NEWS UPDATE: A photographer has reportedly won $1.2m from agency giants Getty Images and Agence France Presse (AFP) in an historic legal battle in New York.
NEWS UPDATE: Daniel Morel has reportedly won $1.2m for wilful violation of his copyright over images he posted on Twitter. Morel’s lawyer Joseph Baio told Reuters: ‘We believe this is the first time that these defendents or any other digital licensor of photography have been found liable for wilful violations of the Copyright Act.’
Speaking after his three-and-a-half-year legal battle Morel said: ‘They thought they could crush this guy from Haiti – they were wrong,’ reported Editorial Photographers United Kingdom & Ireland which closely followed the trial.
Amateur Photographer newsdesk comment: This signals a major victory for photographic copyright in an era when it is all too easy to grab an image off the internet without first checking that permission has been sought from the photographer who created it. In August, this was taken a step further when Hengki Koentjoro, a fine-art photographer from Indonesia, found that his image had been digitally manipulated and entered into Samsung’s ‘Live in the moment’ competition by an Instagram user.
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The case, which could have implications for photographers worldwide, will rule on whether Getty Images and AFP acted ‘wilfully’ when photos of the 2010 Haiti earthquake by photojournalist Daniel Morel were plucked from his Twitpic account and distributed without his permission, while crediting another photographer.
A US court has already determined that Morel’s copyright was breached, in a ruling by Judge Alison Nathan on 14 January 2013.
On US-based website www.photoattorney.com, attorney Carolyn E Wright, who is also a professional photographer, writes: ‘Judge Nathan found that AFP and Getty Images violated the US Copyright Act and infringed Mr Morel’s copyright when they took Mr Morel’s photographs off the internet, misidentified them, added their own names to the credit lines and licensed them to their worldwide clients – all without getting Mr Morel’s permission.’
She adds: ‘The jury in the upcoming trial will decide whether AFP and Getty acted “wilfully” in their misuse of Mr Morel’s photographs and in their mistreatment of him in the months following their infringements.
‘The jury will also set the damages that AFP and Getty Images will have to pay Mr Morel for their persistent misconduct.’
After Morel complained, AFP launched a legal bid to remove his copyright to the photos, suing him for ‘commercial disparagement’.
But, Judge Nathan dismissed the claim that Morel had forfeited his rights by posting the images on Twitter.
Editorial Photographers United Kingdom & Ireland (EPUK), which campaigns for copyright protection, says British photographers will be affected if the agencies’ defence is successful.
Registration of copyright with the US Copyright Office ‘could well become worthless’, warns EPUK on its website.
‘A strong victory for Morel will strengthen copyright protection for photographers and force all agencies properly to respect photographers’ rights.
‘It will be a welcome levelling of a badly tilted playing field.’
The trial, which is expected to last a week, will take place at Thurgood Marshall US Court House in Manhattan.