Photographer Mwangi Kirubi sues Bonfire Adventures for copyright infringement

An SGR train at the Mtito Andei Station on 13th April 2017. The Mombasa - Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway was developed by the Kenya Railways Corporation at a cost of $3.8 billion. 90 % of the financing came from the China Exim Bank and 10% from the Kenyan Government.

Award winning Kenyan photographer Mwangi Kirubi aka Mwarv has sued travel company Bonfire Adventures for using his image without permission. The photographer has sued Bonfire through his company Click Pictureworks Africa.

According to Mwangi, the image in question depicting a train on Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) at the Mtito Andei Railway Terminus, was taken by him in April 2017 as part of the launch of the train network by the Kenyan Government. He also further states that he owns the copyright to the image because of this. Additionally, he states that he is the recognized copyright holder of the image having registered the image with the Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO) and subsequently received a certificate on 31st July 2017.

In court documents, Mwangi claims that Bonfire Adventures used the image in question on or around June 2017 for marketing purposes. Bonfire apparently used the image in promoting its products on their website and Social Media pages. They did so without his permission and without compensating him.

Bonfire on its part has denied any copyright infringement saying that Mwangi failed to properly copyright the image in question claiming he did so after the fact. They contend that at the time the alleged infringement occurred they were not aware of Mwangi’s ownership of the image. They further state that the image was in the public domain on the Kenya Railways Facebook page. This is apparently how they acquired the image in the first place.

Mwangi wants the court to award general and punitive damages for the alleged copyright infringement by Bonfire adventures. On 27th March 2019, both parties appeared before a judge at Milimani Court for the hearing of the case. The hearing was pushed forward to 8th July 2019.

Photographs in Kenya are protected under copyright law (the Copyright Act of 2001, CAP 130, Laws of Kenya). Copyright is the right accrued from the expression of an original idea. The rights of the photographer to the images they take are protected by copyright automatically. This means that once they take the photo, they already have copyright rights to it. KECOBO however encourages photographers and other creatives to register their work in order to help in proving ownership when disputes arise. However, not registering your work is not mandatory as protection still exists.

Cases of companies lifting images online and using them for marketing purposes without permission from photographers have been common in Kenya and the world in general. Mwangi has in the past commenced similar proceedings against Land Rover and Easy Taxi after they used his images without permission. The cases were settled out of court.

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