Daniel Morel was born in Haiti in 1951. As a young child he already knew that wanted to become a photographer, because he thought it would teach him to be fearless. For decades, his award-winning photographs have captured the culture and history of Haiti.
During the January 2010 earthquake, Morel captured images of the destruction through his camera’s lens. He shared the pictures via Twitpic, a free service which let him tweet his photos very quickly to Twitter. However, someone else copied his photos to their Twitpic account and claimed ownership. Eventually Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Getty Images obtained the images and dispersed them to hundreds of newspapers and websites around the world.
A Mashable article followed the resulting litigation. In 2010, Morel sued AFP and Getty Images for copyright infringement in a New York federal court.
“AFP initially argued that Twitter allows for the fair use of photographs, but Judge Nathan ultimately ruled that Twitter allows for posting and retweeting, but not commercial use of photographs posted by users.”
In November 2013, a jury found in Morel’s favor and awarded him $1.2 million dollars based on a finding of willful infringement. According to PDN Pulse, AFP and Getty are now seeking to undo the jury verdict, which they call “a miscarriage of justice.”
AFP and Getty argued that their distribution of the images were mistakes and not willful. However an AFP employee testified in court that he did not follow company guidelines when he obtained images online. Further, a juror stated that, “the jury consider[ed] Getty’s infringement willful because e-mail evidence showed some Getty employees knew almost immediately that the images were Morel’s.” Yet they were credited to someone else.
It’s up to the judge to decide what happens next. However, all businesses should think twice before assuming that an image found via social media or online in general is subject to fair use. A photographer like Morel may very well hold the copyright.