter, I am 101% in support of Ming; so no nice letters behind the scene, always name and shame.

          Regards,
          plevyadophy

  23. Firstly, good that you got the issue resolved!

    Secondly, the most interesting thing in this post was this line –

    “This brings me to another disappointing observation: there are a lot of web observers who think I overreacted.”

    I think this is down to several factors. One is that you seem willing to go further than most people in correcting what you perceive as an injustice. Another is that (I would guess) most of these observers have not been in the exact same position of seeing potential damage to their income through this kind of misappropriation. Then again you weren’t doing this to play to the gallery – and your seems to have paid off, so in the end the opinions of others don’t really come into it.

    Mind you, if you want to see what can happen when this kind of thing occurs, you should have seen the bile spewed towards Jay Maisel when he took legal action against an unauthorised use of maybe his most famous image. Facebook apparently had to shut down his page because of the vitriol that was being posted there – as if he had committed a cardinal sin by protecting his work. It sparked off quite a debate over the so-called “freeloader” generation who assume that anything out there is fair game (the irony is that you yourself are probably around the age of this generation!)

    Still, things back on track it seems. Maybe the new Pentax will feel that much better in use as an unintended result!

  24. Hello Ming. Well played!! Whether a reader wishes to consider the problem as “copyright infringement” or “theft” is irrelevant since it was indeed both a theft of your intellectual property and an infringement on your rights as the image creator. I am happy to see you tried softer methods and then escalated to the social media platform when that did not have the effect required.
    I am frequently disappointed to see the rather cavalier, apathetic attitude taken by some that all photos should be freely available. Some of the other writers have made very valid points about how this could be abused. Sadly a number of newer photographers – and this is not gender or age specific but rather a mindset – either don’t mind working for free or don’t understand the problems created by copyright infringement for those of us using photography to create income. Congratulations on resolving the problem to your satisfaction but more importantly to using your highly visible platform as a means to educate those who just don’t seem to “get it”.
    I look forward to seeing your posts continue for a long time to come.

  25. I say that the commercial use of photography is about money. I say that you are doing all “US” photographers a disservice by not requesting compensation.

    • Getting compensation out of the guilty – Indonesian – entity would involve far more legal costs than actual license fees; that place is a cowboy town. I am giving up my compensation in exchange for visibility and defence of photographers’ rights – even if you ‘US’ photographers don’t appreciate it. I believe they have been affected enough by the PR associated with this incident.

  26. So they stole an image for 8 months and when found out, simply took it down and sent an apology letter? That is acceptable to you? I don’t think it would be to acceptable to many others…? What about payment for the invoice you sent them? They should have offered you compensation.

    • Michael says:

      I agree with that. The letter alone is not enough in my view. Financial compensation is warranted.

      • I agree, but remember that Ricoh HQ aren’t technically liable. The Indonesian entity is, and trying to get anything out of Indonesians without serious legal fees and time/hassle is impossible. I take the visibility for photographers’ rights as a tradeoff, and no doubt they have not been positively affected by this whole incident.

    • Yes and no. On one hand, compensation is due, but getting compensation out of the guilty – Indonesian – entity would involve far more legal costs than actual license fees; that place is a cowboy town. On the other hand, I look at it as giving up compensation in exchange for visibility and defence of photographers’ rights (even if some idiots on forums don’t appreciate it.)

      • And I for one, agree with all of this.
        I have just concluded a very messy compensation issue with a Malaysian online retailer, and in my final letter ended with the words “money and financial reimbursement is not the issue here. Principle is”.
        (Fortunately, despite low expectations, I got the financial reimbursement as well. 😉 )

  27. Jeff Malatonsti says:

    I also think you should have been compensated by Ricoh / Pentax. They used your image for months and should have paid for it.

