Photographers Rights, Trey Ratcliff and the Sydney Morning Herald

Prolific photographer, author of the great book A World in HDR and founder of the Stuck in Customs website, Trey Ratcliff has allegedly had one of his wonderful photos used by the Sydney Morning Herald in today’s edition without permission and against the terms of his Creative Commons license! The unattributed, unlicensed image appears on page 3 of the newspaper, and also appears in their online edition (current as at 6:00pm on 24 January 2013).

Screenshot from SMH

Trey is a wonderfully talented photographer, and is one of the major players behind the growth and popularity of HDR (high dynamic range) photography. Trey has very generous licensing terms on the images he posts daily to his website. These terms allow anyone to use his images, provided that it is for non-commercial purposes, that Trey is attributed and that is a link is provided back to

Rubber Duck by Florentijn Hofman. Image by Trey Ratcliff

Trey made this image during his recent visit to Australia from his adopted hometown in Queenstown, New Zealand. It was made in the Darling Harbour Precinct of Sydney, and the giant rubber duck is part of the spactacle of this years Sydney Festival.

The ironic thing is that the Sydney Morning Herald has recently run several stories about photographers having their images stolen online, and I had been pleased to see that they are trying to bring light on to the theft of photographer’s copyrighted materials.

A defence often used by people or organisations when accused of stealing an image (or other content) is that the it was “freely available”. Let me say this clearly: freely available doesn’t mean it’s free. This applies to newspapers like any other commercial entity. as reported by PetaPixel.

The owner of a piece of intellectual property like a photograph has the right to license the property as they see fit. As Trey chooses to license his images under a Creative Commons license requiring attribution for non-commercial use, that license must be respected. People or organisations who wish to use the image for commercial purposes need to appropriately license the image. This is stated clearly on Trey’s website, and there are plenty of links to how to go about such licensing.

The SMH is a good newspaper and generally has good journalistic integrity. I trust this was a silly mistake, and that they will take immediate action to make it right. They need to issue an apology and give him the required attribution, and they need to make some appropraite compensation for commercial usage of his work.

It is important that copyright and Creative Commons licenses be respected – they allow photographers and other content creators to explore and share their art in a way that befits the modern online world!

Update 28/1/2013

  1. According to a post in Mumbrella, the SMH editor-in-chief has stated that “At the end of the day we didn’t establish ownership of the picture and we should have. We have apologised to Trey Ratcliff”. Unfortunately, Trey does not seem to have received the apology


Photography enthusiastic, writer, hiker and diving geek from Canberra (and Sydney), Australia. Thoughts and opinions are my own.

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