2 hotel management companies tried by High Court for infringing copyright over use of photos

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SINGAPORE – Two hotel management companies have been tried by the High Court for infringing a US company’s copyright on photographs of various luxury hotels.

The companies, which are part of the General Hotel Management Group (GHM), had used the photographs in 12 issues of the group’s magazine.

They had argued in court that the owners of the hotels owned the copyright in the photographs.

But Judge Mavis Chionh disagreed, ruling in her judgment on Thursday, June 16 that a company created by entrepreneur and designer Lee Kar Yin is the copyright holder.

GHM manages, operates and promotes luxury hotels and resorts worldwide. Current properties include The Chedi Andermatt in Switzerland.

Ms. Lee, who has worked in the creative industry here since 1990, has set up various businesses to carry out her work. These include The Wave Studio, which was incorporated in the United States to own and manage the intellectual property rights to its literary and artistic works.

Between 1995 and 2008, Ms Lee and three of her companies were contracted by GHM to provide a range of services to various hotels managed by the group. These services included the production of hotel marketing, branding and promotional materials.

During the production of the materials, the companies hired contractors to take photos of the hotels. These images were then edited by Ms Lee, before being delivered to the hotels and one of the defendants – which was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) but has its principal place of business in Singapore.

Sometime in 2012, Ms Lee discovered that some of the photographs in the documents had appeared on the websites of several online travel agencies.

She discovered later in 2013 that the photographs had also been used in 12 issues of GHM magazine, which were available for download on her website.

These magazine issues could also be found on other websites owned or operated by GHM companies, and copies were distributed to BVI-managed hotels and their guests.

The Wave Studio then sued various companies – including the BVI company – for copyright infringement in the United States.

The US court later dismissed his claims against BVI, ruling in 2017 that Singapore would be the appropriate forum to determine the copyright holder of the photographs.

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