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Photographer Wins $1.2 Million Lawsuit against Agence France-Presse and Getty Images

November 23rd 2013 10:03 AM

FEATURED

The worlds of social media and image copyright collided Friday when a judge ordered two media companies to pay $1.2 million to photographer Daniel Morel. The images of the 2010 devastating earthquakes in Haiti were taken from the photojournalist’s Twitter account and used without his authorization by both the Agence France-Presse and Getty Images.

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Why is This Relevant?

This ruling provides insight into the highly debated question of who owns images posted publicly to social media services like Twitter; and moreover, whether they can be used for commercial purposes by third parties.

The short answer is “no.”

[Rewind: Protect Yourself with a Photography Contract and Other Legal Documents for Photographers]
 

While users can embed tweets with photos and retweet photos, these images cannot be downloaded and used commercially, even if they are taken from a “retweet” and not directly from the original user’s account.

Moreover, in this case, they were sold to clients like the Washington Post and others. According to Joseph Baio, Daniel Morel’s Lawyer, “We believe that this is the first time that these defendants or any other major digital licensor of photography have been found liable for willful violations of the Copyright Act”

The AFP lawyer attributed the infringement to a mistake and said they believed the photos were posted for public distribution.

Other Facts

  • AFP had asked for the award to be set at $120,000.
  • The photos were disseminated to Getty’s clients, including television networks and the Washington Post
  • During the trial, the lawyer for Getty, said Morel was asking the jury “to make him the best paid news photographer on the planet.”
  • $1.2 million was the maximum statutory penalty available under the Copyright Act.

Co-Founder of SLR Lounge and Photographer with Lin and Jirsa Photography, I’m based in Southern California but you can find me traveling the world. Click here to connect on Google +

Comments [27]

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  1. Art Mann

    Getty and AFP were liable for infringing eight of Morel’s Haitian earthquake images. The maximum damages for a registered copyright is $150,000. Hence, 8 X $150K = $1.2 million for total copyright infringement damages.

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  2. Paul Blacklock

    I Wonder how Getty would feel if everyone used their photos without paying them a fee.

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  3. Gonzalo

    1.2 millions is not the snaps fee, what the people and lawyers need to understand is at trial they pay a penalty for outlaw activities, including btoh the pictures payment and the making it right to someone they stole from.

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  4. Cheryl

    I’m glad to see this happened so many people maybe wake up to this. I have had one photo that I know of stolen from a photography site and the person even told me they did it and wanted to “remake” it to show me how it would look better. I never gave any approval and turned the person in. They still have my photo and still post it. What on that?

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  5. Mia

    In 2008 one of my images was stolen from my site and used by the biggest newspaper in Russia and Belarus. And guess how much I got? Nothing because ALL lawyers I went to said to me don’t even bother going against that newspaper because the newspaper will simply buy the judge and you will end up paying money to them. Yes it is that much of a corruption there.

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    • Anette Mossbacher

      Interesting. I deal with Russian newspapers stealing my images. So far the retroactive license works just fine for me!! Try with that! Be friendly as well. On Car magazine responded within 24 hours! Guess your lawyers just didn’t want to deal with Russians.

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    • Mia

      Well. In that time I was a Russian citizen, and I went to a lot of layers. Trust me it is very different out there.

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  6. Yarista

    I don’t think he was made the best paid photographer by them. He was due that and much more FOR THEFT! Why are the photos they distribute worth a lot of money but not the same when they buy them? I think this is big a step in the right direction, so agencies behave. Theft is theft no matter whether digital or otherwise. I have no respect for them now.

    Now… I am using an app to send greeting v=cards that says that the photos are taken form flickr.com.
    Isn’t that theft? I don’t know if they have asked permission to the owners to use the photos – that I not know of – but the say you have o wait because the App performs a query on flickr.com.

    If they haven’t asked permission directly, is the use of the photos on Flickr without payment implied?
    The App is called Lifelike Cards. Check it Out!

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    • Yarista

      CORRECTING A FEW TYPOS:
      I don’t think he was made the best paid photographer by them. He was due that and much more FOR THEFT! Why are the photos they distribute worth a lot of money but not the same when they buy them? I think this is a big step in the right direction, so that agencies behave. Theft is theft no matter whether digital or otherwise. I have no respect for them now.

