Photographer forced to un-publish pictures
INDUSTRIAL photographer Stephen Mallon was engaged to document the
salvage of the plane that landed on the Hudson River in New York, US, back on 15 January. He was engaged by Weeks Marine, the company that lifted the plane
from the water.
Those who have seen the pictures, the Online Photographer blog reports, say he did a
wonderful job. Pulitzer-Prizewinning photo editor Stella Kramer called his pictures "an incredible, beautiful document of the recovery".
Stephen put some pictures up on his website, www.stephenmallon.com. But you can't see them
First, about a week after the pictures went up, the US National Transportation
Safety Board - the accident investigator - asked him to take them off. He did. Two weeks
later the NTSB cleared them. Correspondence continued about precisely which pictures
were cleared for the public to see.
Then J. Supor & Son, owners of Weeks Marine, wrote to assert that they were his
Then troubled insurance company AIG passed Stephen a lawyers' letter demanding that he unpublish his pictures.
And... let's get this straight, if we can. What are the roles of AIG and those
lawyers here? US Airways is the owner of the plane that failed to complete Flight 1549.
And Stephen tells the Freelance: "US airways hired the law firm and AIG.
AIG hired Supor & Son; Supor hired Weeks Marine, Weeks hired me. So there are
the degrees of separation in the claim that I am a sub-sub-sub-contractor of theirs."
Under US copyright law, photographers' and other authors' clients can ask them to
sign a "Work for Hire" agreement - which means that the client is legally
regarded as the author of the work. A "Work for Hire" agreement means that
a freelance, who by default owns their own work, is treated as employees are under
US law. (Note: this happens only in US law.)
But Stephen had signed no such agreement.
Ironically, Stephen has an email from US Airways, thanking him for shooting
the recovery of the plane - and asking for copies of his pictures, for their
archive. Other photographers will not be surprised to hear that they offered
no fee for this.
The Freelance is frankly puzzled over what legal case AIG could
make. But it'd cost Stephen a small fortune to challenge them, so for the
moment you can't see his pictures, and he can't sell licences to use them