April 30th, 2012

Student Photographer Claims Falling Bear Photos Were Infringed

You may not know the name of photographer Andy Duann, but you may have seen his work. Duann, a photographer with the CU Independent, the student paper of the University of Colorado Boulder, photographed the bear that fell out of the tree on the school campus after it was tranquilized by wildlife officials (landing gently on some pads below). The CU Independent distributed his images to the Associated Press (AP), the Denver Post, the Colorado Daily  and other outlets. As the Poynter.org mediawire reported on Friday, Duann claimed that the school had no right to resell the images, because he holds the copyright.

Today Poynter reports that, in light of Duann’s complaint, the AP has yanked his falling-bear photos, and issued an advisory to its members to scrub the pics from their archives.

What’s at issue here is whether the student photographer is considered an employee of the university’s paper—and thus his images are automatically “works for hire”—or an independent contractor—and thus retains copyright to the images unless he’s signed a work-for-hire agreement. The faculty advisor to the paper says Duann’s an employee, but an attorney for the Student Press Law Center says no. A student is not in an employee/employer relationship with his school, and federal law requires a specific work-for-hire contract, not a general understanding, for the copyright to be transferred from the creator. (The attorney, Adam Goldstein, also provides a succinct and clear explanation of when work-for-hire does and does not apply. You might find it useful the next time a client hires you for an assignment and says, “But why don’t we own the copyright?”)

Poynter reporter Andrew Beaujon explains that as soon as Duann saw his photo on the Washington Post and elsewhere, he headed to the university law school to find out his options.

Hey, don’t say the young photographers of tomorrow don’t understand their intellectual property rights!

You can read the whole saga, including the story of how Beaujon got inadvertently involved in the copyright dispute, at Poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire. You can see other photos of the bear in mid-air, not taken by Duann, here.

Update: Some copyright information for student photographers has been posted at Student Press Law Center, splc.org.