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June 17th, 2014

NH Town Pays $57K to Settle First Amendment Claim in Traffic Stop Video Case

The town of Weare, New Hampshire, has paid $57,000 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by a citizen who was arrested in 2010 after attempting to videotape a traffic stop, according to a report by the New Hampshire Union Leader.

The settlement came after a federal appeals court in Boston affirmed the constitutional rights of citizens to record police during traffic stops, subject to some “reasonable” restrictions.

Plaintiff Carla Gericke claimed in her lawsuit that her First Amendment rights were violated because police charged her with federal wiretapping violations in retaliation for recording them during the traffic stop.

Gericke was in her car, following a friend who was driving another car, when Weare police pulled her friend over in a late-night traffic stop on March 24, 2010. From a nearby parking lot, Gericke waited for her friend–and told the officer who had pulled her friend over that she was going to videotape the encounter. She pointed her camera, but unbeknownst to the police officer, it failed to record.

The officer ordered Gericke to return to her car, and she complied. When another officer arrived at the scene, he asked Gericke where her camera was, but she refused to tell him. She also refused his request to produce her license and registration. She was arrested and charged with disobeying a police officer, and with “unlawful interception of oral communications”–the wiretapping violation.

After prosecutors declined to press those charges against Gericke, she sued Weare police for violation of her First Amendment rights. Police asked the court to dismiss her claim on the grounds of qualified immunity, arguing there was no clearly established right to film a traffic stop.

The lower court declined to dismiss the case, ruling that because the facts of the the case were in dispute, a jury–and not the court–had to decide whether police were entitled to qualified immunity.

Qualified immunity provides government officials “with breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments,” according to court papers.

When the trial court declined to dismiss the case, police appealed.

The appeals court said police would be entitled to summary judgment if Gericke had not been exercising her First Amendment rights at the time of her arrest OR if a reasonable police officer could have concluded that she was not exercising those rights.

In determining that Gericke was exercising her First Amendment rights, The appeals court cited its own 2011 ruling in the case of Simon Glik v. Cunniffee, holding that “the Constitution protects the right of individuals to videotape police officers performing their duties in public.”

“Those First Amendment principles apply equally to the filming of a traffic stop and the filming of an arrest in a public park,” the court said.

Glik had been filming police officers making an arrest in a public park in Boston when he was arrested. He won a $170,000 settlement from the City of Boston in 2012 for violation of his Civil Rights.

In considering whether a reasonable police officer could have concluded that Gericke was not exercising her First Amendment rights, the appeals court noted that “Reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right to film may be imposed when the circumstances justify them.”

Because traffic stops can be particularly dangerous to police, restrictions might be justified in some instances.  “Reasonable orders to maintain safety and control, which have incidental effects on an individual’s exercise of the First Amendment right to record, may be permissible,” the court said.

But according to Gericke’s version of events, the court found, “no such restriction was imposed or in place” because police hadn’t ordered her to leave the scene, or told her to stop recording.

“Thus, under Gericke’s version of the facts, any reasonable officer would have understood that charging Gericke with illegal wiretapping for attempted filming that had not been limited by any order or law violated her First Amendment right to film,” the appeals court said. (The court accepted Gericke’s version of the facts only for the purposes of deciding whether the case should be dismissed without a trial).

Moreover, the appeals court said, “A jury could supportably find that the officers violated her First Amendment right by filing the wiretapping charge against her because of her attempted filming of [the officer] during the traffic stop.”

Although police still had the option to appeal to the US Supreme Court or argue their case for qualified immunity before a jury, the town of Weare decided to settle the case. It was settled without any admission of wrongdoing on the part of police, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Related:
Police Intimidation Watch: Boston to Pay $170,000 for Wrongful Arrest of Videographer
PDN Video: A Photographer’s Guide to the First Amendment and Dealing with Police Intimidation

May 20th, 2014

Wal-mart Sues Photographer’s Widow Claiming Copyright to Decades of Portraits of Walton Family

Wal-mart Stores Inc. and the Walton family, which owns the company, have filed suit to force the widow of an Arkansas portrait photographer to hand over all prints, negatives and proofs of Walton family members made between 1950 and 1994, Professional Photographers of America (PPA) and the Arkansas Times reports. The widow, who reportedly had refused an offer of $2,000 for the pictures, has counter-sued, claiming she owns the copyright.

