When she was a student, South African author Shubnum Khan took part in a free photoshoot because she wanted some nice headshots. She didn’t think much of it until a friend messaged her to say she’d been spotted on an immigration poster in Canada. Shubnum studied the picture and remembered that it was taken while she was a student. But since that image, she’s also been spotted on a McDonald’s advert in China, various immigration posters, and advertising skin products and dating websites.
Shubnum explained on Twitter how she unknowingly gave a photographer the rights to her image and found her stock photograph used commercially across the world. The photographer had taken photos of 100 various faces of all ages and races in Durban, South Africa. The participants signed a release form at the start but Shubnum thought it was to give him permission to use the photos for his portfolio, she hadn’t read the small print. ‘So I contact the photographer and he said we signed away these photos (we took three – straight-faced, smiling and crazy) and they’re now stock photos that he sells. He says I might start popping up in places. So I started a reverse Google search of these images and well, it feels like I sell everything! ‘If I’m not welcoming immigrants to Canada, I’m selling carpets in New York, leading treks in Cambodia, or looking for love in France. ‘I can also take on new identities,’ she explained. ‘The most shocking of these are adverts to teach and care for kids – so who is actually with the kids? When I asked the photographer about this, he says I signed away rights to “distortion of character including false names”‘.