Photographer Finally Takes Down Pictures of Bombing Suspect to Stop Theft

Hirn's photo story about one of the Boston bombing suspects appeared in a Boston University magazine back in 2010.

Hirn’s photo story about one of the Boston bombing suspects appeared in a Boston University student magazine in 2010.

Johannes Hirn, the former Boston University journalism student who shot a photo essay about one of the Boston bombing suspects, has removed the images from a PhotoShelter website and is referring licensing requests to Barcroft Media.

The images, comprising a 2010 photo essay called “Will Box for Passport,” feature the so-called “black hat” Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The story is about Tsarnaev’s bid to become an Olympic boxer, and shows him training in a mixed martial arts gym in Boston.

The story was published in 2010 in a graduate student magazine of Boston University’s College of Communication, where Hirn was a student. Hirn shot the story as a final assignment for a photojournalism course he took while at BU, according to an NPPA report.

Tsarnaev was killed last night in a shoot-out with police. After he was identified, news outlets found Hirn’s photo essay. Reporters used Hirn’s photo captions to profile Tsarnaev.  A number of media outlets have also copied and distributed Hirn’s photos without permission before he removed them from the Photoshelter site.

“We have seen multiple outlets lift screenshots of the images, but the hi res images are not accessible through PhotoShelter without direct permission from the photographer,” Andrew Fingerman of Photoshelter told PDN just before Hirn took the pictures off the site.

Hirn announced that Barcroft Media–a UK-based licenser of editorial content–is the exclusive distributor of the images. He also announced,  “I am not available for interview or comment.”

Hirn earned a PhD in particle physics before attending BU, where he earned a degree in science journalism, according to the NPPA report. He  now works in communications for an astrophysics lab at the University of Toronto.

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10 Responses to “Photographer Finally Takes Down Pictures of Bombing Suspect to Stop Theft”

  1. Christine Valada Says:

    There is no “breaking news” exemption for news organizations to steal copyright rights. Congress addressed that during the debate over the 1909 revision when publishers like Joseph Pulitzer tried to steal images from photographers without permission or payment. Get a good lawyer.

    This is also why it is important to register images in a timely manner if they are published–and on the web is published. You retain the ability to get attorney’s fees and statutory damages and are not limited to actual damages.

  2. Diane Says:

    Yes, Christine, exactly right. I hope he registered his images.

  3. photoshelter-er Says:

    watermarking wouldn’t hurt

  4. Mitch Labuda Says:

    The photographer has an exclusive distributor of his content and yet he placed the content on the public web, and people are surprised that companies and people abused the rights of the content holder?

    He should be lining a lawyer or firm and make the offenders pay for the use of his images.

  5. Hiram Miggs Says:

    He ought to sue the h..l out of the thieves. There is no “big story” exemption allowing them to steal. Nor is there any exception for Jihad attacks or breaking news. It’s piracy, plain and simple, and the thieves ought to be made to pay. And pay plenty.

    It would not only get the victim some recompense but it would make the mainstream media think twice about stealing in the future.

  6. Prof. Christopher R Harris Says:

    Sorry to say, but the “newsworthy” exemption will allow publications to legally “steal” the images of the photographers without compensation…and properly photo credit…in spite of the photographer holding the copyright.
    This is an ethical problem which is never properly addressed by the offending party (the publishers).
    The courts tend to side on the side of fair use rules very often…so as to not abridge the freedom of information…at the loss of payment to the photographer.
    I lost a major case against the San Jose Mercury News newspaper a few years ago due to the fair use exception by the newspaper. The photographer loses…yet without our images the offending papers/websites/tv/would often have no images at all.
    Copyright laws need to be overhauled in light of the internet age.

  7. Ron Levy Says:

    I would question the definition of “newsworthy” in this context. Saying that a photo in a 3-year old feature article is “newsworthy” is stretching it beyond the “immediate”.

    By that idea, any photo anywhere in history would be newsworthy if it involved anyone doing anything that was ever discussed in the news. Clearly a bit beyond the intent of Fair Use through immediate news.

    What is the immediate news about a boxer trying to get a passport 3 years ago? Does a magazine have the right to use any photo it finds anywhere without permission and hide behind the screen of “it was mentioned on the news last week”?

    I will be teaching a new class at our university next fall on Ethics in Media and Photography. One of the main tests of morality, and law, is the intent of the photographer, company or violator. A media company is generally legally responsible to clear use with the photographer. Even if they intended to hide behind the newsworthy shield, they should have contacted the photog and asked in good faith for permission.

    I think there is enough of a cause of action here to engage a lawyer on contingency. The trouble is, though, that even if he wins the case and gets money, it might not be worth his time.

  8. Photo Essay on Bombing Suspect Taken Offline to Stop Theft by Screenshot Says:

    [...] (via PDN Pulse) [...]

  9. Scott Donald Says:

    So obviously none of you have dealt with news photos and fair use issues before. He can try and sue but in such he would have to prove damages, which in this case would be very difficult. At best if he registered the copyright BEFORE publication, then he could send take down notices. I’ve had my own personal experience in this regard and once a photo has “news” value, good luck trying to fight fair use. Additionally, if anyone here really thinks that photos of a terrorist bomber who has an entire major American city on lock down is not of news value, then you just don’t understand the concepts in play here.

    Additionally, these photos only have value because of the criminal acts of the subject. What ethical photographer wants to try and make money off the blowing up of children? He should be given photo credit, which most legit news agencies will do. But compensation? Very distasteful.

  10. Ron Levy Says:

    Scott — You are correct that proving damages can be difficult and expensive. But cases like this also revolve around industry standard pricing for the rights and uses that the magazine engaged in illegally. Based on circulation, image size, # of hits, and a few other factors, it is relatively easy to show industry standard fees that the photographer may deserve.

    The issue is whether Mr.Hirn’s photos are current and newsworthy enough to let anyone take them and make money off of them. (Yes the magazine is making money off of viewers, ads, etc.). The story about Mr.Tsarnaev may have relevance, but proving an immediate newsworthy value of a 3 year old photo is a bit more complicated than you make it sound.

    Lastly, your criticism of making money off blowing up children is irrelevant. Mr. Hirn did not take any pictures of children blown up. He is not exploiting children or shooting for National Enquirer.

    But even if he did photograph hurt children, copyright laws were enacted to protect the work and creativity of photographers. Mr. Hirn should be compensated for providing one-of-a-kind images to media businesses and the public. He should not be made to feel guilty or ashamed for taking memorable photos and providing a much needed service to the world at a critical, historical event. Photos of horrible events like these throughout history have changed lives, help enact laws, and often changed the world for the better.