Burundi Economy - Development | Society | Culture - Arts
Burundi sued over photo on 10,000 franc note
Reverse of Burundian 10,000 franc note
afrol News, 2 May - The back of Burundi's 10,000 franc note is highly symbolic, depicting schoolboys as the country's learning future. The text below, in unusually large letters, informs that "counterfeiters are punished by the penal law." Now, it seems, the Central Bank of Burundi itself may be punishable over copyright infringements, using a photography by Kelly Fajack of Burundian schoolboys without his approval.
Mr Fajack, a US citizen living in California, was unsure whether he should consider it an honour or an insult when he first found out that his photography was illustrating the backside of Burundi's 10,000 franc note, worth about euro 8.10 (US$ 10.20). Giving it some thought, he concluded that someone in the process must have made a decision to just give a damn about the photographer.
The American photographer had not been contacted by any Burundian official in the process that led to his image decorating the bank note. Indeed, it was only a US diplomat stationed in Bujumbura that discovered the connection. Prior to his stationing in Burundi the diplomat had done some research on the country on the Internet and had come across an image on Mr Fajack's website of Burundian school boys that was taken in 2002 while the photographer was working in Africa.
When the diplomat arrived in Bujumbura - the Burundian capital - in February last year and received the local currency "he immediately recognised the image and contacted Mr Fajack," the photographer's lawyer, David Alden Erikson told afrol News. The new 10,000 franc note, according to the Central Bank, has been in circulation since February 2005.
"The image was taken in a Bujumbura school while I was working with an NGO doing pro bono work photographing the different things they are doing in Burundi and the Congo. It was taken while I was touring their school," Mr Fajack told afrol News.
According to the photographer, he never handed out the picture to any official in Burundi or sold a copy of it. "It was only on my website and one or two others that had stolen it from my site," Mr Fajack holds. Also the "stolen" copies included the photographer's name and contact information, he adds. The Central Bank of Burundi thus must have gotten hold of the picture by downloading it from the Internet, he concludes.
As soon as facts were established, Mr Fajack tried to get in touch with Burundian authorities to find out who was responsible for the unauthorised use of his photography. Probably, he held, the responsibility lay with someone at the Central Bank in charge of design or a foreign design company. Several attempts to get an answer from the Burundian embassy in Washington however were in vain.
Thus, Mr Fajack engaged lawyer Erikson to sue the government of Burundi "for copyright infringement". The photographer, indicating he is uncomfortable about suing an impoverished country, says he still hopes Burundian authorities will inform Mr Erikson about who is responsible for the unauthorised use of his photo, thus avoiding a law suit against the state.
Mr Fajack told afrol News that he therefore at this stage had not sued Bujumbura authorities for any specified amount or compensation. He only demands information. "We would like to know what art house, ad agency or printing company did the work for them. They are also responsible. We would rather deal with them," Mr Fajack explains.
On his own website, which aims at marketing his photos, Mr Fajack seemingly proudly writes that his work is "depicted on the 10,000 franc note in the African country of Burundi," publishing the photo and the note and without referring to the claim that the image was stolen. Asked whether the use of his photo was prestigious and had a big marketing value to him, Mr Fajack somewhat agrees.
"I have never sued anyone in my life and I never wanted to. But, I am sure at sometime at the Burundian Bank and at the currency printing company someone said, 'maybe we should contact the photographer'. And then they said, 'screw him'," he explains his reason for going to court.
The Central Bank of Burundi, which afrol News did not manage to contact for reactions, on its website gives another presentation of its newest bank note. "The motive figuring on the reverse is symbolised by three pupils in class," the Bank says, adding the "many technical elements that will not permit an easy reproduction." No note is however made of the designers of the 10,000 franc note.
The Central Bank further says it is the sole responsible for issuing bank notes in Burundi. "Since its creation, the Bank has been charged with this task, [doing so] without failure and with professionalism, in spite of the difficulties that sometimes did not fail to appear," the Bank notes.
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