MUNTAKA CHASANT
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Bad Journalism Photo Theft

Copyrighted Photo Theft by MYJOYONLINE

An online photo theft incident involving the Ghanaian news website MYJOYONLINE.COM. They used my copyrighted photo without my permission, and when I called to ask them to take it down, they replaced it with another copyrighted photo — my work again.

March 14, 2020

Photo Above: The SECOND copyrighted photo that remained on their website between around 4:25 PM GMT March 11, 2020, and around 4:20 PM GMT March 15, 2020, when I saw it.

An online photo theft incident involving the Ghanaian news website MYJOYONLINE.COM. They used my copyrighted photo without my permission, and when I called to ask them to take it down, they replaced it with another copyrighted photo — my work again.

The internet has become a dark place.

The Ghanaian news website MYJOYONLINE.COM used my photograph without my permission and not even the gratitude of a credit. I called to ask them to take it down. They took it down alright — about 40 min later — but replaced it with another photo, one I snapped on the same issue. Again without my permission and did not credit it to me. A very unwise move as this pattern of behavior opens them up to litigation.

They benefit from copyright infringements through ad placements on their website.

You (the readers) are the products highly commercial news websites sell to advertisers, not what you read. So, they have to try as quickly as possible to populate their platforms, even if this means infringing on other people’s copyrights.

My works have been repeatedly abused by Ghana’s top news websites, as you will see below. If I do not attempt to stop this glaring theft now, eventually those photographs might be considered ‘orphaned,’ thereby ending up in the public domain.

I called MYJOYONLINE.COM again to take down the second copyrighted photo, but the webmaster or person responsible dropped the phone on me when he heard I was back on the line. I called back multiple times (see call records below), and they did not answer.

This is clear evidence of unscrupulous journalism.

Analogy: This was like stealing my television. They returned it alright when they got caught. Unabashed, they turned around and stole my computer, which was just nearby.

I’m totally against appropriating my work this way. It took me time, money, and resources to create them. Even risked my life sometimes.

Copyrighted Photo Theft by the news website MYJOYONLINE.COM

Update to this story: I checked the MYJOYONLINE.COM URL that used my work without my permission and no credit at 4:20 PM GMT March 15, 2020, and I can confirm that they have now removed the second copyrighted photo. This was after I had published this article, and a lot of people on Facebook were outraged about the whole affair. They replaced the first copyrighted photo with the second copyrighted photo around 4:25 PM GMT on March 11, 2020, so that took roughly 4 days.

Update (2 months later): MYJOYONLINE.COM used a work that I made available in the creative commons without credit. I called and had it removed. Permanently archived here.

I normally wouldn’t do this, as I’m fed up to the teeth chasing hundreds of copyright infringement cases in the last couple of years. You will see why in a bit.

Plastic Pollution in Ghana

If you have been following the Plastic Pollution crisis in Ghana, you would have noticed that I occupy a small space in the narratives. I don’t personally organize beach cleanups and all that sorts, but I have been observing closely from afar by creating plastic waste photographs to further heighten the conversation.

A quick google/bing search should bring up some related materials of my place in this.

How Did MYJOYONLINE.COM used the copyrighted photos?

I frequently do a quick search to find some of the latest updates on Ghana’s plastic pollution crisis. So, I spotted a report by a person named George Nyavor on MYJOYONLINE.COM on March 11, 2020. 

Story was titled: Private waste companies blame government for worsening sanitation in urban areas

The story first used the image in the screenshot above, a photograph depicting plastic waste covering the Jamestown Beach in Accra, Ghana’s capital city.

This copyright infringement is permanently archived here for future reference.

I took this photograph in October 2018 with a mobile phone, and it has been used hundreds of times worldwide. That is because I have licensed it under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International ( CC BY-SA 4.0), for everyone’s use, with the condition that I will be credited for it whenever it is used. It is to help content creators better illustrate the damage single-use plastics are doing to our environment.

There are only two ways you can use this photograph:

  • Creative Commons license ( CC BY-SA 4.0), under the terms that you have to credit me for it and have to link back to where you downloaded it from.
  • You seek my permission to use it, which I’m always happy to allow. Sometimes even send out the original file.

There’s no way I’ll permit MYJOYONLINE.COM to use my work without me demanding that they credit it to me.

So, I called them to take down the photo above.

