How A Stolen Photo Became A Contest Winner

Hengki Koentjoro's screenshot comparision (click to enlarge)

Hengki Koentjoro’s screenshot comparision (click to enlarge)

Hengki Koentjoro, world wide known artist and awarded for his amazing black and white photographs, couldn’t believe his eyes: Due to a friend’s tip, he discovered one of his photos as winning entry on Samsung Camera’s photo contest „Live the moment“ on Facebook. Horizontally flipped, slightly cropped and digitally altered with an instagram filter, a user submitted the photo as his own to the contest via his instagram profile – and won. Samsung Camera made a congratulatory shout out on Facebook, including the picture. Nearly one month later, Koentjoro commented on the entry, documenting the copyright violation with a screenshot comparison of both images.

Some reactions of Hengki Koentjoro's on Facebook (click to enlarge)

Some reactions of Hengki Koentjoro’s fans and followers on Facebook (click to enlarge)

Within the social web, solidarity and support for the well known photographer (who promotes his work via social media platforms such as Flickr, 500Pix, Facebook and Google+) were overwhelming: During the first few hours after Koentjoro left his comment on Facebook – and also on Samsung Camera’s instagram stream – hundreds of his fans responded. They did not only blame the infringing user of image theft and copyright fraud, but also criticized the company for copyright infringment and ignorance on the case, directly addressed by properly tagging Samsung Camera.

First and very interesting result, for it illustrates the complete lack of respect towards intellectual property and the artist himself: obviously, the user deleted his Facebook profile – but not his Instagram profile. Then he deleted all critical comments on the stolen photo at his Instagram stream, including a profile portrait photo. And he didn’t miss to publish a rude answer, blaming all commentators of »harassment«, pretending he read the rules of Samsung Camera’s contest and being »very aware that it was respected.« He ended up in insulting photographer Hengki Koentjoro and his fans: »So stop being kissass’ers in order to disclaim for him a prize that he doesn’t deserve.« This comment has been deleted meanwhile – but is documented via screenshot below. (IG-users still continue to comment on the profile, as well as the user continues to delete those comments.)

The offending answer to critical comments (click to enlarge)

The offending answer to critical comments (click to enlarge)

Second result: Samsung Camera took down the photo which was identified as stolen from all social media channels, disqualified the user for copyright infringement and violation of contest terms. Additionally, Samsung sent a personal message to photographer Hengki Koentjoro: »Thank you for alerting us in regard to this issue. We take copyright infringement very seriously and it is very unfortunate that present case has taken place. We have disqualified the applicant of this picture and he is no longer the winner of the contest neither will he receive the prize. Further we have taken down the winner announcement posts from all our channels.«

Dr. Robert Tobin and Hitoshi Ohashi of TobinOhashi Gallery Tokyo represent Hengki Koentjoro and his works. To their opinion, the case is too complex for just a simple personal note. Informing Koentjoro about the removal of Samsung Cameras entries with the stolen photo wouldn’t be enough: „This is despicable.“ Hitoshi Ohashi says, »They have stolen the baby of a wonderful hardworking artist. He has been so generous in sharing his work with everyone and one of the results is that people see his work. I would never expect someone to rip it off.«

Dr. Robert Tobin adds: „Just deleting the picture, sending a kind mail to the original photographer and hoping that ‘everything is alright now’ is not enough.“ He expects Samsung Camera to take further steps: At least a public announcement about the withdrawn prize, a clear explication of the reasons for withdrawal and take down of the photo, including answers to numerous questions of Hengki Koentjoro’s fans and followers – and an apologize to the artist as well.

Regarding the whole case, this is not only a serious copyright infringement, which normally results in judicial consequences. Under the aspect of corporate image and corporate communication it is an epic fail. Personal conclusion: The internet is a great way to promote artists’ works of all kinds, the risk of copyright violation included; artists have to handle the risk and to develop individual positions of defending their intellectual property. But notably mentioned: The internet does not only make it easier to infringe copyright; its users also enable clarification of facts, gorgeous encouragement and great solidarity.

Edit: As a journalist, I follow the principle »altera pars«, also known as »both sides«: Unfortunately, Samsung Camera didn’t answer to any of my requests on the case. It would have been interesting to know if the company (besides any »Terms of Contest«) asked for hi-res or original files before making any decisions on the contest or plans to do so for future contests. In times of digital photography this should be a regular procedure for any serious photo contest – in order to verify authorship of individual submissions, with no regard whether professional, amateur or hobby photographers.