The Walton family is claiming the photographs belong to them because Bob’s Studio of Photography in Fayetteville made the portraits under the Walton family’s “supervision.” The Walton family says in its lawsuit that the portrait studio stored the photographs as a courtesy, according to the PPA and Arkansas Times reports. More than 200 photographs are in dispute, the reports say.

David Huff and his father, Robert A. Huff, owned Bob’s Studio of Photography. Both are now deceased.

The defendant in the case is Helen B. M. Huff, widow of David Huff. She is countersuing on the grounds that she owns copyright to the photographs because her late husband and his father shot the photographs as private contractors, using their own equipment. She is seeking an injunction against the Walton family and Wal-mart to force them to stop using the photographs without her permission.

A court date is set for July 7.

May 13th, 2014

Collector Sues Chicago Gallery for Damaging 54 of His Vivian Maier Prints

A photo collector who bought part of the Vivian Maier photo trove when Maier’s storage locker was auctioned off in 2007 has sued a Chicago gallery, Corbett vs. Dempsey, for damaging 54 images during a 2012 exhibition of the work, according to a report today in the Chicago Reader.

Vivian Maier, who was unknown as a photographer when she died in 2009, has since been promoted to stardom by the PR machine of collectors John Maloof and Jeffrey Goldstein. They bought the lion’s share of Maier’s negatives and prints at the 2007 auction and are not involved in the claim against Corbett vs. Dempsey.

The collector suing the gallery is Ron Slattery, who bought several thousand of Maier’s negatives and several thousand prints when her storage locker was auctioned. According to the Chicago Reader report, Slattery provided 56 of the prints to Corbett vs. Dempsey for an exhibition and sale that ran from June through December, 2012.

Two of the prints sold. The gallery returned the other 54 prints in damaged condition, Slattery claims. He alleges that the gallery used too much hinge glue to mount the photographs, and it soaked through the print paper, “severely distorting the images.”

Slattery’s claim also that the damage was “exacerbated” by exposure of the prints to “excessive heat,” and he alleges the gallery tried to cover up the damage, according to the Chicago Reader report.

The gallery says it admitted the damage to Slattery upon return of the images, and claims have made “multiple” offers to settle the claim for $8,700–the cost of repairs estimated by a restorer consulted by the gallery.

Slattery is seeking $200,000 in actual damages to the photographs, plus $2 million in punitive damages.

May 1st, 2014

George Steinmetz Wonders: Was It Worth Getting Arrested for National Geographic Cover Story Photos?

Brookover Ranch Feed Yard near Garden City, Kansas, with adjacent crop circles of grain used to fatten cattle. © 2014 George Steinmetz/National Geographic

A picture worth being arrested for? Brookover Ranch Feed Yard near Garden City, Kansas, with adjacent crop circles of grain used to fatten cattle.                © 2014 George Steinmetz/National Geographic

This month’s cover story of National Geographic, about how to meet growing worldwide demand for food, is the story that got photographer George Steinmetz in trouble last June, and he’s still stinging from the experience.

Caught in the political crossfire between animal rights activists and agribusiness interests trying to make it illegal to photograph factory farm operations, he wound up in jail in Kansas while on assignment to shoot the story, called “The New Food Revolution.”

“It was quite a surprise to me,” says Steinmetz, who is renowned for the beautiful aerial landscapes he shoots all over the world, and who is used to encounters with authorities. “I’ve been detained in Iran and Yemen, and questioned about spying, but never arrested. And then I get thrown in jail in America.” (more…)

April 24th, 2014

If Photography Is Not a Crime, When Will Police Get the Message?

In February, just as the City of Baltimore was hammering out a legal settlement to end police interference with photographers, Baltimore police forcibly removed a Baltimore Sun photo editor from the scene of a shooting on a public street. That action underscored a seemingly intractable problem: getting the message to rank-and-file police officers that people have a constitutional right to photograph police carrying out their duties in public.

