Photo editing illegal when used for deception, criminal intent - Lawyers

11 Jun 2024 11:32am
Photo for illustration purposes only. - 123RF
Photo for illustration purposes only. - 123RF

SHAH ALAM - Manipulating or editing images is not illegal, but the legality depends on the intention behind the edits and their use.

Lawyer Fatihah Jamhari said editing pictures was only considered illegal if it was done to make the images appear as something they were not (a practice known as counterfeiting) and then used to trick someone into taking action or giving something.

She added that if the manipulation was done with criminal intent, like extortion, it becomes a punishable crime.

"It's rather scattered across a few statutes, especially under the Penal Code and depends on the exact purpose.

"In the same way, any registered and established work is protected. It must be registered and proven to be the creator's original work," she said when contacted.

She added that no one was allowed to commercially benefit from the work without consent.

Fatihah said privacy laws in Malaysia were very basic and underdeveloped.

While individuals could sue for invasion of privacy, she said it was considered a tort case that must be tried in the civil court, where the costs were high and likelihood of proving a solid case was uncertain, depending on the actual facts of the case.

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She explained that only the affected person, whose picture was being used, could file a lawsuit.

Fatihah said the real challenge was not just proving that the pictures were manipulated, but also identifying the individuals responsible for editing, manipulating and sharing them.

She pointed out that fake accounts on social media often used these tactics and they were difficult to trace due to the use of VPNs and similar methods.

"Always check for veracity of the narrative that the post is trying to create.

"It is difficult to but these days some platforms have allowed community fact-checking to limit manipulation.

"The best method is to ensure control of our pictures and their usage," she said.

Fatihah shared that she personally did not share her photos openly online because these tactics have been around since the advancement of technology.

She urged social media users to exercise self-control rather than to rely on complete strangers to act ethically.

Meanwhile, former Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir said the images edited to defame someone was a violatation of the Penal Code, while harmful content could breach laws like the Communications and Multimedia Act.

He said in the digital age, it could be challenging to understand the exact boundaries for posting images and edited videos on social media.

"Section 114A of the Evidence Act operates as presumption in law, meaning that there is no need for the person suing or the authorities to prove who published the defamatory statements.

"It is enough to show that the statements were published and originated from specific social media platforms, email addresses or Facebook accounts," he told Sinar Daily.

Salim said every repost or share of defamatory statements was considered as a new publication.

He advised taking precautions against libelous image editing, Photoshop or alterations by being aware of the image sources used.

He added that individuals should seek consent, verify accuracy of the photo and refrain from using manipulated images.

"You should never edit an image in a way that changes or distorts the appearance or identity of a person.

"As far as possible, people should attempt to provide links or reference to the original images," he said.

He cautioned that using Photoshop or any form of image alteration could expose individuals to potential lawsuits for copyright infringement or defamation, especially if the publication damages someone's reputation.

In today's digital age, the Gen Z is highly adept at using digital tools and social media and often edits and shares images online.

However, this can lead to legal risks like copyright infringement and defamation.

Unauthorised use of images without proper licensing can result in fines and lawsuits, making it essential for them to understand copyright laws and use royalty-free images to avoid damaging someone's reputation and facing legal consequences.

To navigate these complexities, the Gen Z should educate themselves on copyright, defamation and privacy laws, adopt ethical content creation practices and think critically about the potential impact of their digital actions.