A federal jury on Friday awarded $1.2 million to freelance journalist Daniel Morel. The journalist sued Agence France-Presse and Getty Images after they willfully stole his Twitter posted photos and then sold them to various news agencies around the world.
In 2010 Morel took awe inspiring photos of the 2010 Haiti earthquake devastation that killed more than 250,000 people.
The lawsuit is one of the first to address how Twitter images can be distributed. While users can embed tweets with photos, Morel’s work was directly downloaded by AFP and Getty Images and then sold to other clients including the Washington Post, and various other news partners.
$1.2 million is the maximum statutory amount of damages Morel was legally able to collect. While not admitting its guilt, the AFP had asked that the court set a maximum payout of $120,000.
Following the court’s decision Morel’s attorney Joseph Baio, said, “We believe that this is the first time that these defendants or any other major digital licensor of photography have been found liable for willful violations of the Copyright Act.”
Marcia Paul, a lawyer for Getty, said Morel was asking the jury “to make him the best paid news photographer on the planet.” While AFP attorney Joshua Kaufman called the infringement an innocent mistake. The AFP attorney claims their was no attribution for the photos so they took them and made them their own. Anyone with even a basic understanding of copyright laws of course realizes that no attribution does not equal free to use or free to sell rights.
After Daniel Morel claimed the agencies used his photos without permission in 2010, the AFP filed a lawsuit against the freelance photographer, asking for a declaration that it had not infringed on his copyrights. That lawsuit led to Morel filing his own counterclaims.
Under Twitter’s terms of service only the posting and retweeting of images is allowed. The commercial right to download and sell photos without a photographers permission is still illegal.
You can read the full case in Agence France-Presse v. Morel, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 10-02730.
[Photo Credit: Israel Defense Forces]