There was much satisfaction in the pro photographer community in November last year when freelance photojournalist Daniel Morel won a precedent-setting case against AFP and Getty Images for unauthorised distribution of his images of the 2010 Haitian earthquake victims.
Daniel Mori, the veteran Haitian photojournalist, at the 2011 World Press Photo awards.
Stranded in the disaster zone and with no support, Morel posted his graphic, on-the-scene images on Twitter. Here they were outright stolen by someone else, then picked up by an AFP editor and used by a number of Getty client publications.
Morel was awarded US$1.2 million in November last year, the maximum penalty available to the judge. Getty and AFP were also slapped with US$400,000 in fines for breaching copyright on eight Daniel Morel images.
One of the Daniel Morel images illegally distributed by Getty Images: Haitians rescue a woman trapped beneath rubble in the capital Port-au-Prince, minutes after an earthquake hit on 12 January. This image won 2nd Prize at the 2011 World Press Photo awards. Daniel Morel also won top prize in the Story category for the series. (By permission, Daniel Morel)
The long-running case is among the first to address whether images that individuals publish on social media sites can be used by a third party for commercial purposes.
‘I hope the internet is going to be a little safer now for all artists, all photographers,’ Daniel Morel told US pro photography website PDN the day after the jury reached its verdict.
Morel also said he took personal satisfaction in defeating the teams of lawyers from AFP and Getty that he had been fighting for nearly four years.
‘That was the most beautiful moment of my life, the look in their faces when they lost. They were so arrogant,’ he said. ‘Those guys [AFP and Getty] knew I was small, and thought there was no way I could sue them, and they took advantage of me. They thought they were untouchable.’
‘We believe that this is the first time that these defendants or any other major digital licensor of photography have been found liable for wilful violations of the Copyright Act,’ Daniel Morel’s lawyer said in an email quoted by news agency Reuters.
– And that’s probably why AFP and Getty seem determined to play a bullying Goliath to Morel’s David. (They initially counter-sued him back in 2010 in an attempt to force him to declare they had done nothing wrong.)
The agencies lawyers are now labelling the amount of damages a ‘miscarriage of justice’, arguing it is ‘intrinsically excessive’.
They are also maintaining that AFP/Getty Images’ were not in ‘reckless disregard’ for Morel’s rights, but rather they ‘might have been careless’. (Right – like someone might be ‘careless’ if they come across a Maserati with the driver’s door open and the keys in the ignition, drive it home and claim that they own it!)
It is not yet clear whether the case in the US will go to a re-trial. but documents lodged in response by Morel’s legal team indicate they are up for another round with these two 800-pound gorillas.
> Keith Shipton, Photo Counter