Resolution: Hublot/ Yahoo/ Flickr rights, implications for photographers

Here is the original situation. And here is the final development. Please note that comments in the original article are now closed.

Credit to Hublot for taking action quickly, and local agents The Hour Glass (and my contact point) for lending their full assistance to resolve things. They posted this last night on my pages and theirs:

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This morning, I think we have a resolution:

  1. Hublot confirming that they did not take any action or institute copyright claims against me. This was confirmed in writing by the CEO and communications departments
  2. Yahoo’s counsel saying that my images have been reinstated, issuing an apology, and intent to follow up with Hublot.
  3. The images are back online, and the original post on Fratellowatches now works again.

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Here’s the concerning line from Yahoo’s email, though:

“We intend to speak to Hublot SA regarding its practices, especially as it relates to its vendor, with the aim to prevent any further false notices.”

This suggests to me that it was either a genuine internal mistake, or…something else. Claims of fraud don’t make much sense given that no party really has anything to gain in this situation. Bottom line: the real guilty party still goes unnamed, but I can’t help but think there’s a clue in that line.

I choose to take it in good faith that there has been a screwup somewhere, which is now resolved.

It is in everybody’s interests to have a quick resolution: being proactively is good. Looking for evidence is good. Restoring rights is good. In this case: I think Hublot senior management have done a very good job; Yahoo could be more responsive.

I owe a big thank you to all of my readers and friends readers and friends for your support on this issue – especially those in the watch community. Thank you to the management at The Hour Glass for their support and  lighting fires in places where needed. And thank you to Hublot and Yahoo for taking action promptly in the end.

There are a few valuable lessons for all parties here.

  • Photographers should not have to resort to social media and highly placed contacts to get results. I dread to think what would happen if it was somebody else with no network or visibility. You could file a counterclaim through Yahoo’s black box, but that may never surface. Or you would get embroiled in a legal battle for which a) the returns are slim and b) only the deepest pockets can win.
  • To those who have written saying I overreacted – firstly, you do not have complete information; secondly, I’ve been in these situations before and this is the only way to get a response out of entities to whom you are basically insignificant; thirdly, reverse the situations and tell me what you would do if your rights and livelihood were threatened.
  • At the same time, I agree there is no need to overreact and make assumptions in favour of either party. The copyright claim has nothing to do with their watches. I am doing my best to present the facts objectively here and via other channels, and as evidenced by this post.
  • Companies must maintain better records over their IP inventory, and there is no excuse for junior or uniformed staff or third party agents to be handling claims and infringement rights. These are complex legal issues.
  • A brand may own the copyright to its name, logo and designs, but distinct derivative works – including photographs – have been proven time and again to be a grey area. They may choose to pursue damages if the work portrays the brand or its products in a bad light, but you’d have to prove malicious intent and quantified damages to gain any settlement. Moreover, common sense dictates that are heavily dependent on positive PR to sell their product should not shoot themselves in the foot, especially when they invite media to help showcase their products, and we do our best in abysmal lighting and suboptimal conditions to still make everything look good. Our reputation is on the line too.
  • It is deeply, deeply concerning that false claims can be filed with nothing more than an address and a “digitally signed legal affidavit” – basically, nothing at all if you do not live in the United States or are subject to US law – and that those claims are actioned without further investigation. This means I or somebody else could claim all of your work was mine, it would get taken down, and if you rely on that as your source of income or advertising – you’re basically dead.

Most importantly, we must defend our intellectual property rights. If we do not, nobody else will. One of the reasons I choose to share these occurrences (sadly, far too frequent) with my readership is so you are aware of your rights and know that there is hope for the little guy. Those companies that serve photographers and creatives are our partners – they should be on our side, too. Going forward, the onus of proof has to be on the claimant, and the defendant given the chance to provide counter evidence with perhaps a temporary public takedown as the interim solution. I have offered to provide my and the reader group’s feedback to Yahoo on any potential changes that might be in the works from a photographers’ standpoint – after all, it’s in all of our best interests.

We can and should move on; I only have one final question. Who filed the claim in the first place? Why is Yahoo not disclosing their identity to me? MT


  1. Glad to see the issue resolved quickly and your nightmare is over. And respect to Hublot.
    But one thing got me thinking, since you showed your original raw files as proof. It seems now very risky to me for anyone using a cloud service for backing up raw files. All these Google/Apple/Microsoft/Dropbox/Amazon services with their terrabyte plans for relativly little money.
    It’s just a matter of time before that gets hacked and somebody else got your raw files downloaded and then starts claiming rights. I might just keep using hard disks.