Judges have repeatedly thrown out criminal charges against photographers arrested while photographing police activities in public. Cities have had to pay to settle claims of civil rights violations stemming from some of the arrests. The City of Boston, for instance, agreed in 2012 to pay $170,000 to settle a videographer’s civil rights claims over his arrest for videotaping police arresting another person on the Boston Common. Baltimore ended up paying $250,000 as part of its recent settlement with Christopher Sharp, who alleged that police erased the videos on his iPhone after detaining him for using the iPhone to record the arrest and beating of another person.

And yet the incidents of police interference with photographers continue apace. No sooner is one case settled, when another incident or claim pops up.

“It certainly is like playing a game of whack-a-mole,” says attorney Mickey Osterreicher of the National Press Photographers Association. (more…)

April 17th, 2014

Baltimore To Pay $250K for Videos Deleted by Police: A Vindication of Photographers’ Rights

Christopher Sharp, plaintiff in Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Department

Christopher Sharp, plaintiff in Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Department (source: ACLU video)

The City of Baltimore and its police department have agreed to pay $250,000 to settle a claim of unlawful seizure and destruction of cell phone videos that belonged to a citizen who allegedly recorded police arresting and beating another person.

Police have admitted no wrongdoing, but agreed as part of the settlement to issue a written apology to Christopher Sharp, the plaintiff in the case.

In addition, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD)  has agreed to adopt a comprehensive and detailed written policy intended to protect the rights of citizens to photograph and record police activity from anywhere those citizens have a legal right to be, without interference or intimidation from police. (more…)

April 7th, 2014

US Supreme Court Declines New Mexico Wedding Photog’s Discrimination Case

A New Mexico photographer who has been held liable for violating state anti-discrimination laws by refusing to photograph a same-sex wedding has been turned away by the US Supreme Court, where she had sought a review of her case.

Elaine Huguenin, owner of Elane Photography of Albuquerque, had asked the US Supreme Court to overturn a series of lower court rulings that found her in violation New Mexico human rights laws for discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

The high court declined today without comment to hear Elane Photography’s appeal, effectively upholding three lower court rulings against her.

Huguenin had refused for religious reasons in 2006 to photograph the commitment ceremony of Vanessa Willock and her partner, Misty Pascottini. Willock filed a complaint to the The New Mexico Human Rights Commission, which ruled in 2008 that Huguenin had violated the state’s anti-dscrimination law.

Huguenin appealed to a New Mexico district court, the New Mexico Court of Appeals, and the New Mexico State Supreme Court. All three upheld the NMHRC ruling.

In appealing to the US Supreme Court for a hearing, Huguenin argued that she should be free under the First Amendment to express herself as a photographer, and that any compulsion to shoot same-sex weddings under New Mexico’s anti-discrimination laws amounted to government-compelled speech that violated her civil rights.

In refusing to hear the case, the US Supreme Court effectively upheld the decision last summer by New Mexico State Supreme Court justice Edward L. Chávez.

He wrote in that decision:  “A commercial photography business that offers its services to the public, thereby increasing its visibility to potential clients, is subject to the anti-discrimination provisions of the [New Mexico Human Rights Act] and must serve same-sex couples on the same basis that it serves opposite-sex couples.”

Chávez also said in his decision that New Mexico’s human rights law doesn’t compel Elane Photography “to either speak a government-mandated message or to publish the speech of another.”And he said those offering services to the public do not have to give up their First Amendment rights under the the state human rights law because “[t]hey may, for example, post a disclaimer on their website or in their studio advertising that they oppose same-sex marriage but that they comply with applicable anti-discrimination laws.”

Related:
Photographer Who Refused to Shoot Same-Sex Wedding Loses Another Appeal
NM Wedding Photogs Can’t Discriminate Against Same Sex Couples, Court Confirms

April 4th, 2014

Appeals Court Upholds Copyright Infringement Damages Award to Louis Psihoyos

A federal appeals court in New York has refused a textbook publisher’s request to reduce a $130,750 award that a jury granted to photographer Louis Psihoyos last year for copyright infringement.