    • I highly doubt we’ll see a cheque, but yes, that’s a point. However, liability is a grey area: getting anybody in Indonesia to pay any damages is nigh on impossible without spending more in court first, and I think there’s been enough publicity that the benefits to photographers’ IP rights outweigh the payment.

  28. Dear Ming,

    I think you have every right to protest, also publicly as a worker who actually create work. Perhaps, though, it would have been smarter for you to deal with them silently first. You never know what kind of blacklists those high-up guys keep and share.

    But, what they did was not “theft”, it was copyright infringement. This is no trivial difference. Theft is a much serious act as the property that was stolen was gone for good, you cannot use it anymore. Thus, the damages are not comparable. Besides, they would have used other photographers’ work; you would not have been involved and would have suffered zero damages either way.

    The big content owners push the notion of theft for the copyright infringements; their intentions are not kosher. Don’t fall into the same trap.

    Regards,

    • While it is true that American courts have made this distinction in some cases, it is a symptom of the larger problem of laws not keeping up with technology. And I would argue that if it is not seen as theft, then the laws definitely have not kept up with technology.

      Consider this: let’s say the photo stolen is a print-ready file: just feed it to a particular printer with that printer driver’s default settings and some specific paper, and you get a print that is sale-worthy by Ming’s standards. Let’s say Ming has decided to sell only 30 of those prints as a one-time limited edition that will not be done again. Someone steals the photo file and starts printing his own prints and selling them. Is it copyright infringement or theft?

      • Well, here in Italy, when selling limited edition prints of photos, the photographer signs the photo on the back. It’s also written the serial number of the picture and if there can be a second or more editions to come in the future, the current edition number is stated in Roman numbers. Another useful information is the date of printing and the lab where the print has been done. If someone owns the same picture, but without these informations, he can “only” hang it on the wall. It will have no other value than the aesthethic one. (And a collector will know it is a fake)

        • Making fakes is still illegal 🙂

          • It seems you can only see the single tree and not the forest behind it.

            • Ouch! This comment was addressed to someone asking if you really believe that there’s ONE photo not theft, now that you fought this way for our rights.

              And about a fake being still a stolen thing, yes, you’re right, but it has no value. I would not even show it around, knowing it’s a fake. Something not to be proud of. But I know that those who steal have not such big moral issues..

      • It is all the same, still copyright infringement. Ming still can print his own copies his ability to do so would not be affected. This is not legalspeak; there is a world of differences between theft and copyright infringement; the former usually involves physical harassment, as well.
        K.

        • Plevyadophy says:

          Hi Kemal,

          I get th impression from reading your “Joe Public” type comments on this matter that you (1) are not a law student or practitioner and (2) have not read the relevant statutes or case law from Berne Convention signatory countries or (3) taken short courses/training on intellectual property.

          If you done at least two of the above you would know that it is THEFT we are here talking about ( hey, even my useless government know its theft given that they have for some been trying to remove that word from the discourse and change copyright procedures to make it easier for big business to steal images (of course the theft will be disguised by way of some legalistic procedure to legitimise it and thus make it legal!). Look up the U.K. Government’s stupid ideas under “Digital Millennium Act”)

          • A. Luke says:

            As someone who has actually studied Law, no, Copyright Infringement is not theft. By definition, under most jurisdictions, theft deprives the victim of some kind of (usually physical) property – it’s a crime against possession. So, while CI might lead to a virtual loss of revenue, it doesn’t effect tangibly the victim’s rights to possession.

            All in all, they’re two different things and shouldn’t be conflated.

          • Yes, indeed I am joe the public, and not a student of law.
            But, that is irrelevant, there is an important distinction that we all must make and that being illegal does not necessarily mean being illegitimate.

            That is the reason I warned to make the distinction. The big content owners with their armies of lawyers want to lock everyone up who dare to “steal” their property and make it look like normal by equating infringement to theft. On the other hand, they want to pay actual content creators like Ming nothing, compared to the actual revenues made from that content using their monopoly power. Think the terms of Getty, for example.

