Jury awards photographer Morel $1.2M
A JURY in New York city has awarded the maximum possible damages to Haitian photographer Daniel Morel for massive abuse of eight of his pictures of the earthquake that devastated Port au Prince on 12 January 2010. When the verdict was announced on 22 November "gasps were heard in the courtroom", according to the account of the hearing at the Editorial Photographers' site www.epuk.org.
Joseph Baio, representing Morel, had said "They did it because they could. They did it because they're AFP and Getty. They thought: 'We can put these pictures out and buy this guy off.' They did it because that's the way they are." The award of $150,000 per photo shows that jury agreed: they could have awarded as little as $650 per image.
International Federation of Journalists President Jim Boumelha said that "Clear respect for journalists and photo journalists' rights to be identified as authors and decide on the use to be made of their work is key if we want our colleagues to make a living and control the use that is made of their work. This decision is a great step forward in our battle to uphold authors' rights [and] we hope that it will encourage social media to endorse fair policies."
The jury awarded Morel a further $20,000 for altering "copyright management information" (credits) and for adding false and misleading CMI, contrary to the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Morel uploaded photos as "photomorel" to Twitpic, a third-party application of Twitter. One 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 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".
Concerns remain about sites like Twitpic. In 2011 Twitpic issued an apology for seemingly claiming copyright on images uploaded on its website. But it still demands that all contributors grant it a "worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license" to use works posted. "This means that Twitpic can still use creative works for free, including for commercial purposes," says European Federation of Journalists President Mogens Blicher-Bjerregård. "Media professionals should be made clearly aware of the implications such licenses have when they upload their work on social media."