Web-only: ran out of space in print

Battle of the Titans

"IN MAY, Matthew Rolston paid $24.95 on the Internet," the Wall Street Journal reported on 1 July, "for a photo taken by a famous photographer, Matthew Rolston. The photographer was surprised he was able to buy the picture - of actress Meg Ryan - since he had authorized its use only once, for an issue of Detour magazine three years ago."

What is strange is that it is not Rolston who is suing amazon.com and 15 poster and picture stores for selling the picture. It's Corbis - which is Bill Gates' half of the battle to corner the market in photographs, the other being the Getty Picture Library. The Freelance can't currently find any Rolston pictures on www.corbis.com to read the licence terms offered, but it seems unlikely that he'd have signed all rights to Corbis. So it appears that the agency that distributes the legitimate copies on his behalf is suing Amazon as the website provider that distributes the (allegedly) infringing copies on others' behalf.

Which makes this look like where politics meets marketing. It seems Corbis piled straight in with lawsuit, without issuing the standard "cease and desist" letter first. Maybe they're trying to stand up the bit in their information for photographers that claims "Our photographers and artists enjoy the friendliest contract in the business... Our assertive stance on copyright protection and enforcement is unmatched in the industry..."

The effect may be, however, to strengthen the impression that copyright is all about corporations' rights and not about creators'. Especially if the Wall Street Journal sues Corbis for posting a scan of its article to the web...

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