            Kemal

        • Yes, you are correct that Ming can still print the print, but what does it do to the value of his limited edition series and his ability to sell that series as a limited edition?

          I agree with marcosartoriphoto that the real editions will have signatures, certificates, etc. but the value of having a print of which only 30 other copies exist is greatly diminished. With digital technology where it is today, the knockoff can be identical to the real thing, and that’s the key point where the law runs into trouble.

          The same argument was applied to CDs. Is it theft if I use a bit-for-bit identical rip of a CD, and started pressing my own unauthorized CDs and selling them?

    • I’m sure there are plenty of blacklists. But I don’t need to work with them, I’m not beholden to any brands for any of my work – notice lack of advertising – and they’d be very, very stupid to do something like that when so many of their customers are also readers here. It would affect them more than it would affect me.

      Noted on the difference between theft and infringement, but for intellectual property it’s one and the same because the underlying article is reproducible.

  29. Oskar O says:

    Glad to see this resolution. Given the nature of the problem, I don’t think using social media is overreacting at all, rather, the means at the disposal of an individual photographer who’s not super-famous are pretty limited. However, I do think that the distributor should pay the proper licensing fee for having used the image for 8 months.

    • Well, let’s see if a cheque shows up. I doubt it, but I also look at the tradeoff as the price to pay for awareness on behalf of the whole profession (even if there are a lot of ungrateful whiners on forums who don’t see that I’m fighting for their rights too).

  30. David Challenor says:

    Hi Ming, You were right to make a stand on this, otherwise companies can act with impunity. Leaving your name on the picture was in, a round about way, giving you some credit.They acknowledged a mistake had been made and withdrew the picture, shame really, the could have kept it and given you some commission.They acknowledge your skill and contribution to promoting their business, sounds to me a door might be open for a more lasting relationship.A mistake was made, apologies give, time to move on.

    • Sorry, but leaving your name in isn’t credit. It’s like those people who offer you a free shoot ‘for the publicity’. I don’t need that, nor does it pay the bills!

      Expecting payment etc. would have been too much, I think. I’m happy we got most of the expected outcome, but beyond that, higher awareness for IP of photographers. That was worth it.

      As for a future relationship – I have decided that I do not want to be beholden to any camera companies. It makes it very difficult to be objective and make the best decisions for myself and my business.

  31. ? Since it WAS used … it does seem like you should have received compensation ?!

    • Yes, and I could have pushed for it, but I think the publicity is punishment/ payment enough. It is better for the industry in the long run to see that they can’t and shouldn’t get away with it rather than settle silently and have history repeat. What saddens me is the number of photographers who disagree and can’t see that I’m taking one for them…

  32. Well played. Great end.

  33. Disappointed when a large camera company made this type of mistakes. Hope Ricoh or even the whole camera industry learns a good lesson from it.

  34. Tom Hudgins says:

    A law was broken and no one paid for their crime. And yet everyone received the attention they wanted including the perpetrator.

    • We have to remember that it isn’t Ricoh Pentax HQ that should be taking the full brunt of things. That Indonesian distributor is very likely going to be heavily sanctioned by them, which is enough for me. And the negative PR cannot possibly be good for them, either. Justice served.

  35. Andrew McMaster says:

    Absolutely agree that you handled this very well

  36. JohnAmes says:

    Dead on! You ABSOLUTELY did the right thing. I would have thought that Pentax Ricoh could have offered to pay you for the image they used. However your conduct was above reproach and, franky, an inspiration to aspiring photographers everywhere

    • Thank you. I did not ask for compensation. I think having publicity, acknowledgement and one step forward for photographers’ rights is a worthwhile tradeoff in the long run.

  37. you won’t get any disapproval from me concerning your approach – well done!

