Photographer calls Korean Air ‘disturbing, disappointing’

2013-07-09 20:13

A celebrated photographer has expressed his shock and disappointment toward Korean Air for using a derivative image of one of his most famed works for commercial purposes without his knowledge.

“It is most disturbing to me and profoundly disappointing,” Michael Kenna told The Korea Herald. “A company of the stature of Korean Airlines should set a standard for others and support originality.”

He also said “it greatly surprises me that instead of using my original art work, somebody from Korean Airlines chose a derivative image.”

Korean Air, Korea’s No. 1 airline carrier, recently came under scrutiny for using a photo taken by an amateur photographer for a TV commercial it aired in late 2011.
Michael Kenna

The photo was an exact replica of a world-famous photo titled “Pine Trees,” of a locale in Korea, taken by Kenna in 2007. It depicts a set of pine trees on an island in Gangwon Province, and as Kenna noted, it has become “almost an icon” after the artist published it throughout the world.

Kenna has filed a 300 million won ($261,900) lawsuit against Korean Air for copyright infringement.

Kenna said Korean Air must have known the photo was his, partly due to its fame and also because the Korean Air-run gallery “Ilwoo Space” had previously sought to exhibit his work. Kenna eventually cancelled on Korean Air, citing the company’s “unorthodox business practices.”

“I hope (Korean Air’s) decision to ignore my image was not related to the cancelling of the Ilwoo Space exhibition. That would further lessen my regard for the company.”

The replica used in the commercial was taken by an amateur photographer who had participated in a contest held by Korean Air. This photographer also was not given compensation.

Cho Sang-gyu, an attorney from law firm Jeongyul representing Kenna, said he was confident of winning the case: “Evidence shows that Korean Air intentionally ripped off Kenna’s work.”

Those close to Kenna said the lawsuit was to remind Korean companies that copyright infringement was indeed a crime.

Korean firms are often content with using fakes or replicas to cut corners or to avoid dealing with license demands.

Samsung Electronics also had sought to use Kenna’s “Pine Trees” for a Galaxy S4 commercial, but these talks also fell apart due to copyright issues.

By Kim Ji-hyun (
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