A Federal Court in New York found in favor of Haitian photographer Daniel Morel in a prolonged fight over photos he took of the Haiti earthquake in January 2010.
A jury found that Agence France-Presse and Getty Images willfully infringed upon Morel’s copyright of 8 pictures he took of the earthquake and that he sent out via Twitpic on Twitter. The jury awarded Morel $1.22 million.
According to a New York Times article, Morel claimed that Getty Images and AFP sold his exclusive photos for $45.
Morel’s Twitpics of the earthquake were retweeted by Lisandro Suero who indicated that the photos were his. As such, AFP distributed them to clients and Getty Images distributed the photos in the U.S.
Prior to the Court rendering its decision, Morel had settled with The Washington Post, ABC, CBS and others that used his images without authorization.
The jury determined whether the infringement had been “willful” by AFP and Getty Images and the amount of damages.
The case supports the rights of photographers and provides clarity of the rights to use of photographs in the age of social media. AFP had sued Morel seeking a declaratory judgment to show it had not infringed Morel’s copyright. It cited Twitter’s terms of service arguing that it had granted a license to use his TwitPics. However, the terms of service grants Twitter only as granting a license to use the photographs. Thus, anyone seeing the photos on Twitter or any subsequent retweets of the photos would not have a license to use the photographs.
While this case has many details to it, the big takeaway is that photographers that post photos on social media sites like twitter should look at the “terms of service” for the social media platform. It is likely that you are giving a license to the social media provider but not any of its users. Moreover, the Morel case is a win for photographer’s rights. In a time when social media is a way to obtain and disseminate information, there are still protections out there to ensure that your intellectual property is not taken.
The court case filed in the US District Court Southern District of New York is Agence France Presse v. Daniel Morel