January 13th, 2014

Getty, AFP Appeal $1.2 Million Jury Verdict in Daniel Morel Case

Getty Images and Agence France-Presse (AFP) have asked a federal district court to undo the $1.2 million jury verdict against them for willful infringement of photographer Daniel Morel’s copyrights, calling the verdict “a miscarriage of justice.”

In a brief they submitted to the US District Court in Manhattan last week, the agencies argued that “no reasonable jury could conclude either AFP or Getty acted willfully as defined under applicable law, based on the evidence in the record.”

They asked the court to vacate the decision in one of three ways: declare that AFP and Getty are liable for “regular” rather than “willful” infringement, thereby forcing a reduction of the damages awarded; give the agencies a chance to re-argue their case before a different jury; or simply cut Morel’s award for copyright infringement from $1.2 million to $200,000 and call it a day.

A jury awarded Morel $1.2 million on November 22 after it determined that AFP and Getty Images willfully infringed his copyright by uploading eight of his exclusive news images of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and distributing them without his permission. The award also included damages for violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The award was the maximum amount of statutory damages possible under the law in the case, given that the jury found that both agencies infringed with willful intent.

In asking the court to overturn the verdict, Getty and AFP noted the the jury award was “60 times the maximum actual damages [Morel] could have recovered based upon [AFP's] after-the-fact willingness to pay him $20,000.” They also said the award was 4,700 times the day rate that professional photographers are paid on a freelance basis.

AFP had initially distributed Morel’s images under the name of Lisandro Suero, who had stolen them from Morel’s Twitter feed. Both AFP and Getty argued in court that their distribution of Morel’s images was not willful, but instead the result of honest mistakes that they tried to correct.

After learning that the images were Morel’s, AFP offered to pay him $20,000. He rejected the offer.

Morel’s attorney got a key AFP employee to admit in court that in his hurry to upload images of the earthquake, he had not followed company guidelines for obtaining news images from online sources.

The infringement “was obviously willful on AFP’s part because they didn’t check on the author of the photographs. The whole mess stemmed from that,” a juror told PDN after the verdict was handed down.

That same juror explained that the jury consider Getty’s infringement willful because e-mail evidence showed some Getty employees knew almost immediately that the images were Morel’s. Still, the agency continued to distribute them with credit to Suero for more than two weeks after the earthquake.

In their motion to reduce the award, Getty and AFP argued that the evidence does not show willful infringement. The agencies also argued that they did not violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, contrary to the  jury’s findings.

The agencies have an uphill battle to vacate or reduce the verdict because judges are often reluctant to overturn jury verdicts.

But the agencies have incentive to try because there’s more at stake than a $1.2 million judgment for one photographer: If the Morel verdict stands, it could encourage other photographers to play legal hardball with news agencies that rush to distribute breaking news images without permission, while hoping to negotiate fees with copyright holders after the fact.

Related:
Jury Awards Daniel Morel $1.2 Million in Damages from AFP, Getty Images

Morel v. AFP Copyright Verdict: Defense Strategy to Devalue Photos and Vilify Photographer Backfires

November 22nd, 2013

After Closing Arguments, Verdict Expected Soon in Morel v. AFP and Getty Images

 

© Daniel Morel/courtesy of Daniel Morel

© Daniel Morel/courtesy of Daniel Morel

The jury is expected to announce its verdict today in the trial to determine damages in the copyright infringement case  photographer Daniel Morel brought against Agence France-Presse and Getty Images, following yesterday’s closing arguments by lawyers for all sides in the case.

The case began when Morel alerted AFP and Getty Images that they were distributing his exclusive images of the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti without his permission.  The images were published and broadcast by many news outlets. Morel did not receive payment for the almost 1,000 downloads of his images licensed by Getty and AFP, according to his attorney, Joseph Baio.

Morel sued the agencies for infringement. Federal District Court Judge Alison Nathan ruled in January that AFP and The Washington Post, which published images distributed by Getty, were liable for infringement.  The trial to determine damages began November 13 in Judge Nathan’s courtroom  in Manhattan.

Lindsay Comstock of Rangefinder covered the closing arguments  yesterday (and also spoke to Morel during a break in the proceedings about his stance against the two media giants).

As Comstock notes in her report of the day in court,  the lawyers for both AFP and Getty urged the jury to award damages based on the notion that the corporations “made mistakes” in their sale of the images.

You can read her full report of the closing arguments and see images Morel provided at the Rangefinder blog, PhotoForward.

Related Article
In TwitPic Copyright Claim, Daniel Morel Seeks $13.2 Million from AFP, Getty

AFP, Washington Post Violated Daniel Morel’s Copyrights, Judge Rules

May 7th, 2012

Morel Releases More Evidence Against AFP, Getty in Copyright Case

Photographer Daniel Morel, who had his exclusive Haiti earthquake images ripped off by Agence France-Presse and Getty more than two years ago, has released more evidence in his claim against the two wire services in his ongoing fight for justice.

The new details, which are part of a motion Morel filed last month asking the judge to hold Getty and AFP liable for infringement, were sent by Morel’s lawyer to PDN and several others. They are neatly summarized by Jeremy Nicholl on The Russian Photos Blog.

Nicholl leads off by quoting an internal e-mail from AFP deputy photo editor for North America Eva Hambach:  “AFP got caught with its hand in the cookie jar, and will have to pay.” Ten days after Hambach wrote that to a colleague in March, 2010, AFP slapped Morel with a lawsuit to gag him and punish him for publicly accusing AFP of violating his copyrights.

To re-cap, Morel–a native of Haiti and a former AP photographer–was in Haiti at the time of the January, 2010 earthquake. He posted exclusive images of the destruction on his Twitpic account less than two hours later. The images were immediately stolen and re-posted under the name of another Twitter user. AFP picked up the images and distributed them under the false credit through its own image service and through Getty. They did that even though editors at both companies knew that the images were Morel’s, and that they did not have his permission to distribute them.

Morel objected. His agent, Corbis, sent take-down notices to Getty and AFP, but it took AFP two days to issue a kill notice. And when they did, they told clients and partners to kill images credited to Morel, but not the identical images that had been sent out initially under the false credit. Getty allegedly didn’t purge the images with the false credits, and continued to distribute them.

With Morel continuing to insist that his copyrights had been violated, AFP sued, and Morel fought back. Getty and AFP have done their best to wear Morel down by dragging out the process, but the photographer has refused to give up. He has already won an important decision against AFP, which argued that anything posted on Twitpic is free for the taking, according to the Twitpic terms of service. The court summarily rejected that defense.

Meanwhile, Getty continues to try to hide behind the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The company says, in effect, that it was merely a passive provider of server space to AFP so it shouldn’t be held liable as an infringer. On the grounds that Getty is AFP’s partner and an active marketer and distributor of AFP images, Morel is asking the court to reject Getty’s DMCA defense.

What it boils down to is a case of two companies bullying a photographer they got caught stealing from. AFP and Getty aren’t the first to move images without permission in a cutthroat business that has a history of steal-now-and-apologize-later tactics. What’s unusual is the unwillingness of the two companies to own up to their ethical lapse and legal breach by apologizing and quietly paying to settle it.

We contacted Hambach to ask her about the internal repercussions of her “cookie jar” e-mail. Was she taken to the woodshed for it? Is there any sign that AFP is taking stock of its policies with regard to recouping images? “I can’t talk about this now,” she said, ending the conversation at the mention of her e-mail.

A hearing on Morel’s motion for summary judgment is scheduled for July. The judge is unlikely to issue a decision before fall.