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Inconvenient Truths

The recent decision by Current TV to go after photographer Ken Light in a higher court is quite extraordinary. Ken had been awarded $588 by small claims court because Al Gore’s Current TV had used a 1994 photograph by Ken without either crediting or paying him, linking to it on the New Yorker site. Then Current TV appealed the decision, won, and now Ken is left with no payment at all for that second publication on their website.

It might be worth adding that the photograph, of a man on death row who may have been wrongfully executed, had been made without any assignment over 15 years ago, simply because as a social documentarian Ken thought it important to make the image.

This, by the way, is how Magnum Photos began in 1947, with photographers working on their own initiative, the agency selling the image to a publication, and then getting second sales from other publications (if published in France, for example, it could then be published in Italy, German, the US, etc.). This allowed the photographers to continue pursuing their own projects without having to always convince an editor to assign the story. Without second sales, the history of Magnum Photos would be a much less important one.

Al Gore’s Current TV obviously does not believe in second sales, nor does it believe in respecting the initiative of the photographer. Where does an organization like Current TV think that they, or anyone else, will be able to find photographs from our current moment when so few are willing to pay either to assign a photographer or even simply to publish the image?

Or, more pointedly, how would Al Gore have been able to create his slideshow that helped put global warming on the map, An Inconvenient Truth, if those pictures had not already been made by others?

A similar case is being played out concerning the work of Daniel Morel, the Haitian-born photographer whose astonishing images of the recent earthquake were made starting within minutes of the quake itself. Morel is being sued for “antagonistic assertion of rights” by the journalistic agency AFP. Morel is arguing that AFP has been distributing the imagery without his permission because someone else had taken Morel’s photographs and put them on his own Twitter feed which the AFP then appropriated, crediting the party who had essentially stolen the images from Morel while he was still photographing in devastating conditions in Haiti and could not control what others were doing on the Internet.

“The Complaint asks the Court to declare AFP had the right to use Mr. Morel’s images without authorization or compensation and further claims damages for commercial disparagement based on Morel’s attorney Barbara Hoffman’s cease and desist letters to AFP subscribers, customers, and clients, including Getty Images, Inc., the Boston Globe, the Denver Post,Time, Inc., Vanity Fair, USA Today, and the Age, Australia requesting that they cease and desist from the display on their websites, and online photo galleries, the images licensed from Agence France Presse or Getty and in the case of the Washington Post, correct the misattribution to a Lisandro Suero.” Read more on Lightstalkers.

These are certainly difficult times for everyone trying to support themselves, even partially, through making and publishing photographs of contemporary events and issues. It is a tough time for companies as well, including those which have done excellent work, like Current TV and AFP. But the answer can hardly be to turn on the individual photographers, like Light and Morel.

(Full disclosure: Ken Light is a friend, Daniel Morel is someone whom I do not know.)

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  1. [...] After Photography weighs in on the recent copyright lawsuits involving Al Gore’s Current TV and Agence France [...]

  2. [...] In separate decisions, photographers Ken Light and Daniel Morel shafted by the courts/the industry. – view page – cached Tweets about this link Topsy.Data.Twitter.User['brookpete'] = {”location”:”Seattle, WA”,”photo”:””,”url”:””,”name”:”Prison Photography”,”nick”:”brookpete”,”description”:”Pete Brook: Photography Researcher, Prison Educator, Freelance Writer, Blogophotosphere Contributor”,”influence”:”Highly Influential”}; brookpeteHighly Influential: “In separate decisions, photographers Ken Light and Daniel Morel shafted by the courts/the industry. ” 10 minutes ago view tweet retweet Filter tweets [...]

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