  38. Well, I’m glad they apologised and accepted that they needed to take action over this with their Indonesian agent. It’s good too that they see the wider issue – to improve procedures and education across their network. That response goes beyond the specific instance of infringement of your property rights, and sets out an intention to address the wider issue of infringing photographer’s IP rights in general. In that sense you have done your profession a service.

    The unexpected outcome of this for me is that there was a debate at all. It seemed clear cut to me. But others – including some photographers – don’t see it the same way. They see this as a much greyer area than, say (as you used in an earlier example) shoplifting. I didn’t expect to see that. It tells me that attitudes to this issue are more complex than I imagined – even amongst photographers. Interesting.

    I’m glad you did what you did. Thanks

  39. Plevyadophy says:

    Maybe a general blog post on image THEFT should be next( yes, I made that bold on purpose coz . . . . . . It’s damn theft and folk need to realise that ).

    We as a group can then contribute tips & tricks on how to avoid and catch the thieves, template letters, case studiies etc.

    • Tineye and other services work well if you don’t have north of 30,000 images online – as I do; the best way I think is visibility so that attribution and recognizability are your defense.

    • Fully agree with you that a post on theft of intellectual property and HOW to prevent it as much as possible would be a great addition.

      I think making it hard to steal intellectual property is the name of the game.

  40. I am not sure if I agree with your method (especially the part where you publicly question whether you want to go ahead with purchasing their upcoming product) but I 100% agree with you that theft of intellectual property or attempts to sabotage/break into computer systems are taken too lightly. As you wrote, in the tangible world one can call the police for shop lifting; in the virtual world is almost as if it is one’s own fault by publishing something.

    And this “let’s take it” or “let’s probe a server” attitude that goes without sanctioning is just wrong. Maybe the “shame it” approach is the only defense one has in the absence of an “Internet police”? I don’t know but I don’t feel it’s the right answer. I am somewhat torn here.

    • Plevyadophy says:

      I am curious, please articulate what it is you are torn by, why do you think you are uncomfortable with Ming’s approach?

      I should declare an interest here by pointing out that, as my previous comments make clear, I am in support of Ming’s approach.

      Regards,
      Plevyadophy

      • I didn’t respond to your comment in particular; I just commented on Ming’s update. Just to clear this up – don’t want to make you think I posted in response to your comment.

        I am not a fan of any “name and shame” approach. This should not be necessary in societies with norms and sanctions. But I experienced myself that the Internet is pretty much a lawless arena and this means “good luck” with one’s norms. So the only way to get attention is “name and shame”.

        So while I dislike the approach it seems to be the only way at this point to get attention/help. It’s a situation I am
        not happy with.

        • Plevyadophy says:

          Hi,

          Thanks.

          I understand your view as to how the world SHOULD BE and I agree with you. But alas, the world isn’t the way it should be so we have to deal with what is.

          I come from a legal background and approve of Ming’s avoidance of lawyers and his use of name and shame. In any event we are all governed by name and shame on a daily basis: commit a crime and you will, if caught, be put on PUBLIC trial. So I don’t see it as a problem.

          In the instant case we are dealing with a HUGE company so I believe name and shame is appropriate because in my experience large entities will nearly always abuse their power if not shamed publicly ( the bean counters and stock markets don’t like bad press ). Take for example Nikon’s attitude towards the D600 flaws; they were CLEARLY using their power to ignore customers’ dissatisfaction until a North American class action was lodged, then the Chinese government in essence banned the camera, and finally the issue went viral on social media. So as Ming indicates, polite behind the scenes complaints don’t generally work with large entities.

          With this Ricoh Pentax issue, I have to say I am mightily impressed with the speed with which PR Malaysia and PR HQ dealt with things but the cynic in me says that the speed would have been a lot slower were it not for Ming’s attack on their oxygen of good pubicity. As for the Indonesia representative and/or distributor, I found their response to Ming refreshingly honest but a shocking insight in to the minds of far too many people and people who ought to know better ( it’s kinda like a cop getting arrested for shoplifting and then saying in his defence “I have got visitors coming over, I have a deadline to meet, I just wanna make my home look good” to which many folk might reply “f* off mate! Go to jail!” )

        • I agree that it shouldn’t be the norm at all – but try working in Southeast Asia and you’ll see very quickly that a civil approach often gets nowhere, sadly. And by that point all you’ve done is given warning to the perpetrators, who run and hide and do it again.

