February 13th, 2012

Photog Says Radio Station Stripped His Credits, Infringed His C-rights

A Colorado photographer says a Denver radio station took 21 of his images from the Web site of a competing radio station, stripped the images of his credits and copyright notices, and published them on its own site and Facebook page without permission. The photographer now accuses the station of refusing to pay a retroactive usage fee.

Photographer Scott D. Smith of Denver says radio station 92.5 The Wolf stole his images of country star Jason Aldean from the Web site of 98.5 KYGO. Smith shot the images at a concert last October, and licensed them to KYGO, which has been a client of Smith’s for the past six years. All of the images he licenses to KYGO, including the Aldean images, display his credit and copyright whenever viewers scroll over them or click on them, the photographer says.

The Wolf displayed the images for about a week, and also made them available on its Facebook page “for the whole world to download,” Smith tells PDN.

When Smith finally got the station manager at The Wolf on the phone to hear his complaint, he says, she apologized, told him the image would be taken down, and offered Smith free advertising as compensation. Smith declined. “I’m very loyal to KYGO, plus that (advertising) doesn’t compensate me for what [The Wolf] did,” he says.

Over the past four months, Smith has tried unsuccessfully on numerous occasions to get the station or its corporate owners–Wilks Broadcasting Group of Duluth, Georgia–to pay a fee for the unauthorized use of his images.

But managers and owners won’t return his calls, Smith says.

Recently, he got through to a Wilks employee who informed him that the company has determined that it has no responsibility to compensate him. “She said, ‘Do whatever you have to do,’” the photographer recounts.

Smith hasn’t filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement–at least not yet. “I talked to some lawyers who told me it’s going to cost a fortune, take forever, and they’ll just try to wait me out,” the photographer explains. So he’s trying to generate negative publicity for the station in an attempt to shame The Wolf into paying him.

“I think people are tired of corporations screwing people over, and saying ‘We don’t have responsibility’ when they’ve done something wrong,” says Smith.

Jeff Wilks, CEO of Wilks Broadcasting, did not respond to several requests from PDN for comment. But he recently told a Denver alternative newspaper, “There was no copyright on the photos. We found the photos, then we were notified about the photos, and the photos were taken down immediately.” He indicated to the newspaper that Wilks Broadcasting doesn’t intend to pay Smith a fee.

Asked what he considers a fair fee, Smith says, “In the beginning, I was willing to really work with them on a price. Since they are lying and making this as hard as possible, I feel I would start at around $500 an image. I do feel that is fair since the images were used as advertising for the station.”

Smith’s allegations, if true, echo a case last year in which a federal appeals court upheld a photographer’s claims against a New Jersey radio station for copyright infringement, as well as for violation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA.) The DMCA violation resulted from the radio station stripping a photographer’s credit and copyright from an image that it copied and then displayed on its web site without the photographer’s permission.

Related:
Removal of Printed Photo Credit Qualifies as DMCA Violation, Court Says
TV Networks Play Fast and Loose with Photographers’ Copyrights