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Agencies can’t snarf pictures off Twitter:

Daniel Morel wins a round

HAITAN photographer Daniel Morel has won another round in his case against Agence France Presse and others including The Washington Post. On 14 January Judge Alison Nathan in the Southern District Court of New York gave summary judgement that AFP and the Post infringed Morel's, copyright when they distributed and reproduced photos they found through Twitter.com.

Morel is a professional photographer who has worked in Haiti for over twenty-five years. He was in Port au Prince, Haiti, when an earthquake devastated the city on 12 January 2010. He photographed the immediate aftermath. He was able to access the internet that afternoon and, under the username "photomorel" he opened accounts on Twitter and on Twitpic, a third-party application of Twitter.

Someone called Lisandro Suero then copied the photographs onto his own Twitpic page and Tweeted that he had "exclusive photographs of the catastrophe for credit and copyright." AFP has claimed it got at least some of the photos from here, and certainly transmitted them to Getty Images credited to Suero. They were used on front pages worldwide.

On 16 March 2010, it emerged at an earlier hearing, AFP deputy photo editor Eva Hambach emailed a colleague: "AFP got caught with a hand in the cookie jar and will have to pay." The agency instead sued Morel for claiming copyright in his own pictures, saying this was "commercial defamation" and "an antagonistic assertion of rights". Morel was then left to counter-sue for abuse of his pictures. He was then exclusively represented by Getty's rival, Corbis.

In defence, AFP claimed that "by posting the Photos-at-Issue on TwitPic/Twitter, Morel granted them a licence, as a "third-party beneficiary" of TwitPic's licence to make images available on the Web - and continued to do so, despite an earlier hearing rejecting it (Freelance June 2012). Judge Nathan patiently repeated why this argument was desperate.

Judge Nathan ruled that AFP and the Post had infringed copyright in eight photos - entitling him to "not less than $750 or more than $30,000" per photo. She was not impressed by his lawyer's argument that AFP shared liability for each unlicensed use of each photo, totalling "tens or hundreds of millions of dollars". Other claims - notably against Corbis - will have to go to a full trial.

  • This case throws an interesting light on the practice of UK media, for example taking pictures of a helicopter crash in London off Twitter, and (sometimes) asking the pictures' owners to get in touch.
Last modified: 06 Feb 2013 - © 2013 contributors
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