December 11th, 2014

Actor Says Paparazzi Are to Blame if They Get Punched

Photographers’ injury lawsuits against pugilistic celebrities and their bodyguards are too commonplace to count as news these days, but a report about the case of photographer Sheng Li v. actor Sam Worthington caught our eye because of the actor’s defense. Call it the serves-you-right defense.

According to a Radaronline.com report, paparazzo Li is suing the star of Avatar and his girlfriend, Lara Bingle, for $10 million in damages. Li alleges they caused him a shoulder and wrist injury during a scuffle on a New York City sidewalk, presumably after Li tried to photograph the couple without their consent.

Worthington’s defense, according to Radar, is that getting attacked by celebrity subjects is an occupational hazard for the paparazzi. Li “knew the hazards,” he argues. Therefore, he’s responsible for his own injuries.

Worthington is partly right: getting attacked by celebrities is a well-reported risk of paparazzi work. But assault, even against annoying people, is still illegal. And unless that changes, getting sued for outrageous sums of money will probably remain an occupational hazard for celebrities, or at least hot-headed ones.

March 12th, 2014

Model Release Lawsuit Survives Getty’s Challenge

A New York state judge has cleared the way for a lawsuit by a model who is accusing Getty Images of commercial use of her likeness without a model release.

State supreme court judge Ancil C. Singh rejected last week a request from Getty to throw out model Avril Nolan’s claim on First Amendment and other grounds.

Nolan sued Getty last September after her picture appeared in a public service ad promoting services for HIV-positive people. The ad, published in a free daily called AM NY, showed a picture of Nolan with the headline “I am positive (+) and I have rights.”

The ad was placed by the New York State Division of Human Rights, which licensed the image of Nolan from Getty. The photograph was shot by Getty contributor Jena Cumbo, according to court documents.

Nolan alleges that she didn’t sign a model release for the image, so Getty was in violation of New York’s right of publicity law not only for licensing the image for use in the HIV ad, but also for displaying the image on its web site.

New York state law prohibits use of a person’s likeness for advertising or trade purposes without written consent, i.e., a model release.

Getty countered in its motion for dismissal that displaying the images on its web site for licensing to third parties does not constitute advertising or trade use under the state’s right of publicity law. The agency also claimed a First Amendment right to display images for license to third parties. And it argued that Nolan should sue the State of New York, not Getty, since it was the state that used the image for advertising purposes, allegedly without consent.

But the judge concluded that Getty’s defenses are questions for a jury to decide.

The ruling was against Getty’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and not a ruling on the merits of Nolan’s claims.

February 20th, 2014

Hartford Police Sued for Stopping Camera Drone, Chasing Photog Away

A news photographer has sued the Hartford, Connecticut police department and two of its officers for forcing him to stop flying a camera-equipped drone over the scene of a police investigation.

Photographer Pedro Rivera, who works for television station WFSB, was briefly detained for questioning and ordered to stop flying the remote-controlled drone over the scene of a fatal traffic accident on February 1.

Rivera was not on duty for WFSB television and was not gathering video for the station at the time, he told police at the scene. But he acknowledged to police that he sometimes provides video footage from his drone to the TV station.

After he was detained, police ordered him to leave the scene. Rivera alleges that police then called his employer, and told a supervisor that Rivera had interfered with a  police investigation. Police urged the station to discipline Rivera, he alleges in the lawsuit.

He was suspended from his job “for at least one week,” the lawsuit says.

Rivera says police violated his First Amendment rights to “monitor” the police response to a motor vehicle accident, and his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizure.

Rivera asserts in his lawsuit that “private citizens do not need local, state or federal approval to operate a remote-controlled aircraft” and that police had no cause to believe he was “in violation of any law or regulatory requirement.”

The Federal Aviation Administration has taken the position that commercial use of drones is illegal, and that journalism amounts to commercial use of the vehicles, according to an NPPA report. That report also notes that some critics say there is no legal basis for the FAA’s position.

Rivera is seeking compensatory damages for lost wages and emotional distress, as well as punitive damages. In addition, he is asking the court for a declaratory judgment that he wasn’t violating any laws by flying the drone, and for an injunction to prevent Hartford police from “interfering with the lawful operation of drones within city limits.”

Hartford police have yet to file a response to Rivera’s claims, and they did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Related:
PDN Video: A Photographer’s Guide to the First Amendment and Dealing with Police Intimidation
Police Intimidation Watch: New Haven Police Sued for Arresting Photographer, Erasing iPhone Video

December 28th, 2012

David LaChapelle Sues Former Manager

Photographer David LaChapelle has sued his former manager, alleging he is owed $2.8 million for sales of his photographs and $755,000 for personal loans, the New York Post has reported.

LaChapelle filed the claim against Fred Torres, whom he hired in 2005 “under a handshake agreement” to arrange exhibitions, provide career advice, and manage LaChapelle’s relationships with clients, galleries, and museums.

In addition to the claims for money allegedly owed by Torres, LaChapelle alleges in his lawsuit that Torres is refusing to return 800 exhibition prints that are now stashed in storage facilities around the world.

According to the Post report, LaChapelle ended his business relationship with Torres a month ago.

Related stories:
PPE 2012: David LaChapelle Gets Personal
David LaChapelle: Artist or Artless ?
Rihanna Settles Lawsuit with David LaChapelle
David LaChapelle Sues Rihanna for Infringement