I also immediately emailed George Nyavor, the writer of this report. You can see his email highlighted there in the first photo above. He hasn’t responded to me as at the time of publishing this story

About 40 min after the first call, they indeed replaced the photo, but guess what? To another copyrighted photo — my work again.

This gross photo theft is also permanently archived here (14 Mar 2020 21:40:08 UTC) for future reference.

I called them back, and the person on the phone hanged up upon hearing that I was on the line again. I had explained the reason why I called back to the person who answered the call (the receptionist, I suppose). I remained on the phone for the person responsible for these issues. I asked for the person’s name (the first person who promised me they were going to replace the photo) when I called the first time, but he refused to give me his name, saying, “you don’t need my name, this is MYJOYONLINE.” See call records below:

I called back multiple times, as you can see in the record above, and they did not answer.

This new photograph they scraped from the internet is not licensed under the Creative Commons. No one ever has the right to use this photograph without my permission. That’s the photograph below, which was still live on their website as at the time of publishing this story.

As you can see from the photo above, they have entirely removed the byline, including George Nyavor’s name and the source of the report. I can’t tell for now if this Nyavor person is involved in all of this.

Appropriating my work (the photo above) this way devalues it should I ever decide to license it. There’s a small chance that some of their readers might have already downloaded it — as a result of MYJOYONLINE.COM’S infringement — to their devices for future reuse.

I first used the photograph above (the second stolen photo) here:

First use of second copyrighted photo here: Sodom And Gomorrah (Agbogbloshie) – Ghana

and here:

Second use of copyrighted photo here: A Small Glimmer Of Hope Comes To Agbogbloshie

Below is the original — this time with a small copyright notice in the corner. Removing copyright notice from a photo makes your theft even more severe.

The photo is highly compressed to around 300 kilobytes (kb) to deter photo theft, such as the one I’m dealing with here. The original JPG file is 4.25 MB (4032 x 2268).

I shot both the photos under contention here casually with a mobile phone.

There are many photographs on this website (muntaka.com) that I captured with a camera worth more than $2500 (body only). What makes you think I’ll spend that amount on a camera to take photographs, and it is acceptable for you to sneak in, steal, and use them without my permission or even credit?

GHANAWEB.COM, Ghana’s top online news website, once used this same photo without my permission and did not credit it to me.

How GHANAWEB.COM used it:

They quickly credited it as soon as someone emailed and threatened them with a lawsuit:

Daily Graphic Online, Ghana’s biggest newspaper’s website, also used this photo without my permission and even captioned it as ‘library photo,‘ making it look as if it is their own or they have the license to use it. I reached out, and they credited it to me. They rank very high (with the keyword “plastic pollution in Ghana”) on google images as a result of using this photo.

Before I complained (see the caption):

After I complained:

Not the first time graphic.com.gh has done this. I had to call them again on the Jamestown plastic pollution photo after the first incident. They still have my work on their website — by their sister newspaper The Mirror (Ghana) — that is not credited to me. You can see it here. Permanent archived copy here. A different photograph here.

There appears to be no integrity at all in Ghana’s news-making business.

You can see how my work has been repeatedly abused by these top news websites.

The websites above are not the only abusers. I have lost count. No need to list them all here, as I don’t want to open a can of worms!

But there is a chance that the editors of these news portals may not be aware of this. This sort of behavior is frequently perpetrated by shady webmasters or outsourced content creators. The organizations are still responsible for the copyright infringements in the end though.

If MYJOYONLINE.COM was so concerned about Ghana’s plastic pollution problems, they’d send out a reporter or a photographer to grab them some usable photos. It’s roughly around 7 km from where their radio station is located to where I shot both scenes. I live more than 30 km from the area.

This is not fair, is it?

Why Does This Photo Theft by MYJOYONLINE.COM bothers me?

First, I wasn’t pleased to see my work used in a manner that I was not duly credited for it.

If the copy (Jamestown Beach Photo) they used wasn’t from the Creative Commons, then they modified the copy I posted myself by cropping and applying a cheap warm filter over it without my permission. I wouldn’t want my work used this way.

I have the right to be upset because it is my creative work. I have seen the photograph used hundreds of times, and in some cases, I was duly credited for it. Below are a few credits in the last couple of months that I have become aware of:

It makes me happy to see my work helping to push the conversation on plastic pollution worldwide, especially in academia.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization recently used the Jamestown plastic beach photo without crediting it to me. Here, and the archived copy here. I have seen them use it with proper credit in the MakingIt Industry for Development here, so this must be an oversight.

