27-year old Daryl Aiden Yow is sorry. In a saga that exploded over the Singaporean interweb and beyond, the photographer was forced to admit that he had appropriated other photographers’ work and stock photos as his own. By this fact alone, it’s not that big an issue.
But Daryl Aiden Yow is a rather eminent figure in the Singapore blogosphere, especially on Instagram. On that platform, his account @darylaiden has upwards of 100,000 followers, is replete with images from lucrative sponsorships with prominent multinational brands like Sony, Laniege and Uniqlo. No wonder the fallout has gone beyond the humble shores of Singapore.
Utilising stock images from websites like Shutterstock and Getty Images, the self-proclaimed photographer cropped, filtered and photoshopped his way to Insta-stardom. First exposed in an article published on Singapore’s Mothership, Daryl Aiden Yow’s Photoshop exploits took the island-nation by storm, with the hashtag #darylaidenchallenge trending soon after. The challenge mockingly involves users (badly) photoshopping themselves into stock photos with their watermarks still intact.
There have also been allegations, yet unfound, that the Instagram starlet had bought followers.
And then in a bitter twist of PR fate, brands like Scoot and Shopee have capitalised on the disgraced figure for marketing purposes.
His dubious ways were under suspicion for quite a while coming, but Mothership’s article had managed to conclusively prove allegations and draw very significant attention from the public and media.
To date, only Sony and Uniqlo have come forward with statements effectively denouncing the actions of their hired personality. Both companies maintain their commitment to respecting intellectual property.
Despite this, there has been much confusion over exactly why Daryl Aiden Yow has been at the centre of the brewing scandal. Can he be legally charged? Will he have to return sponsorship amounts? Would the 27-year old have to finally join us mere mortals in our 9-to-5 slog?
Is Daryl Aiden Yow guilty of plagiarism?
Sony’s press statement reaffirms the corporation’s stand on the issue, which does not “condone any action such as plagiarism”.
Plagiarism, broadly defined, roughly describes the dishonest act of pretending that another person’s work, in whole or in part, is one’s own. In more recent parlance, plagiarism is closer associated with academia and journalism. Plagiarism also largely connotes the act of stealing literary and written works without credit.
I, thus, would avoid the term. I prefer “copyright infringement” – it carries more moral weight than paltry plagiarism, and clearly states that it is infringing on someone’s rights.
You see, copyright infringement brings with it images of hefty fines and lawsuits, while plagiarism sounds like the start to an incredibly unfunny college anecdote about lifting entire Wikipedia articles and simply changing some words to escape unscathed from the institute’s plagiarism safeguards to get an A and graduate with honours.
So, can Daryl Aiden Yow face a lawsuit for copyright infringement?
For those who are unfamiliar, or those whose days of appending lengthy bibliographies to their essays are long over, it is entirely fine to use small segments of others’ works in your published work. There are just a few things you have to do in order to protect yourself, and the rights of the original artist.
Firstly, you have to cite your sources. Be it my earlier use of the composite image taken from Mothership (who in turn took it from Daryl Aiden Yow, who also took it from the Faroe Islands’ Tourism Ministry’s Instagram account, who had taken it from the Instagram account of @wisslauren).
Second, you have to ensure that your usage of the mentioned source is well defined. In an essay, you use quotation marks to denote segments that were not written by yourself – that’s easy. In an image, it gets complicated.
However, Daryl Aiden Yow’s wholesale usage of others’ works means that he should have just credited the whole image: appending a simple “Image: @wisslauren” would have made it clear to everyone that someone else was responsible for the beautiful image. It also has the added benefit of notifying the user that her image had been reposted elsewhere.
To be extra safe, he could have contacted the original artist for permission or to notify her of his intentions.
If he had used the image as a backdrop, it would have sufficed to make it clear that the work of someone else had been involved.
However, these photos were put up for sale on stock photo sites, so it is entirely possible that Daryl Aiden Yow had, in fact, purchased the rights to these images. This gives him the right to use them in part or in whole since he owns the right to publish and reproduce the images.
In this case, there’s no legal case against our otherwise maligned protagonist in this story.
Which leaves us with the various companies he had worked with. Instagram stars often work with companies of all kinds to offer posts and features on their different sites in exchange for cash and other benefits. There’s no reason to imagine was any different for dear Daryl.
These usually come with contracts, filled with legalisms. If their legal rats were shrewd (pun intended) enough to word it technically right, these companies would have ensured that Daryl Aiden Yow would have delivered original content that adheres to local and international law.
But facts on these remain vague as of now. We can only await news of lawsuits or rumours of civil settlements between Daryl, the companies he had implicated, and the various content creators he had stolen from. Yes, stolen.
What you can learn from Daryl Aiden Yow
If your images have been stolen by someone not unlike Daryl, you’ve got a few courses of action to consider. First off, contact the thief, notifying them that they have stolen your picture. If you’re feeling kind, give them a definite date by which to remove the offending post/article (a cease and desist). If you’re not, follow up immediately with an invoice that clearly states the costs you have incurred as a result of their infringement. Get ready to lawyer up in the case of a non-cooperative e-thug.
If you’re a small company, it is nigh on impossible to do due diligence on every aspect of your talent. It’s slightly easier for larger corporations, but the risk remains. PR folk: there’s more to screening for talent than engagement levels and historical figures. Google Images has a very useful feature where you could input images and search for similar-looking ones that exist on the web.
Pay close attention to the images posted. Do they have shoddy photoshop artefacts? Or are there any other red flags?
If you’re a fledgeling talent, or maybe even a photographer: there’s no problem with using photoshop. You might want to some mist, some lens flare, and there’s no issue with that. If significant portions of the image involve work by other users, be sure to cite them.
There are many sites that allow you to use the images without crediting the original producer.
In such a case, its a question of morality. Do your viewers expect you to publish original, unmanipulated work? Do they know that you use photoshop to introduce new elements or to completely create an image?
There’s a fine line to tread, and if you’ve got any aspirations as a public figure, perhaps it is best that you know where they lie.
Technically Speaking is a weekly op-ed where VR Zone’s Chief Editor Ian Ling probes prominent issues for hidden truths and offers technically-minded insights.