Leading Hong Kong Publisher Plagiarises 100 Wikipedia and Flickr Photographs

Deryck Chan 12.8.2010, released under CC-BY

If there is one type of people who should know how to follow copyright instructions, they must be publishers. After all, they put the nasty “All Rights Reserved” in books.

Unfortunately there are exceptions. Last month, Wan Li Book Company, a leading Hong Kong publisher, released “A Speaking Map of Hong Kong” (會說話的香港地圖), which is a multimedia guidebook to Hong Kong history and geography. It soon became a cultural shock not because of its interactive content, but because book-lovers discovered that it plagiarised some 100 photographs from Wikipedia and Flickr without any copyright acknowledgement. Take any page from the book, and look at the Wikipedia article about the corresponding district of Hong Kong, you will almost certainly find a Wikipedia picture replicated exactly in the book. With some 100 pictures at stake, this is easily the most extensive case of copyright violation in printed media throughout the city’s history.

There is no way the editors can be ignorant. Aware that the book in question is actually the sequel to “A Speaking World Map” (會說話的世界地圖), a similar interactive book by the same publisher, a writer on Hong Kong Inmedia set out to buy the previous book in search for more copyright violations. Instead of finding more pictures stolen from Wikipedia, he was surprised to discover copyright acknowledgements for various pictures in the book. Those credited included both individual photographers and organisations such as the United States Geological Survey. For one illustrated photograph, the acknowledgement was so delicately written that it included the photographer, the illustrator, and the Tajik Agency on Hydrometeorology who provided the original data! Indisputably, the editors know how to acknowledge copyright, and a skim through the inside covers of the two books reveals that they were compiled by the same chief editors. There is absolutely no chance that the publisher can be innocent or ignorant.

The publisher did leave a line in A Speaking Map of Hong Kong as defence: “We were unable to contact some of the old street photographs’ owners due to a lack of information. Copyright holders should feel free to contact us.” A lack of information? Every picture description on Wikipedia and Flickr is clearly accompanied by the username of the author, and the copyright licence through which the author released the picture. The infringing book did not credit anyone in compliance with the licences; neither did the publisher leave a comment to the authors asking for authorisation. The only reason the publisher may “lack” information for those photographs is that they didn’t even attempt to search for it.

This only leaves one explanation possible: the publisher has blatantly assumed that contents on the internet may be used without restriction. More precisely, the publisher believed that even if an infringement is discovered, original authors cannot gather enough momentum to push for legal sanction. The publisher will be proven wrong. A Hong Kong freelance writer has already filed a case against Wan Li with the customs. Stay tuned.

External links (in Chinese):
A Speaking Map of Hong Kong
Wikipedia discussion on the infringements mentioned in this article
Reports on Hong Kong Inmedia [1][2]


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