    • I wish there was a better way. But where are the internet and IP police? Nowhere. It’s defend your own rights with whatever means you have, or stand to lose them.

      • Yes, and that is my general complaint (not against you). In a regular shop lifting case, you can call the police. In a cyber lifting case, nobody to call. Same with break ins.

        But name and shame is a kind of self-justice. I understand the situation and that it was your best choice maybe but I still have my reservations against that approach.

  41. Plevyadophy says:

    Bravo!

    Well done!

    And thanks for fighting for me ( because your fight was for all of us ).

    As for taking the legal route, you were right not to; social media was the best approach ( companies use it to promote their brand so it’s only right that the same channels are used by disgruntled customers ). If the legal route is taken, companies will often settle out of court and impose gagging clauses to avoid the bad publicity ( ya see, they care about that 😉 ) and to allow them to continue in their bad behaviour without resistance from an informed public.

  42. Last week I was kindly asked to let one of my Flickr photos to be featured on next issue of Olympus Magazine UK. That’s the easier way to receive a “yes” as answer: being polite and clear. (BTW, I just received my Ricoh GR!) thank you so much!

  43. So, did they pay it?

  44. Very interesting!
    Rewarding that the senior managment signed personally the letter (and or wrote it maybe as well not his/her secretary/lawyer!)
    Nevertheless, I would have been only partially satisfied and I am still very surprised that they didnt offer you sth. a certain fee or products as a compensation measure, even if you didnt ask for! It would be a much much better sign of respect, apology and image of as well as the confidence in the company!!! Not just a formal, polite statement to say sorry even it is at least personally signed by the senior manager. But i guess they dont want to spend some money or products for free for their mistakes…always getting the most money thats about the whole industry….money, money, money, numbers, numbers, numbers…..anything else in their heads???
    I would choose PhaseOne/Mamiya as the best MF camera producer, maybe it is the most expensive one, but has a better management and future than Pentax/Ricoh and esp. Hasselblad CEO and CFOs are getting kicked out one by one, sony copied products, it is already half of sony.. etc. but hoestly i have to say i am biased due to the fact that i had the chance to shoot one work with the Phase One IQ2 280 DB….i was infected 😉 i will always remeber this day like a birth of your child….

    THX for your update in this case….

    PS: Ming which is for you the best MF producer Hassy, PhaseOne/Mamiya or Pentax/Ricoh if you consider the whole system avaiability of digital backs, resolution, features, flash syncs, lens line ups, accessories etc? Tough one isnt it?

    • Well, I agree – you certainly did the right thing and very respectfully. However, I am totally surprised that they are not offering you compensation – I think that is outrageous!

      • I could have pushed for it, but I think the publicity is punishment/ payment enough. It is better for the industry in the long run to see that they can’t and shouldn’t get away with it rather than settle silently and have history repeat. What saddens me is the number of photographers who disagree and can’t see that I’m taking one for them…

    • That’s management: it’s all about money.

      For me, it’s about the principle here and defending IP rights.

      No Mamiya/Phase reps or support in this part of the world, and Hasselblad local management has changed – not for the better. For products of this price/ class, you really need as much support as you can get. P1 would probably be ideal, but it isn’t even an option because I can’t even try one of the cameras. Ricoh it is…

  45. Instead of removing the work I’d liked the photographer to have gotten paid. Google already has the work in a billion places.

  46. Nicely done Ming. That seems like both an excellent response from Ricoh management and surprisingly quick action for a large company.