  2. Bro Ming Tien, your photography watch shots is the best one out there…so, no matter what…I support!! From Singapore 🙂

  3. Omg! Such a long thread! Ming. This one caught my eye for sure.
    I’m a specialist watch / jewelry shooter and a registered searcher inventor at USPTO.
    Some points to keep in mind.
    1) Copyright law is not universal. US copyright law for example, only pertains to Works produced by US Citizens within the USTerritories.
    Please check the law in the country in which you are authoring the work.
    2) Some companies have succeeded in suing as well as implimenting cease and desist actions based on unauthorized publication of images of products that they have copyrighted / patented at WIPO.
    Study the fine print in a conference literature.
    3) Finally. You may well have been scammed on this occasion, but it never hurts to keep the company that makes the subject of your work informed, especially if images thier branded products are being incorporated in a presentation or work of your authorship.
    Any Hollywood or TV props stylist will attest to that.

  4. Happy this resolved as positively and as quickly as it did. Unfortunately a waste of your time, not to mention a few grey hairs. My guess is that some jealous troll has found a new way to cause mayhem. We’ve certainly seen a few of those recently in these parts. I hope Yahoo/Flickr up their security procedures and verify the legitimacy (identity) of any claimant. Cheers Richard P.

  5. I’m happy this has worked out OK for you Ming,

    May I trouble you for some brief, generic advice?

    Recently, whilst waiting in St. James I asked if I might take a shot of their pretty front door from the inside looking out. The young lady on reception said no problem, as long as no clients or staff were in the frame.

    Even more recently a Korean publisher has contacted me after seeing the image on flickr, and has asked to use it for a book.

    They say they are not able to pay me of course, but as a amateur photog I was flattered at the attention and said yes, explaining that although I own the copyright of the image, I had no idea of any legal ramifications of it appearing in print and they were ‘on their own’ if they decided to use it.

    Reading your posts here, I’ve got to say, I’m now a little scared…

    Should I be?


    • This is a tricky one. I’d have said no given a) images have value, and the ‘client’ recognises the value but refuses to give you any in return, and b) you don’t own the rights here – at least part of it is private property and if identifiable, they may well be liable to claim against you. Personally, too much of a grey area…

      • Thank you very much for the answer, I appreciate it.
        I understand that images have value, it’s just the first time one of mine apparently did, and that’s quite flattering

  6. Ming,
    Too bad for the hassle. Nice job on your handling. On the surface equally nice job by Hublot and Yahoo in the resolution. Clearly it required your effort and stature. That can only help the next “little guy”. Where the blame is may never be known…and likely will not be known the many next times. All involved made a small step in protecting the future. Thanks all for that!!

    • Thanks Caleb. I doubt we’ll ever find out what really happened, but it’s important for every photographer – who will always be the smaller entity – to know they have rights and means of recourse.

      I choose to take it at good faith that the situation is as the parties claim it is. My side is done, let’s move on and hope that Yahoo chooses to use this to relook at its copyright policy.

  7. Hey Ming! The truth always prevail. I had no doubt you were on the right side. Still, one gets the impression that you were a little flustered. Are you going to seek some kind of recourse?

    • Wouldn’t you be if your rights were challenged (again) by another big faceless company or two? It’s not the first time this has happened, sadly. And experience has unfortunately shown that banging tables is the only way to get action – otherwise you are too trivial to bother with for them.

      No need to seek recourse, and not worth the hassle. I think it would be impossible to prove loss of income or damages anyway.

  8. I guess asking who would benefit from this false claim could bring some light to the issue.

    • I honestly have no answer other than ‘nobody’, which is the most puzzling thing of all.

      • That could be somebody who does not like either your or Hublot. I would think the first is more likely.

        • I think it’s unlikely because of the strange choice of images – something three years ago and of no real significance?

          • I think the age of images is irrelevant. Calling you a thief and getting you involved in a fight is already indirectly damaging your image. Do you have any big contract in negotiation? Have you won one recently? Who was the main competition? Have you been invited to an event while someone was not? Why would some one take a risk of messing up with two big companies, Yahoo and Hublot, without benefiting from it? Yahoo and Hublot are well protected while you are a much easier to hurt target. It is some one you most likely know, and that person is either gready or jealous or both.

