Beware! Using some awesome car photography you found online in your next advertisement could cost you more than a pretty penny in legal fees.
Currently there is a watershed, photographic based, court case coming to a close that could have far reaching effects on images and rights of use. Daniel Morel, a freelance photographer, found himself in Haiti at the time of the island nation’s historical & powerful earthquake. His photos were among the first that the world saw of this epic disaster. Due to the country’s wide spread devastation, he was not able to securely upload his photos to his representatives, so he utilized a more public method… TwitPic.com … a service he linked to his Twitter account. Several news agencies came across these images and began flashing them across TV screens and publishing them in daily papers for days and even weeks after this tragic event. However, none of the news agencies sought Morel’s approval to disseminate his images or even gave him credit.
This caused Morel to bring suit against many powerful news organizations, among them Agence France Presse (AFP), ABC, CBS, CNN and Getty Images. Without getting into all the complicated legal terms of the case, the news organizations declared that they had not infringed upon Morel’s copyrights. They argued that Twitpic’s terms of service, which Morel had agreed to before uploading, provided them a license to distribute the images.
However last December, District Judge William H. Pauley refused to dismiss the case in favor of the new agencies and he went one step further by legally commenting that anything posted on Twitter or TwitPic cannot be freely re-used or distributed. His comments alone caused many of the new agencies to settle with the photographer while AFP and Getty chose to move forward with a summary judgment (a tactic seen by most, as attempt to allow more time for settlement talks).
It comes down to this; in previous cases the court only found violation if the digital photograph’s embedded metadata had been removed or alter (metadata is created when utilizing Photoshop or other similar applications). Yet, in this case, due to the use of Twitpic, there was no metadata. Judge Pauley took this into account and found that the information does not have to be embedded; it can be shown alongside the image. All 13 of the images Morel uploaded displayed the handle “photomorel” or “Morel”. The Court concluded that anyone would have recognized that meant Morel was the author of these images.
What does this mean for photographers? Simply put, the courts are catching up to the digital age and would-be online poachers should beware.
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