      Now… I am using an app to send greeting cards that says that the photos are taken from flickr.com. Isn’t that theft? I don’t know if they have asked permission to the owners to use the photos – that I don’t know of – but they say you have to wait because the App performs a query on flickr.com ! Plain and simple, they extract he photos from the posts!!

      If they haven’t asked permission directly, is the use of the photos on Flickr without payment already implied when you create an account?

      The App is called Lifelike Cards. Check it Out!

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  7. Anette Mossbacher

    These are great news. Fighting myself with stolen images. Retroactive Livense is a great way to get my money from stolen images!

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  8. Michael Rapp

    Both defendands work in news and media, so copyrights and infringements should not be strangers on a bus. Not at all.
    In fact, those companies throw the book at you for the very same reason without hesitation.
    Those images were used for increasing profit, without a thought of compensation for the photographer. Now, what’s the definition of theft again?
    They knew what they were risking, the risked it, got caught. now pay up. I see no indication or reason for a reduced fine here.
    The www has shifted our attitude towards other people’s porperty a bit, just because it’s available and downloadable still doesn’t mean you actually are allowed to do so.
    This set of rules has been working quite well for the last couple of thousand years on any marketplace on the planet: grab what’s not yours and your hand gets chopped off.
    Now, being a bit more civilized, they take 1,2M instead.
    Although, some modern businessmen would rather part with his hand, given a choice…

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    • robert

      since they are using my photo in a golf magazine to advertize specials for their golf course and it has brought it more business to the golf course.

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  9. Joe Russo

    Didn’t the RIAA win a few cases where they won the maximum penalty per song downloaded? Since the big media companies are trying to do this to people, shouldn’t they pay penalties the same way? $1.2 mil per image would follow the same guidelines.

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  10. Jordan Hites

    Robert Savarino, if your case is a guaranteed win (assuming that it falls directly into the same situation as the Daniel Morel case), I’d be more than happy to pay for your legal fees for a reasonable portion of your award.

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  11. John Smith

    The 1.2 mil is appropriate. Sure it’s way more than the photos were worth, but if companies think they can steal images, then only have to pay market value IF they get caught and forced to pay, they’ll continue to do it. 1.2 mil is a deterrent. Register your copyrights people.

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    • SLG

      Who knows if it’s way more than the photos were worth. It must’ve been worth a lot if they couldn’t send their own photographers to Haiti in those dangerous conditions to take the photos. They weren’t just snapshots like one takes at a picnic. How much were they selling and licensing the photos for? How many other times have they gotten away with this type of thing?

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  12. Robert

    yes…i have and they continue to use it. i’ve talk to lawyers and the want $300/hr and it cost $1000 for them just to write a letter of cease and desist. but i will send them an invoice but how do i know how much to charge them for the use of my picture. thanks 4 the advice

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    • Jennifer

      Try norcaljustice.com or seanmpatricklaw.com they charge less than that and they help a friend of mine with a copyright issue last year.

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  13. Robert Savarino

    i have a company using one of my pictures for the last year without my permission in a golf magazine. what is messed up is that i can’t afford to take legal action.

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    • Ryan

      Have you tried simply sending them an invoice along with a threat of legal action? You would be surprised how often that works.

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    • Ryan

      PS: it is worth it to pay for an hour of a lawyer’s time to draft up that threat for you.

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    • andrew

      Find a lawyer willing to work on percentages, perhaps? Not sure if this sort of case has attorneys that work on that sort of contract but I just finished up a lawsuit dealing with personal injury that the attorney was paid 1/3 plus expenses.

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    • marty

      do it yourself, I did and have done it 2x and prevail nicely

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    • jessica

      are you a member of PPA? If not, time to become one ASAP and then utilize their FREE legal services. It’s DEFINITELY worth the $40/month membership…!!!

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    • Tom Nash-III

      Personal injury, isn’t it? Have you checked with any personal injury lawyers to see it they would take the case on?

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    • Tom Nash-III

      P.S. : If you’re a member of PPA….. They have the attorney waiting to take on your case!

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