SpicyIP Tidbit: It is Still Copyright Infringement if the Image is ‘Modified’!

modifyMassachusetts-based photographer Bimal Nepal has had a strange Diwali this year. A photograph of lamps that he had posted on Flickr in 2012 has been copied without permission – by the Prime Minister (or more specifically, his PR team), who modified it slightly before posting it on the official Narendra Modi Facebook page on October 21st. The Prime Minister’s post has gathered close to half a million ‘Likes’ over two days. Nepal posted on Facebook that while he was honoured that the PM, whom he considered one of his ‘greatest heroes’ has picked his photograph, he was still concerned about the lack of credit attributed to him.

It is well established in Copyright Law that a photograph is an artistic work on which copyright subsists, and the photographer has the exclusive right to communicate the work to the public. Bimal, in his Facebook post, asks for suggestions on what his course of action must be, and we can understand his quandary- going up against the Prime Minister is no mean feat.

This is not the first time that the Government has infringed upon a photograph from the internet. In August this year, the Government of West Bengal used a photo taken by blogger Anirban Saha in an advertisement- they even removed the watermark that Anirban had put on the image. Further, when Anirban tried to contact the Government, he was directed from one Department to the other, and the most he got from the last person he contacted was a “patient hearing” with no assurances that any action will be taken. Read Anirban’s blog post on the incident here.

In both cases, all the photographers seem to want is some credit. Even if the Government had not originally credited the photographers due to oversight (or even ignorance that they were committing copyright infringement), what is stopping them now?


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