When Australian astrophotographer Alex Cherney saw the excuse that the Greek tourism agency EOT came up with this week for including his timelapse footage of an unmistakable Australian landmark in a much-derided Greek tourism promotional video, he was reminded of a classic quote from the 2002 comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
“When I saw EOT claiming in a statement that ‘The mythology of the sky, at all latitudes and longitudes of the earth, is Greek’, all I could think of was the line ‘Give me any word, and I show you how the root is Greek’ from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. That sort of claim denies other sky cultures, like those of the Inuit and Aboriginal,” says Cherney, who has mapped Aboriginal astronomical constellations for Stellarium, a free, open-source planetarium computer programme.
Speaking from his home in Melbourne, Australia, the award-winning astrophotographer confirmed that a licence to use a snippet from his 2010 Ocean Sky production was only purchased “after the material was used” and after this blog reported that it had been included in EOT’s video without his knowledge or permission.
About 16 seconds of footage from Ocean Sky, a timelapse production that took him 1.5 years of work and 31 hours of taking images over six nights on the Southern Ocean Coast in Australia, appears in the Gods, Myths, Heroes video. The clip shows the Twelve Apostles, a very famous Victoria landmark.
Cherney says the first he heard that his footage was in the video was in the early hours of November 10 when someone from Greece alerted him through Facebook. His Greek contact suspected it was without his permission. Cherney’s initial response was one of surprise, especially as this was a video put out by an official tourism agency: “How do you react when someone tries to steal your work? It’s not nice. Going to these remote places is expensive. One night’s filming gets you 20 seconds of timelapse footage if you’re taking two shots a minute, as I did.”
Later that day, he emailed the producer of the Visit Greece film, Andonis Theocharis Kioukas of Qkas Productions, with a link to the video’s licensing page. Kioukas replied to inform him that he had subsequently purchased the appropriate rights from an agency representing Cherney, a transaction he has been able to confirm.
“This was done after the material was used, so in this regard EOT and Mr Kioukas did the right thing to rectify the situation. I think I have to give Mr Kioukas the benefit of the doubt and assume a genuine mistake which was rectified properly and promptly. However, I cannot speculate how and where did they got the original footage. I have had that video ripped off and the copyright removed before, so it is possible that they got it from a source that already did not have the copyright mark there.”
In any case, however, he maintains it was not enough for EOT to say they were not responsible. Earlier this week, an EOT official informed this blog that “EOT is never using [sic] footage without clearance. We collaborate with production companies that, according to their contract with the organisation, are responsible for every permission of use of the material.”
For that reason, Cherney believes, EOT, which after all paid for the film to be made, should exercise more diligence and oversight in ensuring that all material that appears under its name is authorised and licensed. He added that were the case had come to court – and he’s grateful it won’t – he would have sued “EOT as the first point of contact”, not the producer.
It’s the duty of every producer to seek permission to use material, he said. “I always mix my videos with music, but I always look for a creative commons licence or contact the rights holder directly. Likewise, most producers would contact me directly, or through an agency, to negotiate a price to use the material. That’s how I fund other trips and projects.”
Cherney points out that in the EOT video, his footage has been cropped just above the copyright line, which is unmistakable in the original. “That constituted unauthorised usage of my footage because the copyright mark was not visible.”
However, the watermarks of Greek photographers whose material was used can be seen in the tourism video. Earlier this week, another photographer, Norwegian Athens resident Stian Rekdal, said footage of his had also been used without his permission. Likewise, his watermarks had been removed in the EOT video. Questions from this journalist to EOT about the missing watermarks have gone unanswered. Rekdal has since confirmed on Facebook that he has been compensated for the use of the footage in the EOT video.
“The good thing about the attention given to this story is that it raises the importance of the correct licensing of video materials and should help prevent misuse in the future,” Cherney believes.
My big fat Greek sky
Cherney points out that ancient Greek sailors would have been very confused had they encountered the night sky visible in his Ocean Sky video. “While there no southern constellations in it, what you see – like the Scorpius – are all upside down. And just off screen to the left is the Southern Cross, which the ancient Greeks did not know about. If ancient Greeks sailors used these for navigation, they would have ended up in Australia.”
When Giant Fish Leaves the Sky it is Time to Travel: Alex Cherney and John Morieson’s cultural reconstruction of the night sky totems and stories from the Aboriginal Boorong clan, which lived in northwestern Victoria, Australia
Ocean Sky proved so impressive that it landed Cherney first prize for astrophotography at the astronomy-related 2011 Starmus Festival, held in Tenerife in 2011. He says that given it has a staggering 2m views on Vimeo, it was only a matter of time before someone spotted his footage in the Greek video.
His success is all the more impressive considering that he only started looking at the stars in 2007 when his daughter, then four, asked him to help her “find aliens” as part of a space project she was doing at school.
“We went to a local astronomy club and when I looked through a telescope, I said ‘What have I been missing?’”