To be continued.

All photographs above are screenshots, comparisional image published with Hengki Koentjoro’s kind permission.

Update 22.8.2013: Instagram user Bogdhan still continues to delete comments of users which blame him for the image theft. Additionally, he posted another, bizarre statement with a portrait of an elderly woman, claiming he has »the original photo and original EXIF« of the contest image. Unfortunately he didn’t answer to any requests for a statement; but changed his Instagram profile to »thethieff« (original spelling). He also continues to claim the stolen photo his work – and to delete comments.

Bogdhan's bizarre statement on IG (click to enlarge)

Bogdhan’s bizarre statement on IG (click to enlarge)

Update 25.8.2013:
Samsung sent a message to Hengki Koentjoro, photographer – with an acknowledgement of ownership of the photograph and an apology.

»(…) We feel it is very unfortunate that such a case has happened for this contest. In terms of the validation process of this contest, we adopt a much similar process like that of other content distribution/hosting sites whereby once the users or applicants upload contents, we take reasonable steps to monitor them. However, as soon as a potential breach of policies or terms and conditions are notified or suspected either by other users or by us, we take actions to thoroughly investigate the case and decide carefully on the actions to remediate or rectify the case as deemed appropriate. This has applied in this case also.

We will make a clarifying statment as to give credit of the photo to Henki Koentjoro. This announcement will be made on the main Statigram event page along with the announcement of 4th winner early next week. (…)«

Additional links:
Hengki Koentjoro’s personal website
Hengki Koentjoro on 500px
Hengki Koentjoro’s Flickr stream (including screenshots of the case)
TobinOhashi Gallery Roppongi Minato-ku Tokyo, Japan

Reactions on the web:
“Stolen Photo Wins Samsung’s Live In The Moment Photo Contest” (FStoppers.com, 20.8.2013)
»Controversy Erupts After Stolen Picture Wins Samsung Photo Contest« (PetaPixel, 21.08.2013)
»Una foto robada gana un concurso de fotografia« (fotografia.com, 21.8.2013)
»Affäre um Aufnahme: Samsung kürt geklautes Bild zum Siegerfoto« (SpOn, 21.08.2013)
»Stolen Shot ‘Wins’ Samsung Contest« (Nicolas Socrates, 22.8.2013)
»On His Photo Stolen, Hengki Koentjoro Calls Apology From Samsung and The Thief« (exposure-magz.com, 22.8.2013)
»Photographer’s fury after conman steals one of his prized photos…« (Daily Mail, 22.3.2013)
»Stolen Photo Wins Samsung Camera Contest« (Wall Street Journal online, Mayumi Negishi, 23.8.2013)

  38 comments for “How A Stolen Photo Became A Contest Winner

  1. Lorian
    20. August 2013 at 20:58

    huh
    wow
    i didn’t know
    this whole time i was just waiting to see who won another contest
    i enter the drawing with my own picture
    but this just open my eyes
    im just in shocked and i didnt know anything about it
    they must have really took the contest down

  2. Brandon Kamp
    20. August 2013 at 21:54

    This no doubt happens more than anyone knows. Sad, that.
    But in this case we know who the person is, and he refuses to come clean. The image is still on his Instagram account (as of 20Aug2013). He’s not interested in removing the image …but he’s active about deleting the negative comments. Oh, and we can all report the photo on his feed. http://instagram.com/bogdhan

  3. KamiNaru
    20. August 2013 at 23:27

    Thank you for writing this. We were all upset not because we are “some guy kissass’ers” but because we know Hengki’s work very well and we respect him.
    I didn’t know about the thief’s reply and I am stunned to see such lack of… well… everything!

  4. Claire
    21. August 2013 at 03:34

    I would be raged if this happens to me. It has nothing to do with “kissing ass” at all!!
    I hope Samsung will at least give public announcement and exposing bogdhan’s real name. He’s a criminal and should be prosecuted accordingly.

  5. Claire
    21. August 2013 at 03:54

    i just found out i can actually search the photo with Tineye and Hengki’s deviant art link instantly showed up. Samsung (or any contest holders) could’ve verified the image with Tineye in one-click before announcing the winner.

    http://www.tineye.com/search/b4ac3a5b363c7a834461ccd59b51e872e705cee0/

  6. Dave
    21. August 2013 at 05:40

    People like this will not be stopped by mere rules; he was very aware he was misrepresenting the image as his own. Maybe, in his twisted ignorant mind he DID feel it was his work, after all he did reverse the image and apply a filter to it. Samsung fell far short of hitting the mark in their so-called apology; I would imagine that Hengki couldn’t care less about winning the prize, it’s about honor, respect and getting credit where it is deserved. Samsung needs to be very vocal and public about this, admonish the thief and making sure that Hengki is given the respect he deserves in every way possible. Also, why arent Instagram users up in arms? Why hasn’t Zuck shut this guy down and made an example of?

