The day I discovered unlicensed use of my photograph

On Wednesday, Laura, whose kayaking business, Sydney by Kayak, I’d guided and taken photographs for, tagged me in an article that made the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald.

Render from Zaha Hadid Architects of the Western Sydney Airport

On the rendering of the spiffy new Western Sydney Airport was a familiar picture: of three kayakers (Laura, Jeff, and a reporter from Time Out Magazine) out on the glassy pink waters of Sydney Harbour. The photograph had been flipped, so that the Opera House appeared on the left of the image, rather than on the right, as would have been the view from Lavender Bay. But it was my photograph alright.

Laura was stoked, understandably so, for the indirect publicity to her business. For her, any exposure was good. But, personally, as the photographer, I was conflicted. How did the architecture firm, who had created the rendering, gotten my picture in the first place? I’d only given Laura and Time Out Magazine permission to use that photograph. Had Time Out perhaps sold them the rights to use the picture?

Having read countless articles and blog posts about infuriated photographers finding their photos illegally used in the wild, and their often frustrating and fruitless attempts to get due credit, I didn’t think that it was worth the effort to go down that rabbit hold. Instead, I just posted the link to the article on Facebook, to wonder aloud, digitally, on the situation.

So I was quite taken by surprise when friends quickly weighed in – mostly with outrage that my IP had been stolen. I’d reasoned that because the firm had only used my photograph in a rendering and not an actual print, it wasn’t a big deal. But friends insisted that I should still reach out and demand credit and / or payment. One friend in particular, told me: “I think it’s more for the principle. U don’t need the money but there are others who do this for a living. I also only realised these few years how hard it is for freelancers.”

Feeling curious about the provenance of their photograph, in the end, I decided to reach out to the Cox Architecture team in Sydney, using the emails that a friend helpfully provided. Within minutes, I had an answer from the lead, stating that they were provided the photograph from Western Sydney Airport themselves. So I went on the airport’s site, and contacted their media relations team.

Almost just as quickly, someone from the team responded, telling me that they could confirm that the photograph and the rendering had in fact been provided by the other architecture firm of the winning team, Zaha Hadid Architects, and that they would help me reach back out to the firm to get to the bottom of the business.

Bleah. This was the rabbit hole, that I didn’t want to get into. It didn’t seem worth the effort.

Imagine my surprise, when I woke up the next morning to receive a most apologetic email from a Senior Associate at Zaha Hadid Architects, readily admitting that someone there had screwed up. They asked if they could purchase a one time retroactive license, and asked for my price and the payment method.

Wow. I had NOT expected this outcome at all, and so quickly with no excuses proffered. I pondered about what to do for a while, and weighed in suggestions from a few friends.

I also searched online for reasonable prices to ask for, but they ranged from nothing to the thousands! I didn’t want to seem greedy and overask for a simple photograph, especially when they’d been so gracious. Neither did I want to charge for too little and set the precedent for other photographers. In the end, I decided to ask them to make a one time $50 donation to Make-A-Wish Australia.

They not only readily agreed, but also raised the donation to $250! I couldn’t have asked for a happier outcome. 

Through this incident, I learnt many things:
1. That people (my friends at any rate!) care about IP and credit that should be properly accorded
2. That I should speak up and ask for my rights, if not for myself, but for others who might find themselves in my shoes
3. That there’s never any harm in asking
4. That there are good and decent people who will readily admit to erring (especially encouraging these days with a US President who models the exact opposite behavior

All’s well that ends well!

4 Replies to “The day I discovered unlicensed use of my photograph”

      1. They apologised and credited me in one case and in another the photo was taken down almost immediately. It seems that they got photos through another source in both cases. I’m generally happy for anyone to use my photos with accreditation. Sharing my love of the outdoors is really why I take photos and write my kayak/bike blog.

        Liked by 1 person

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