Haiti-based photographer Daniel Morel, who is at the heart of a legal challenge by Agence France Press over his images' copyright, won't receive support from Jean-Francois Leroy, director of the world's largest photojournalism festival
Last month, I wrote that Agence France Presse had filed a complaint in a United States District Court in New York against Haiti-based photographer Daniel Morel.
Agence France Presse claims Morel engaged in an “antagonistic assertion of rights” after the photographer objected to the use by AFP of images he posted online of the Haitian earthquake of 12 January. At the heart of this case, which has prompted Morel to file a 66-page brief and 10 counterclaims, is the news agencies’ use of social networking websites such as Twitter.
Morel, an established and award-winning photographer who used to work for Associated Press and since 2004 works as a freelance represented by Corbis, was in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck on 12 January at 4.54pm. Morel writes in his counter-claim, “the most catastrophic earthquake in the Caribbean region in 200 years struck Haiti”. The devastation would leave 230,000 people dead and 1.5m homeless.
Morel and an American journalist and friend, Eric Parker, “hit the street to obtain daylight shots” of the devastation. That evening, Morel created a Twitter account with the username “PhotoMorel”, first foray in the world of 140-character long Tweets. By 5.20pm, Morel posted 13 images he’d taken that day.
The images attracted immediate attention from news sources but also from one Twitter user, Lisandro Suero, who downloaded Morel’s images and uploaded them again on his own account, claiming to be the author. The images were later taken on by Agence France Presse.
According to Morel’s lawyers, “AFP wilfully or with reckless disregard of Mr Morel’s rights in its rush to receive credit for the news-breaking photographs, failed to use due diligence to ascertain the identity of Mr Suero, or to verify his authorship of the photographs. No standard or traditional good journalistic practices were followed. Either AFP has no reliable process in place to verify the authenticity of the image the source, or AFP failed to use such process or procedure.”
Agence France Presse claims it was to free to use the images, as, by uploading the images on Twitter, Morel granted any third-party a non-exclusive license to use them (however, despite AFP’s claims, Morel did not upload his images on Twitter, but instead chose TwitPic, a third-party website that respects copyright and does NOT grant a license to use them – see my first post, from last month, about this).
The case, if it goes to court, could redefine or clarify how images posted online can be used.
However, the photographer won’t receive support from Jean-François Leroy, co-founder of the world’s largest photojournalism festival. “Photographers have to accept their responsibilities. You can’t put your images on Twitter and not expect them to be taken up by others,” he tells me. “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. If I’m the witness of such a tragic event as this earthquake, I call an agency or Getty or Corbis. The photographer that calls me to complain about this, I’m sorry to say, I can’t defend. It’s as if all Iranians who put images on Twitter during last year’s protests asked for royalties. It’s not easy, in Morel’s case, to say that Agence France Presse messed up.”