Psihoyos sued publisher John Wiley & Sons in 2011 for infringement of eight of his photographs. Claims over four of the images were dismissed before trial, but a jury found Wiley liable for willful infringement of two of the remaining images and awarded statutory damages totaling $130,000. At the same time, the jury found Wiley liable for non-willful infringement of a third image, and awarded $750. It concluded that Wiley’s use of the remaining image was not infringing.

Wiley appealed, arguing that the trial court erred because it refused to consider whether the jury award was reasonably related to Psihoyos’s actual loss. Wiley called it “an epitome of a run-away award” in one of its appeal briefs.

But the appeals court rejected Wiley’s argument, saying, “Although revenue lost is one factor to consider, we have not held that there must be a direct correlation between statutory damages and actual damages.”

The appeals court went on to say, “The District Court concluded that several of the relevant factors could explain the jury’s award based on the evidence…in particular, the evidence supported a finding of willfulness and that Wiley earned substantial profits, and the jury may have viewed Wiley as a repeat infringer in need of deterrence.

“In sum, we discern no error” in the District Court’s denial of Wiley’s request to vacate the award or grant a new trial, the appeals court said.

The appeals court also rejected Wiley’s assertion that the trial court should have thrown out Psihoyos’ claims on the grounds that the statute of limitations on those claims had expired.

The appeals court said that the Copyright Act’s statute of limitations “did not bar any of Psihoyos’s infringement claims” because he filed those claims within three years of discovering the infringements, as the law requires.

Wiley had argued that the clock for the three-year statute of limitations begins at the instant of infringement, not at the discovery of that infringement by the copyright holder.

Although the appeals ruling was an overall victory for Psihoyos, he also lost an appeal to restore his infringement claims for the four images that the trial court dismissed from the case.  The lower court dismissed those claims because Psihoyos  didn’t register the images before he filed his infringement claims, as required by law.

The appeals court said the trial court was correct to dismiss those claims because of Psihoyos’s failure to register them prior to filing suit.

April 3rd, 2014

In Fight Over Anti-Gay Ad, Misappropriation Claims Are Dismissed

©Kristina Hill

©Kristina Hill

A federal court in Colorado has ruled that the unauthorized use of a gay couple’s engagement photo in a political attack ad was protected by the First Amendment. But the judge in the case rejected a request by defendants to throw out the photographer’s copyright infringement claims on fair use grounds.

Photographer Kristina Hill and her wedding photography clients, Brian Edwards and Thomas Privitere, sued conservative advocacy group Public Advocate of the United States (PAUS) in 2012 for unauthorized use of an engagement photo of Edwards and Privitere in political attack ads.

The ads, showing an image by Hill of Edwards and Privitere kissing each other, were part of a PAUS campaign to defeat two Colorado lawmakers who supported same-sex marriage.

Hill sued for copyright infringement because PAUS used the photo without her permission. Edwards and Priviter claimed misappropriation of their likeness for commercial purposes, in violation of their privacy and Colorado’s right-of-publicity laws.

gay-attack-adBut the court has thrown out the couple’s misappropriation claims on the grounds that the political ads were “primarily non-commercial,” and that they “reasonably relate to a legitimate matter of public concern”–same-sex marriage. Therefore, free speech rights of the First Amendment barred the couple’s misappropriation claim, federal judge Wiley Y. Daniel wrote in the decision.

However, Judge Daniel rejected a motion by PAUS to dismiss Hill’s copyright infringement on fair use grounds, ruling that the ads didn’t pass the standard four-pronged test for fair use.

The first factor, relating to the character and purpose of the unauthorized use,  went against the defendants for two reasons. Language of the copyright law protecting unauthorized use for educational purposes “suggests that the educational purposes contemplated by the statute’s drafters relates to schooling, not mailers circulated during an election,” the judge wrote.

Furthermore, he explained in his decision, “while the defendants placed the lifted portion [of the image] in a different background and placed a caption on the mailer, such actions cannot be characterized as ‘highly
transformative.’”