    Although they will need to figure out how to prevent that type of infringement in the future, they earned customer respect for their responsiveness.

    BTW, speaking of responsiveness, I found the new fast AF setting plus GF-1 OVF to be an awesome combination after the latest GR firmware update. It feels no slower in practical use than my E-M5.

    Looking forward to the 645Z review!

    • They’ve earned my respect for their responsiveness. But it isn’t easy to control all of your representatives.

      Try the Voigtlander 28/35 mini-finder, or if you really want a VF experience…the Zeiss 25/28.

  47. johndriggers says:

    Happy it worked out well for you. As you know, I was skeptical.

    Regards JD

  48. Tom Hunter says:

    I’m still disturbed by this. Most photographers don’t have your fan base and most likely they wouldn’t have even known of the unauthorized use in the first place.

    • I agree: I wouldn’t have found out otherwise. And I almost never find out until somebody points it out – makes me wonder how many other images are floating around out there without permission…

      • I am a big fan of TinEye reverse image search, and Google has copied the with Google similar images search. I find TinEye is more reliable for Exact and modified duplicates, google tends to pick up more colour and layout similarities. Sort of if you searching for similar using Nikon’s intelligent metering.

      • It just occurred to me that you’re quite possibly aware of these, but 20’000 images is quite a few to search.

        • Yep – unfortunately it is. I think there are closer to 25,000 of mine in the public domain actually.

          • “In the public domain” is probably not the best choice of words given the context! 😉 It’s legalese for “freely usable by anyone without compensation”. Other than that, keep up the good fight.

            • Not quite – there’s also Creative Commons and all rights reserved, and everything of mine is clearly stated the latter. ‘In the public domain’ can also mean freely/ easily viewable…

  49. Paul Lloyd-Roach says:

    I’m glad it’s all been resolved amicably and I think you were right to make your point. There is too much copyright theft going on and it is never acceptable.
    Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the 645Z; any ideas on timing?

  50. Joe Smoke says:

    I had a similar experience with a luxury brand. They used my photos on their website and official brochure without my permission. When they found out through different channels I found out about it, they’ve reached out to me but I haven’t responded back yet.

    My only qualm about the whole situation is that the photos are of their items with their branding. Does the photographer truly own the copyright for that if it’s a picture depicting the commercial goods of a company and it’s entirely that?

    • Yes you do own the copyright. End of story.

    • Yes. Copyright in a photogrpah belongs to the photographer, and there is an exclusion in this case (at least in UK and US jurisdictions, to my knowledge, but likely in others too) from the usual requirement to obtain consent to use the design and trademark displayed in the picture because it was taken and displayed for journalistic purposes. The photogrpah belongs to Mr Thein.

      I’d just like to add, Mr Thein, that I think that you have handled this well. Getting an effective resolution to matters like these requires use of whatever leverage one has at one’s disposal. In your case it is the readership you enjoy across various platforms. You deployed it to great effect and got the result you wanted- good job!

  51. Great stuff. As disappointing as the theft was, their response suggests that they do care on some level; even if it’s for no more than their sales given your platform. It ultimately still translates into an acknowledgement that your rights were infringed. And in my opinion, your response was appropriate; measured even. Inaction would have been worse than the theft in this instance. Well done!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Ming did an outstanding job using social media to bring attention to the inappropriate use of one of his images by a major camera distributor. He made his case and created a storm of enthusiastic support from photographers as a matter of principle and received a very professional apology for the camera manufacturer. Well done. I really enjoy my Ricoh product and applaud their innovation and it’s encouraging to see that they understood the importance of this issue and responded appropriately. […]

  2. […] final update: Ricoh Pentax update: confidence restored, resolution and conclusion ? Ming Thein | Photographer Call me Steve. Or Asshol*. I answer to both. Reply With […]

  3. […] 18 June: I now consider this issue to be resolved. Ricoh HQ have issued a formal apology and acknowl… […]

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