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Photography thieves

There you go, it happened twice in a month.

First, it came from the city of Hoi An. Nothing surprising here as they are running their city the way they’d run a (very) local business: having no idea what they are doing. It is the second time (as far as I know) that the city of Hoi An is using one of my image without bothering asking me (and let’s not even imagine they they think they’d have to pay for it). Forget copyright, forget the fact that I need to make a living. It is digital so it must be free right?

A few years ago they used this same (boring) lantern image on some brochures they were distributing into town.

Now, that same (boring) image is being displayed big size to hide some of the construction work they are doing along the river. I mean, come on guys, this photo is the most boring photo you could stole from my Flickr gallery! Why don’t you borrow your nephew’s camera and go shoot it yourself?

An example of photography thief

Of course when it first happened I went to pay them a visit. First, the “manager” was unavailable. Then, on a second visit, I explained the secretary the issue. She went to the manager’s office, and came out after 5 minutes saying he was not there…. I believe she spent 5 minutes in there staring at the wall. A complete “I don’t give a fuck about you” is what they gave me.


This morning, while I came to pick up some clients to go on the sunrise photo tour, I saw some postcards displayed at their resort’s reception. Curiosity made me have a quick look (I usually do that to check that the level of creativity from postcards makers is still below the ground) and after 1 minute saw my photo. Well, could be anyone’s photo as it is so boring and I am sure 90% of tourists in Hoi An have that same shot, but after carefully checking it is definitely mine. I guess, same as for Hoi An people’s committee, it comes from my Flickr gallery (now deleted by the way).

My photo used without permission

So, as I usually do, I am sending a friendly email to this company (a local travel company based in Hanoi) asking them to compensate me for the image. Their email address is obviously not working (mailbox full) so I gave them a call. One girl gave me (with my bad Vietnamese) the contact of her boss.


In any troubled situation, I ask my wife for help, and this is what I did 🙂 She called the manager of the company. After explaining the situation this lady explained that they print thousands of these postcards. They use photos they find online without asking anyone. But when one of the photographer contacts them to tell them they have used their photo without consent they compensate them for about $50…


My wife told her that the cost for the use of my image was $800, and got her email address. I sent the prove of photo thief and invoice by email to the manager.


After a little bit of talks, the manager actually apologized to me for using the image without permission and offered to compensate me for about $80… which is I must say very surprising coming from a local company. At the end it is not for the $80 at all, but this company may think twice before using a picture which is not theirs.


As for the city of Hoi An, I am actually training every morning to talk to a wall and see if I can make it respond. I will keep you posted.

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Founder of Pics of Asia, Etienne is a teacher with a photography habit.


  1. Rosie on March 17, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    I can imagine you are cross. How can photographers protect their photos online from thieves in the 21st century? Topic for a future blog?

  2. Serge Bibeau on March 17, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    Pas surprenant de la part d’individus passés maître dans la contrefaçon mais tellement navrant pour un peuple si attachant 🙁

    Not surprising from individuals who became masters in counterfeiting but so heartbreaking for a people so endearing 🙁

  3. Cat wellington on March 19, 2016 at 10:31 am

    You should be paying them for making money thanks to being attractive and safe. You should donate your work for a city where you defecate and don’t even bother to speak the language. Your lack of ethics is appalling. You are stealing yet complain about the thieves.

    • Etienne on March 19, 2016 at 10:54 am

      Surprising comment here Cat, not sure where you got your information from. I have been living here for over 9 years and very happy. Of course I do speak the language, the least to do when living here and regularly exploring the countryside to meet people. I run a business and pay taxes, eat and drink here, spending most of the money I make here. I am not sure what I am stealing by living here, maybe you can explain?

  4. Rikki Clay on March 22, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    Cat Wellington, I can vouch for Etienne’s ethics, fluent Vietnamese and ongoing respect for the beautiful town of Hoi An. We’ve seen him show nothing but reverence and respect for his adopted home and its local people. I’m not sure how an apparent stranger can accuse him of a lack of ethics for being somewhat peeved that his work is being used without his permission. Your logic that he should let the city use his work without his consent simply because its where he defecates is somewhat comical and i wonder if you offer your services as an unpaid comedian to the people of the city where you yourself defecate. Unless of course, Cat Wellington, you are either someone with an axe to grind or one of those tiresome keyboard warriors that slings arrows from their self proclaumed moral highground. Either way, you have sorely missed the point.

    • Etienne on March 22, 2016 at 2:01 pm

      Rikki, thanks for the support! I have tried email this Cat Wellington but of course the email address does not exist. Just people who have no idea about what they talk about spreading hate on various blogs or forums I guess.

  5. Nadia Reckmann on April 6, 2016 at 9:58 pm

    Thanks for sharing this story, Etienne! It’s sad to see how numb people get when it comes to respecting other people’s creative work and copyright. Apparently the chain of thought here is “this photo is online” -> “it’s for everyone to see” -> “it’s for everyone to use”->”right-click” -> “it’s mine, I can do whatever I want.” And these guys don’t even think of someone putting time and effort into every shot. This picture might be “boring” as you called it, but it really doesn’t matter. It could have been a completely unique masterpiece just as well.

    Would you consider writing a guest post for our Pixsy blog (https://www.pixsy.com/) about the copyright and image theft challenges you faced during your life in Vietnam? I think you might have a unique perspective on the topic and we’d love to help you share it with the world.

    Let me know what you think!


    P.S. As I can see, you are a Pixsy user already, so you need no introduction to our service 🙂

    • Etienne on April 10, 2016 at 12:55 pm

      I am very happy to share the story, but little busy at the moment. Will be doing it next week 🙂

  6. Nadia Reckmann on April 12, 2016 at 3:44 pm


    Please feel free to contact me at nadia@pixsy.com whenever you have a moment, if you need any help with the post.

    Looking forward to hearing from you!

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