Reports are out (National Press Photographers Association and Reuters) that a jury has found for Daniel Morel in his copyright case against Agence France-Presse and Getty Images, awarding him $1.22 million in damages.
Morel claimed that AFP picked up his images of the 2010 Haitian earthquake from Twitter and distributed them to their subscribers and Getty without securing a license. Getty appears to also have been found liable for an additional $20,000 in damages for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
This case has taken numerous turns over the last few years (including AFP suing Morel at one point) but it hinged on AFP’s interpretation of Twitter’s terms of service. The British Journal of Photography has a good backgrounder from last year.
So, is this a good thing? Probably. The jury appears to have found that AFP and Getty violated Morel’s copyright. The damages award is subject to appeal, so this isn’t done yet.
The good news is that, hopefully, photo editors around the world will take note of that sum and pause before using images that they do not have a clear license to use.
Intellectual property is property. Period, full stop. Morel owns the images in question and he, and only he, has the right to determine who gets to use them.
Now, there are some copyright trolls out there who are looking for violations and then threatening legal action unless the alleged violators settle for large amounts. In U.S. courts, damages can range up to $150,000 per infringement – but it is not often that number is reached. In this case, the value of Morel’s images warrant a very high award – they are exclusive images of a horrifying breaking news event, images that no one else was able to get out of Haiti immediately following the earthquake.