Photographer Daniel Morel is seeking as much as $13.2 million from AFP and Getty Images at a trial to determine damages for copyright infringement of his exclusive images of the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which Morel had posted via Twitter. The trial is scheduled to begin November 12.
A federal court determined earlier this year that AFP infringed Morel’s copyrights in 8 photographs by distributing those photos without his permission. The November 12 jury trial is meant to determine the amount of damages owed to Morel, based upon the question of whether or not the infringements were willful.
Morel asserts that the infringements were “willful and intentional,” and says in court papers that “AFP knew or should have known the images were his when they distributed them without permission.” For copyright infringement, he is seeking a maximum of $1.2 million in statutory damages.
Morel also contends that both AFP and Getty images violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by intentionally removing copyright management information that identified the images as Morel’s. He says AFP and Getty “knowingly provided and distributed false copyright management information” to their customers. For the DMCA violations, Morel is seeing a maximum of $13.2 million.
Getty and AFP no longer dispute that they violated Morel’s copyright, but deny that they acted with reckless disregard or willfulness. They say they “do not believe Mr. Morel can meet his burden of proof on this point.” They say in the pre-trial court papers that “they believed they had the right to do so and were acting within industry norms, customs, and practice.” Getty also says it distributed Morel’s images with “innocent intent.”
Both defendants also assert that if they did violate the DMCA, Morel is not legally entitled to the level of damages he is claiming for those violations.
Morel happened to be in Haiti at the time of the January 2010 earthquake there. 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 through its own image service and through Getty under the false credit.
Morel’s 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.
Morel has maintained that the companies violated his copyrights willfully because at least some AFP photo editors knew the images in question were his, not those of the other Twitter user who stole the images.
In his original claim, Morel also sued several AFP and Getty customers for unauthorized use of his images. Those defendants previously settled with Morel.