  7. 21. August 2013 at 08:32

    … well, Samsung did it just the indian way: “I deeply apologize – can we go on?” Too bad.

  8. 21. August 2013 at 08:36

    Samsung should be taught a lesson for their laziness, a financial one for not researching copyright.
    The thief is beyond contempt.

  9. 21. August 2013 at 11:27

    This is not the first time and won’t be the last, that a Corporate brand has caught a cold over the uncertainty of ownership of intellectual property, particularly in the digital age where Creators work can be amended to decieve or indeed where internet users are confused about what they can and cannot use for free, alter, re-mix with or without permission or payment.

    To assist both Creators and users of works Creative Barcode was launched – if Samsung had operated under Creative Barcode terms, every Creator submitting an image would have barcoded it as their own under legal warranty to Samsung that it was not stolen.

    And had Hengki Koentjoro himself (as with any other Creator) marked his work perhaps using Creative Barcode Rights Reserved identifiers, then the thief would have been less likely to have stolen the image and presented it, marginally amended, as his own work.

    The importance of Creators marking their works becomes ever more vital in a digital age and in line with changing IP laws particularly concerned with ‘orphan works’. Orphan works simply means ‘Creator unknown’ and if you can prove you undertook a diligent search for the Creator but couldn’t find them, copyright thieves may in the future be able to avoid prosecution by declaring it an Orphan Works.

    As its registered works grows Creative Barcode will become a safe-search for Original works that Creators, Corporates and those seeking to genuinely license works can trust and rely upon

    If you value it, Barcode it.

    • HeikeRost
      22. August 2013 at 10:55

      @Maxine, thanks a lot for your comment – especially on the aspect »orphan works« which is the most challenging issue for creators of all kinds in times of digital.

  10. ec
    21. August 2013 at 21:17

    Why did they not first verify the EXIF ? I am sure Samsung has the means to verify the authenticity since most cameras are now digital. As also pointed out by commentors above, (this is only the one who got caught). Think of how many have used stock photos to create derivatives and claiming it as their own.
    Lastly, how could anyone with a brain, feel proud to steal someone else’s hardwork to claim it as his?
    I would be too ashamed to realise I am that idiotic to not create my own work; as good or bad it is, it is still my own creation. Hope this is an open call to all , both corporations and public. How low can you get?

    • HeikeRost
      22. August 2013 at 08:15

      Concerning the EXIF problem, this is one of the serious issues photographers have to deal with: Lots of platforms of the so called »social web« don’t display original EXIF data properly or even delete them completely during upload or download. Commentator Maxine Horn mentioned the aspect of »orphan works« already, meaning »creator unknown« works open all doors of copyright infringement you can imagine (from a creator’s perspective). Worst thing: Removal of copyright information, including EXIFs (where copyright informations also can be embedded, f.e. via professional DSLR cameras), is in most countries legally forbidden – but according to a recent study of IPTC.org a common practice of several platforms of the »social web«.

      You’ll find additional informations about this serious issue in this article on »Image and View«: http://imageandview.com/notes1/sozialesnetz_verwaistewerke/ – a link collection included, also to the above mentioned study of IPTC.org. The blog post is german only, but you’ll find a translation tool on top of the page – Google Translate might be helpful.

      • Claire
        22. August 2013 at 13:13

        one thing for sure: Instagram deletes EXIF.
        therefore the only way to verify the photo is by Tineye or google image search.

  11. 22. August 2013 at 04:04

    The stolen one is better.

    • HeikeRost
      22. August 2013 at 08:04

      @Garnetmae, you probably missed the fact that the discussion is about authors’ rights, copyright infringement and image theft – not about matters of taste.

  12. Tao
    22. August 2013 at 04:58

    Garnet Mae, I believe all thieves would agree with you.