            • Sadly there’s no end of trolls…so that could well be anybody. Even if you have done nothing directly against somebody, they might feel entitled and offended. Nothing you can do about it either other than not exist online at all…

  9. Perhaps it’s time for your apology to Hublot for not checking with them first, before (a) going public, and (b) aggressive tone. Instead, you try to read between the lines that they still did something wrong.

    • Yet another assumption without full information. a) I did not receive any response UNTIL I went public, which is sadly the pattern with big corporate now: ignore it til it hurts; and b) I’ve given them credit where due and made sure to follow up on every post I’ve written with closure. That’s more than either Hublot or Yahoo deserve, frankly. I’ve been through other situations involving image theft and IP rights infringement before, and many are not publicised because they are settled without the need to do so. Some are, because that’s the only way I can defend my rights. I should not have to apologise for that. In the long term, either way, it’s worse for me than it is for them. You have to think: what would you do in the same situation?

    • yet another funny comment. you should have read the one by “Sophia” in the original post before you add your “adult responsible” ( learnt from her~ ) comment here.

  10. Very happy that turned out well for you! Your comment “Going forward, the onus of proof has to be on the claimant, and the defendant given the chance to provide counter evidence….” is dead on. We seem to be living in a period of a pendulum swing to the extreme of instantly and unreservedly believing all claims of wrongdoing. This doesn’t just apply to intellectual property but to all sorts of damaging claims made about individuals in social media. I, too, worry about those who are accused and don’t have the connections or resources to defend themselves against spurious social media accusations. But that’s another topic for another day. Btw, I had a look at the original post with the photos in question and they’re gorgeous! I know it’s the photographer and not the equipment because I, too, have an E-M5 and can tell you that shooting at 1600 ISO with available light doesn’t always produce results like that for me. Scratch that — the camera has never produced results like that. Remind me to one day take all your courses. 🙂

    On a related note (I don’t comment often so I’m squeezing every topic in here), as someone who shoots in studio quite a lot, I’d be interested to see a post of yours about what lighting equipment you use when shooting your watches. Perhaps you’ve already done this and I’ve missed it. I’m using a mixture of pro-sumer Elinchrom BRX monoheads in the studio (which I don’t love) and the Profoto B1s (which I love!) for location work. Do you use speedlights, monohead strobes, packs, LED continuous lights? Have you changed your thoughts about what to use, etc.?

  11. Maybe you shouldn’t host your images on Flickr. Yahoo! can take them down at anytime for any reason. Sorry!

    • I agree – but the same is true of all other hosting sites, unless you run your own servers. That is impossible given the amount of bandwidth this site uses and the (lack of) revenue it generates! Arguably, their protection works both ways: I can also equally well file claims against genuine infringements, too.

  12. gnarlydognews says:

    ” I only have one final question. Who filed the claim in the first place? Why is Yahoo not disclosing their identity to me? ”

    There could be a case of envy of a tall poppy? or could be commercial advantage by causing you trouble and grief?
    As for Yahoo not disclosing to you the source, I understand. By no mean Yahoo will and should disclose that, on so many levels.
    You could find out that they stuffed up, by doing poor checking of the source? and beside that, it would look extremely poor form if such a huge company would reveal communication that they receive to third parties, no matter how much they are involved, for the benefit of the doubt of any other Yahoo services user. Only in a court of law, when forced to do so, Yahoo might reveal that. Any other time it would be jeopardising their own privacy agreement with their customers.

    • Possible, but doesn’t make any sense. It’s not malicious enough to be damaging and no commercial advantage to them.

      The claimant may not be a yahoo customer at all – they are just filing a claim. That does not make them a customer.

      I suspect given certain wording it was an internal screwup. It happens, and frankly it’s not worth pursuing further – so time to move on to more productive things 🙂

  13. Happy its resolved although i am interested in finding out tye details how it happened . I initially asked you to contact Mr. Biver becasue he
    Is a genial and I think a fair minded gent who is a fast communicator and ” action man “. I was going to
    Give you his mobile number but i have misplaced it . In the end , it has alreasy been resolved which i am happy to read

    • He got an email from me (and other members of the watch community) anyway – I do not know if he had anything to do with the resolution, but hey, water under the bridge now.

  14. Hear, hear Ming. I’m glad to hear that this was resolved quickly but it’s really too bad that you became an accidental victim of an unfortunate mix of corporate incompetence and badly written law.

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