The website theconversation.com also recently used the same photo above without crediting it to me. I emailed the Africa editor to demand it taken down, to which the editor did and even apologized. Other websites republished the article before the photo was replaced.

The version by the website architectafrica.com (with a warm look and didn’t credit it to me) looks similar to the copy MYJOYONLINE.COM used. They most likely downloaded it from google images.

Whenever they (MYJOYONLINE.COM) create an image, they destroy its appeal by covering it with large watermarks. They make it noticeable that it is their work, a warning to potential copyright infringers. The duplicity!

I’m no fan of marking photographs with obvious watermarks. They look tacky when not done right. I will normally place my fingers over watermarked areas when looking at a photograph so my eyes wouldn’t wander at them. 

But I have had to recently start doing this myself due to copyright infringements by websites such as MYJOYONLINE.COM. I keep it low key on the side and try as much as possible to make sure it is not distracting from the subject/subject matter.

I photographed these ‘seas of plastic’ in Accra recently, and look at what I did with them below. Tacky large copyright notice plastered across the photos. I have never done this before and makes me feel horrible. But you can now understand why I had to do this.

Check out plastic pollution video and some of the recent photos above here:

Related: Plastic Pollution in Ghana: Video and Photos

I uploaded the photos above to look crappy (first one 311 kb, second 268 kb) as a way to make them unattractive to photo thieves.

The original JPEG file of the first photo above is around 35 megabytes (MB).

1000 kb = 1 MB

35 MB = 35,000 kb

As you can see, the 311 kb is of terrible quality. Aside from website load time, a lot of people do this due to infringers. They don’t get to have many pixels to play around with.

The online photo theft problem is widespread, and that leads me to one conclusion: there are no high standards as far as Ghana’s media is concerned. 

There’s stock photography. Why steal other people’s work?

All you need to do is to ask politely, and some of us wouldn’t mind at all letting you use it for editorial. As long as it is not for commercial purposes, it is not a problem for me at all. Just reach out with a quick request like below:

Hey Muntaka, saw your photo of xxx. I think it will enhance an article I/we are writing on the topic xxx. Do you mind if we use it with a credit and a link back to where we downloaded it from? We promise it is not for commercial use.”

Normally I’ll respond quickly like this:

Thanks for reaching out, xxx. You have my permission to use it. Let me know if you need a much larger file as the copy you saw is most likely compressed to reduce its size. I would love to read your article when it is published. Do you mind forwarding a link to my email? Happy writing!

Not too hard, is it?

By the way, this is not the first time MYJOYONLINE.COM has done this to me. Same thing sometime back (a different photograph). I asked them to take it down, but the guy asked niced if they could keep it. I was happy to let them keep it.

Why is Copyrighted Photo Theft Bad And Why You Shouldn’t Do it?

The internet is widely recognized as a threat to copyright protection.

First, a photo doesn’t need any markings to be protected or as proof of ownership on the internet. Copyright belongs to me the moment I press the shutter.

MYJOYONLINE.COM and other such websites should assume that any photograph they did not create themselves is copyright protected.

As the author of the photographs, I own the exclusive right to reproduce or adapt the works under local copyright laws and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works1. Ghana is a party to the Berne Convention.

“The Convention [Berne Convention] also provides for “moral rights”, that is, the right to claim authorship of the work and the right to object to any mutilation, deformation or other modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to, the work that would be prejudicial to the author’s honor or reputation.” – World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

The Convention [Berne Convention] also provides for “moral rights”, that is, the right to claim authorship of the work and the right to object to any mutilation, deformation or other modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to, the work that would be prejudicial to the author’s honor or reputation.

WIPO

It is simple — if you didn’t create it, don’t use it (unless you are permitted to).

Theft is theft. Crediting it to me will still not excuse MYJOYONLINE.COM’S actions.

Do me a favor. Go to their Facebook page below and shame them for this pattern of behavior.

MYJOYONLINE.COM Facebook Page

In closing, I put this piece up as a matter of principle, so MYJOYONLINE.COM and other such websites don’t do this to other people. Monetary compensation is out of the question for me. I don’t want my work hosted on a website that has no respect for copyright laws. All I wanted was for them to take down the photos.

Leave your comment below.

Sources

  1. https://www.wipo.int/edocs/pubdocs/en/copyright/615/wipo_pub_615.pdf

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