Other prongs of the fair use test also went against the defendants. For instance, the image is a creative work, not merely informational, which mitigated against a fair use finding, Judge Daniel said. And he rejected the defendants’ argument that they used only used a small part of Hill’s image, countering that they used the qualitatively most significant part, which shows the subjects kissing.

“I find that the plaintiffs have stated a plausible copyright infringement claim under the Copyright Act,” the judge concluded.

The ruling allows Hill to proceed with her copyright infringement claims, and was not a final decision on those claims.

A trial date has been set for January 26, 2015.

Related:
Anti-Gay Group Sued for Unauthorized Use of Photo in Attack Ads

Anti-Gay Group Pleads Fair Use, Free Speech in Infringement Case

April 2nd, 2014

In Copyright Infringement Case, A Defendant Ends Up Owning Disputed Photo

Desmond Howard's iconic Heisman Trophy pose. Shot by Brian Masck. Now owned by Desmond Howard

Desmond Howard’s iconic Heisman Trophy pose. Previously ©Brian Masck. Now ©Desmond Howard.

Former football star Desmond Howard, the subject of a well-known photograph and a defendant in a copyright claim over the use of that same image, will end up owning the copyright to the image as part of a settlement with the photographer who shot it.

That photographer, Brian Masck of Linden, Michigan, is still pursuing infringement claims against Getty Images, Sports Illustrated, Nissan, Amazon.com, Wal-Mart and others.

Masck confirms that he agreed yesterday to settle his infringement claim against Howard by transferring copyrights to the image over to Howard. In exchange, Masck got “a very generous royalty agreement on [Howard's] uses of the picture, including at [public] appearances by Howard,” according to his attorney, Tom Blaske.

“This allows [Howard] to use his favorite photo of himself and make money on it,” Masck told PDN. Blaske adds that Howard “has more resources to best use this historic photo” and thereby ensure that it “remain[s] part of the cultural currency.”

The photo in question shows Howard striking an iconic Heisman Trophy pose after scoring a touchdown against Ohio State University, when he was playing for the University of Michigan. Masck shot the image in 1991 as a freelancer, and licensed it to Sports Illustrated for publication.

SI allegedly never returned the original 35mm transparency to Masck; it ended up in the Allsport archive, and finally in digital format on Getty’s web site around 2005. From there, it “traveled through sports memorabilia channels” onto merchandise sold through retailers, Masck says, and it also appeared in Nissan ads published in Sports Illustrated.

Masck sued in January, 2013, claiming infringement against Howard for unauthorized use of the photo on Howard’s website. Masck claimed unauthorized use by other defendants for distributing the photo and using it in ads without permission.

But Howard counter-sued Masck for unauthorized commercial use of Howard’s name and likeness on a website called TheTrophyPose.com. Masck used that site to sell products featuring the image, including framed prints and life-size, cut-out stand up. He splashed Howard’s name all over the site, confusing visitors into thinking Desmond Howard was behind the site and its products, according to Howard’s counter-claim.

Masck says he’s prohibited by the settlement agreement with Howard from disclosing the financial details. But he says Howard, a TV football commentator who uses photos for publicity and marking, wanted to buy all rights to Masck’s photo several years ago. “At the right price and right terms I was ready to entertain that,” Masck says.

They couldn’t reach an agreement, however.

“What spurred the lawsuit was, after I had sent Howard a print [during their early negotiations] as an example of what the picture could look like, and he took that picture and put it up on his web site,” Masck explains. “That picture had some tells in it. I digitally altered it so I could track it.”

With a trial date approaching, they resumed negotiations and finally reached an agreement.

Meanwhile, Masck is trying to negotiate settlements with Nissan, Sports Illustrated and the other defendants before the case goes to trial. They tried unsuccessfully to have Masck’s claims thrown out on the grounds that he hasn’t done enough over the years to assert his copyrights to the image.

(Editor’s note: This story has been altered from its original version, which included two quotes from Brian Masck that he has asked PDN to remove.)