  13. Bryan
    22. August 2013 at 06:03

    wow, what a despicable thief. what’s worse is he has no shame even after getting caught. why hasn’t he taken the photo down? can’t wait for this guy to be behind bars or hit with a hefty fine.

    on the flip side, samsung is just as much of a victim here as hengki. it’s too extreme of hengki’s representatives to demand what they are asking of from samsung. I agree they could have done a better job at vetting the submission, but samsung has done everything they can to rectify the situation while being a victim as well.

    hengki’s representatives should instead be making those demands at the thief, who really is the one who should be apologizing profusely.

  14. 22. August 2013 at 16:07

    hahaha… very LOL! the news have a new update! :D

  15. NotFred
    22. August 2013 at 17:41

    The thief’s other photos must be suspect – many of them are “painted” versions of originals found elsewhere. For your own use, maybe, but not where you’re trying to win a prize.

    For example (look at the tags – he wanted to win something)
    http://instagram.com/p/arWSehQA_f/

    is a colourized portion of some OS X wallpaper (someone posted on Flickr)
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/26272139@N04/2464360589/in/set-72157604882314087/

    • HeikeRost
      22. August 2013 at 22:53

      Definitely – one photo has been removed from his stream in the meantime, obviously after a take down notice (grabbed from another account at deviantart.com). At least one of them is Shutterstock and/or available f.e. via wallpaper apps. Well. Biggest mistake ever: To grab a photo of somebody well known in the photography world – additionally with an established, broad audience on the social web. (I consider those aspects very helpful.)

  16. Joe
    22. August 2013 at 18:54

    I am a wedding photographer and this stuff happens waaaaaaaay too often. There’s a whole website dedicated to pointing out photo stealers: http://stopstealingphotos.tumblr.com/

    • HeikeRost
      22. August 2013 at 22:57

      Joe, thank you for posting this link. Actually I couldn’t resist to smile, at least a little bit. But: »Incredible« is a way too friendly word for photographers who steal their colleagues photographers works in order to promote their own work. I’d call it disgusting. Period.

  17. 22. August 2013 at 18:57

    I am think to purchase premium watermarking software to keep myself safe from such situtations.

  18. 22. August 2013 at 19:49

    LOL I’m not saying stealing something is right (Because it’s not nor is it something I would ever do), but if you are going to steal something, make sure it’s not from a “world wide known artist and awarded for his amazing black and white photographs.” I work in the digital world writing books, and I know if someone stole my stuff, I would be pretty pissed off. Further more, I know that Amazon would do something about it IF this happened.

  19. MDH
    22. August 2013 at 23:07

    Samsung is recognizing great skill in copying the work of another. It’s their core business.

  20. 23. August 2013 at 08:04

    The Instagram account is now GONE / deleted. Great job everyone!

    • HeikeRost
      23. August 2013 at 09:00

      No – he just changed the name.

  21. 23. August 2013 at 17:45

    As several commentators mention EXIF files can be removed by people, software, processes. Removal of Meta Data is an increasing problem that many are seeking to resolve. UK Government has been working on a code of Practice which if anyone is interested in responding to the consultation or reading it – the draft Code of Practice can be accessed at: http://www.clsg.info/codeofpractice.html and feedback to questions sent to clsg@clsg.info.
    If the hardware and software people could get together to make it easier for Creators Meta Data to be entered and retained that’s half the battle. And if governments IP Offices could render it illiegal for social media sites (or any other portals) to automatically remove Meta Data purely by the act of a person uploading an image to their site – that would help to.

    And Creator must also become part of the solution by marking their works whether with watermarks, third party protectors such as Creative Barcode and Copyright Notices displayed prominently together with an easy means to contact the Creator to ask permission to use – then it may just be possible to strat changing attitudes away from any thing that can be digitised and displayed on the web should be free and back towards checking who the owner is and asking permission to use.

    • HeikeRost
      23. August 2013 at 19:18

      Couldn’t agree more to this, Maxine. Thanks a lot for posting!

  22. Daniel
    29. August 2013 at 02:29

    Exif removal by social media sites is not a one way street. Sometimes it may be required if personal information and especially location data would be revealed. Please bear this in mind when giving feedback on laws and codes of practise. A middle ground is perhaps most useful.

  23. Tracy Mitchell Griggs
    29. August 2013 at 07:14

    Kudos to all who exposed the thief. I hope the artist gets a lawyer and sues the crap out of the corporation – the embarrassment would likely guarantee the artist a settlement. As a writer, I had/have my work stolen all the time. Six companies had PDFd articles I owned, and used the work to promote their brand on company web sites. Not ONE company paid me for continued or past use of my work. It is enough to want to make one forget being an artist of any kind.

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