Photographer sues AFP for 120 million over Twitter-photos

Lady Justice by Jordan Green

(Photo by GreenLight Designs)

A photographer is suing AFP and Getty Images for 120 million US Dollars over photos that he had taken in Haiti after the earthquake and which he had shared on Twitter.

I find it remarkable that this story doesn’t get more attention because it shows just how much trouble you can get into if you take photos from social media platforms without making sure that you have the necessary rights.

Downloaded from Twitpic

In a nutshell here is what happened (check out the British Journal of Photography if you want more details):

Daniel Morel is a professional photographer and was in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake happened. He immediately started taking photos and made some of them available in high resolution through Twitter/Twitpic. The photos were retweeted and an AFP editor downloaded them and shared them with AFPs own subscribers as well with Getty Images who resold the photos as well. In total 820 copies of Morel’s photos were sold.

The question, which is now being discussed before a New York court, is whether what AFP did was legal or not. AFP argues that Twitters Terms of Service grant third parties the right to rebroadcast content.  In addition they argue that Morel de facto consented to the photos being reused in a commercial fashion by making them available through a social network in high resolution.

Morel naturally sees things differently and sues AFP/Getty for the maximum amount of 150,000 US Dollars per alleged copyright infringement.

The rules apply to everyone

This is a really interesting case because AFP essentially argues that it was ok to take the photos and even profit from them financially, simply because they were on the internet. However, at the same time AFP and Getty are pursuing bloggers who take their photos without permission. Surely you can’t have it both ways.

Besides, I would argue that companies, whose sole business model is acquiring and reselling rights should really know better and be held to a higher standard.

I doubt and I don’t think that Morel should get 120 million from AFP. But whatever amount he gets in the end, it should be a warning to all NGOs and humanitarian organizations who are lax about acquiring rights for photos and videos. Having written  permission to  use photos is absolutely essential!

Update 7 February 2013: The proceedings moved forward a little bit in January 2013. No trial date has been set and no damages have been awarded, but the judge found that AFP has been guilty of at least some form of copyright infringement, with the severity still to be determined. Read more at the British Journal of Photography.

  • I agree with your statement that AFP and Getty “should really know better and be held to a higher standard,” although I also share your doubt that Mr. Morel will be awarded the more than $120 million he is seeking. Still, this story is all too indicative of an increasing problem that many people are experiencing with online theft of original photos. I always suggest that clients of mine employ any number of tricks available to protect original pictures, such as posting low resolution copies that are clear only on a small scale instead of high resolution, professional versions. People can also embed watermarks or use Adobe Flash images instead of JPG files, but the point remains that there are steps every user can take to protect his or her original photographs.

    • My apologies for taking so long to approve this comment. Somehow "intensedebate" had filed it into my spam folder. I very much agree with your recommendation to only share low-res photos. Another technology I find very interesting are invisible digital watermarks that can easily be tracked online. Unfortunately, at the moment, these services are still quite expensive, but I'm sure the costs will come down.

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  • HaidaBob

    Getty images is a morally corrupt corporation and sack of shit human beings in general.