Singapore travel agent Sylvia Neo Soo Sian has been accused of stealing copyrighted photos, passing it off as her own and responding defiantly to those who criticise her on social media.
On Saturday (21 Sept), photographer Aaron Wong exposed Sylvia on Facebook. Sharing screenshots of instances where Sylvia has taken the intellectual property of others and pretended it was hers, Aaron revealed that Sylvia is a Facebook acquaintance and that he noticed some professional shots of Antarctica she had posted on social media.
Sharing that he was surprised by the quality of the photos, which were hashtagged ‘#PhotosTakenBySylvia’, Aaron dug deeper. He recounted on Facebook:
“I was honestly surprised by her work so I did a simple and quick google search and within secs found out the the exact same image was in fact taken by a professional photographer by the name of Stefan Christmann from Germany who worked with the BBC Natural History Unit.
“I checked her post again and realized that the picture was used to promote her Antarctica trips which she offers as a business. We felt this wasn’t right and contacted her saying she should not be using someone else’s images as their own. She should ask for permission and if granted, drop a credit mention as this is the most basic thing to do.
“She promptly deleted that message and began sending a hail of private messages claiming that she has permission to use those images. She went on to say “Not all professional photographers want credits and fame. Some prefer to stay out of the limelight.” I found this odd, as a photographer for 22 years, I have never heard a photographer saying that because we know credits are not about ‘fame’ but a protection of IP rights.
“Any photographer knows that. But to give her the benefit of doubt, I contacted Stefan just in case that was true. He responded by saying he has no idea who Sylvia is, had never given permission whatsoever and would contact her to have his images removed.”
Aaron said that Stefan contacted Sylvia who allegedly deleted his Facebook comments. He added that Sylvia asked him to mind his own business and went as far as saying “How do you know that image is from Stefan? He could have stolen it too” before adding that “Earth doesn’t belong to us, so any photos taken by anyone also doesn’t belong to anyone.” Aaron wrote:
“I was utterly shocked by the warped sense of entitlement she has. I tried to explain that is not true and the meaning of ‘credit’. She started slamming me saying that “Not everyone wants credit and fame like you, if you are really good, credit will be due.” I was speechless. So I decided to dig deeper about who this person is.
“Looking through her posts it became clear that you do not actually see a single image of herself in Antarctica at all. Every picture was lifted off the internet and hashtag ‘#PhotosTakenBySylvia’. Not one was of her.
“And when I looked deeper, I noticed most posts were tagged to the same few people and the people who comment or defend her in the post are also that same few. Looking at their profile, it seems pretty clear something is not right as these accounts had very little friends, 1 profile pic since 2013, and every single post on their page is tagged by her.”
Aaron added that Sylvia went on to bombard him with over 100 messages, prompting him to expose this matter on social media. She purportedly ranted that “photographers should feel honored if their images are stolen because it shows they are good”.
Asserting that he is not trying to shame or cyberbully anyone and that his post is not meant to cause a witch hunt or cause harassment to Sylvia, Aaron wrote: “All I wanted to do was show her that the world does not agree with her ridiculous logic. The truth is, if she just accepted it, give some credit and change her ways, I would have left it at that. It’s really that simple.”
Revealing that he is speaking up since he has been the victim of copyright infringement himself, Aaron wrote:
“I know some might wonder, why I even bother since it’s not even my image? Well, as a photographer, I have had my images stolen countless times and as a member of this community, I see it as a duty to speak up privately because like so many, I enjoy sharing my images too and people like her makes it difficult and unsafe when they use images as their own for a commercial gain.
“Yes, I know images are used all the time without permission but not to this extent where someone spits in the face of basic IP laws. And yes, I should not have gotten so involved and shouldn’t have bothered but as you read the story, my main aim was to highlight it to the original photographer, hopefully educate and change her ways and move on. But as you can see, I am literally dragged along by her unrelenting harassment by which point it became personal.”
Aaron, whose post has garnered over 500 reactions and nearly as many shares, asserted that his aim was “purely to share facts of a serious case of IP infringement so that the community at large knows and can make their own informed judgment.”
He added: “Please know that countless attempts had been made by many people to rectify this privately but failed, which sadly led us to this post.”
Sylvia, who runs two websites – one for booking flights, hotels and such and the other for booking scuba trips – has not published any clarification on her Facebook page. She, however, appears to have added a disclaimer on her travelgowhere website, stating that she is working to rectify the instances of copyright infringement that were highlighted.
The disclaimer states: “Some contents, photos of items, land tours, etc. may contain content copyrighted by another entity or person.
“This website’s owner & founder claims no copyrights to these contents on Travelgowhere’s platform. If you have a complaint about something or find that your content is used or displayed inappropriately, please send us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to lodge a feedback copyright claim.
“Any infringement was not performed on purpose and will be rectified to all parties satisfaction.”
Dear friends, this is the follow-up on my post from yesterday. If you are not keen on this issue, please scroll along as…
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