Today was not a good morning. I woke up to the above email from Yahoo/Flickr stating that Hublot SA – a watch company – was claiming the rights to MY images – which were shot by me at an event for coverage for an online watch site in 2012. There was no contract with Hublot or its representatives, nor any embargoes.
Three things are wrong here:
1. Ethically, claiming rights for images that are not yours. That is outright theft.
2. Hoping that the photographer does not contest it because he does not have as deep pockets for lawyers as you do.
3. That Yahoo places the onus of proof on the copyright owner, not the claimant. I commend their speed of action (good for legitimate cases), but acting with only half of the information makes you just as guilty.
If legitimate, this has extremely concerning implications for any sort of journalism. Inviting independent press with the expectation of (presumably favourable) coverage, then making a land grab when the material is to your liking or filing false infringement when it isn’t is not just unethical but completely counterproductive to your marketing aims. I’m sure the situation could be simpler and non-malicious, but that implies that the company isn’t keeping track of what copyrights it owns either.
If not legitimate, and a fraud or misrepresentation by a third party as Hublot have claimed, then we have a bigger problem: the onus is on the photographer to prove ownership; I could say ‘your images are mine’ and Yahoo (or others) would be forced to remove them – without any proof from me.
Hublot have never been and never will be one of my clients. I have also emailed the CEO and regional director – both of whom I met at that event – and filed the appropriate counterclaim with Yahoo/Flickr, as well as an email to CEO Marissa Mayer.
There has been no response as yet – and no bounces, which mean the emails were received. Hublot has been responsive and now informs me they are seeking a resolution from Yahoo – Yahoo/Flickr however has so far remained silent.
Three years ago, we provided coverage of your Basel 2012 novelties at an event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, hosted by your regional distributors The Hour Glass and attended by none other than CEO Mr. Guadalupe and Regional Director Ms. Sakai.
Here is the original article, missing images which were hosted on flickr: http://www.fratellowatches.com/hublots-basel-2012-novelties/
This morning, I received a takedown and copyright infringement notice from Yahoo – the parent company of Flickr, where the images were hosted – filed by Hublot SA specifically citing those images as infringing copyright.
Except the problem here is twofold:
1. Hublot SA did not contract those images, did not license those images, and they were shot by me at the event. Hublot SA therefore has NO copyright or rights to the images in question.
2. We were not compensated or contracted to cover the event by either Hublot or their local agents, so there is no claim to rights here either.
We hope this is a genuine mistake, in which case, please contact Yahoo with a withdrawal of claim.
However, if it isn’t, note that the copyright for all images belongs to the photographer: Ming Thein (www.mingthein.com). We challenge you to prove otherwise by producing the original camera RAW images, or a contract with the photographer. Please note the screen captures attached: here are the images from the event, and the file format is not an editable one. The copyright data is written by the camera at the time of capture.
On top of that, doesn’t it seem rather nonsensical that you are trying to take down images that portray your watches in a flattering way, from a launch event you invited the press to for get coverage?
The least you could do for a site and photographer that have done nothing but help your brand is a) contact Yahoo with a retraction of the claim, and b) issue a public apology.
We suggest not underestimating social media.
The images claimed to be owned by them are below.
Unfortunately there is not very much we can do – I have emailed the CEO, but honestly do not expect a response – but if enough people say something on their Facebook page, perhaps something might get done. Just remember: it starts here, but it might well be you. To all photographers: if you do not respect and defend your own intellectual property, nobody else will. MT
Update, 2030 27/10: I received an email reply from both Mr. Guadalupe and their communications manager stating that there are no claims against me, and that a fraud must have been perpetuated. The problem with this twofold:
- is Yahoo would not take action on a couple of dozen old images from 2012 randomly without a claimant – and that claimant is clearly specified above as ‘Hublot SA’.
- This still does not reinstate my images or rights. As far as Yahoo is concerned, I am still in breach of copyright owned by Hublot.
- It seems most likely to me that somebody has acted ‘on their own initiative’ inside the company, but again: I still need them to contact Yahoo to get the images reinstated and the claims lifted. It is not over…
Update, 2145 27/10: Third party fraud is now suspected. LVMH lawyers and Hublot are in touch with Yahoo to find out who did it…the plot thickens. Hublot are to be commended for being fast and proactive in this; let us hope there’s a resolution. I am now cautiously optimistic. But, what’s going on, Yahoo?