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JFL hits back at critics in AFP/Morel copyright case

In an exclusive interview with BJP, the Visa Pour l'Image director has answered critics who accused him of siding with big business at the expense of photographers

Jean François Leroy, the co-founder and director of Visa Pour l’Image, the world’s largest photojournalism festival, maintains that freelance photographer Daniel Morel should never have put images of the Haitian earthquake’s aftermath on TwitPic, he tells BJP.

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Last month, Leroy weighed in on the case pitting the photographer against Agence France Presse, which stands accused of breaching Morel’s copyright by distributing his images without his consent. In an exclusive interview with BJP, Leroy said: “Photographers have to accept their responsibilities. You can’t put your images on Twitter and not expect them to be taken up by others. In the span of a few hours, Morel’s images were on 300 sites. You don’t put images you think are worth $10,000 on Twitter.”

The comments have attracted the attention of many photojournalists and bloggers (on A Photo Editor and The Russian Photos Blog, among others), with many accusing the festival’s director of siding with a large agency at the expense of photographers.

However, in another interview with BJP conducted today, Leroy is adamant. “Anyone who puts images on Flickr or on Twitter, and then sees them being used, well too bad for him.”

“I’m not commenting on the AFP’s deontology here, but you have to look at how they acquired the images in the first place,” Leroy adds. “AFP acted in good faith.” AFP, according to legal briefs seen by BJP, distributed the images after downloading them from the Twitter account of Lisandro Suero, who, in turn, had taken the images from Morel’s TwitPic account and claimed ownership of them.

What remains unclear is whether AFP realised the images had been taken by someone else than Suero. Morel argues that since AFP tried to reach him two hours and 33 minutes before it released the images, it had plenty of time to put two and two together. AFP, meanwhile, argues that it acted in good faith, crediting the right author when it discovered that Suero hadn’t shot the images. The news agency also adds that Morel, by putting the images on Twitter, had granted a license to third parties to use them.

[Note: Morel did not post the images on Twitter contrary to what AFP, and in fact Morel in his legal case against the news agency. As reported by BJP, Morel posted the images on TwitPic, a third-party image-sharing site, which, according to its terms and conditions, does not issue licenses to other third party organisations].

Leroy reacts: “Now I can’t insert myself in the legality of this case, but a photographer should never put his images on a social networking site. I have nothing against Morel, in fact, I feel very sorry for him, but I can’t condemn AFP, I can’t say that they are thieves.”

“I’m hurt to see people ask me which side I’m on. For the past 30 years, I’ve been fighting for photographers’ rights. Since 1994, I’ve asked for every single photo to be credited, and it’s something we do at Visa’s nightly projections. At one point, we needed eight slide projectors just to add the credits to every single image. I didn’t want to have one slide at the end listing all the photographers shown, I wanted the credit next to each image.”

Commenting on the BJP’s original article, Frank Evers, founder of the Institute for Artist Management, said: “As I am sure Jean François Leroy knows, there are billions of images floating around on the internet. No one has the right to take any of those pictures and use them without doing the necessary due diligence to determine the underlying ownership of said images. Especially commercial companies that are in the business of making money from the licensing of imagery. If AFP comes out of this looking like careless image thieves, they are going to inflict significant damage to their brand and credibility, not just with photographers, but more importantly to their client base.”

Evers continued: “If they were smart, they would settle this matter quickly and move on. Otherwise, with each day that they drag this one out, they are going to further sully a valuable reputation that took many years to construct.” Speaking to BJP today, Evers adds that AFP should, no matter how it got the images and from whom, compensate the rightful copyright owner.

While Leroy doesn’t disagree, he says “if you put your image, worth $10,000, on Twitter or Flickr and find that it’s been stolen by someone else, well… tough. You can’t ask me to defend you. What I’d like for all photographers reading this is that they stop putting images on such sites.

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