Public Outcry Stalls Lawsuit Over Portraits of Tucson Shooting Victim

Public criticism and a stinging statement from the family of a nine-year-old girl killed during the shootings in Tucson last month have led a portrait photographer to halt a copyright lawsuit–at least for now–against various media outlets. The photographer has also apologized to the girl’s family, and blamed the news media for “mischaracteriz[ing]” his intentions.

Last Friday, Tucson photographer Jon Wolf was poised to file a copyright claim against more than a dozen major media outlets for unauthorized use of his portraits of Christina-Taylor Green. But yesterday he wrote on his blog that because of a community outcry, “I have chosen to halt filing legal action in the hopes of reaching negotiated settlements with those that have used this image.”

Christina-Taylor Green died during the assassination attempt against Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on January 8. News organizations were in a “mass feeding frenzy to get a photograph of the child victim,” Wolf’s attorney, Edward Greenberg of New York, told PDN last week. He called the ensuing unauthorized use of Wolf’s images as “the most expansive infringement of a photographer’s copyright in history by far.”

Greenberg said the images were worth “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” with potential to generate income over several decades. He explained that the Green family had made three of Wolf’s copyrighted photographs available to news organizations after the January 8 shootings. The news organizations allegedly photographed the images, and distributed them without permission or payment in newspapers, magazines, online, and on TV.

Although he wouldn’t give details, Greenberg said he had negotiated settlements “with more than a few substantial and well-known web sites and publications.” But others would be named in the lawsuit, he said, including Associated Press, Time Inc, Fox News Network, New York Post, The New York Times, AOL, The Wall Street Journal and others.

Greenberg also said on Friday that the Green family “had executed a document saying that they will support [Wolf’s] efforts to sue and raise money for charity. He has their full cooperation and consent to pursue these claims.”

But yesterday Tucson news outlets reported public outrage–including a statement the Green family issued yesterday to local media–over a perception that Wolf was trying to profit from a tragedy.

“Jon Wolf, as we have painfully learned, showed poor taste in his choice to litigate over the usage of his photograph of our little girl Christina-Taylor Green,” the family statement said. “Our intent was not to allow others to profit from the Jon Wolf image but to allow the media to portray our daughter in the best light possible and to tell her story. It is unfortunate that he has chosen to litigate over the use of his photograph at this time, or at all, in light of the fact that our family is still mourning and grieving the loss of our daughter.”

Wolf announced on his blog yesterday afternoon that he was halting the legal proceedings for now. He was not immediately available for comment, but said on his blog: “My intent from the beginning always has been to use the proceeds from my creative work to make a charitable donation in Christina Green’s memory…At no time did I intend to profit personally from this tragedy.”

Wolf says he will turn over to charity all proceeds from the use of the images that he’s collected to date. He added, “I truly and deeply regret the additional distress this matter has placed on the Green family, and I apologize for that.”

Greenberg declined a follow-up interview, but said in an e-mail message that “settlement negotiations are ongoing in an effort to avoid the filing of suit…we are refraining from filing suit at this time.”

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