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AFP v. Morel: Judge reserves decision in AFP dismissal request

A US judge has yet to decide whether freelance photographer Daniel Morel, who accuses Agence France Presse of distributing his images of the Haiti earthquake without his permission, can sue the news service

Last Friday, Judge Pauley of the Southern District Court of New York heard the first arguments in the long-awaited AFP v. Morel case.

The case, launched by Agence France Presse, with Getty Images, the ABC and CBS television networks and CNN as co-defendants against the photographer, accuses Morel of engaging in “an antagonistic assertion of rights,” after he objected to the use by AFP of images he posted online on the TwitPic and Twitter services.

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The images were of the 12 January earthquake, which hit Haiti and killed more than 230,000 people. When the disaster hit, Morel was in Port-au-Prince. According to a counter-claim he filled against Agence France Presse, Morel spent most of that day photographying. And with the help of a friend, he created a Twitter account with the username “PhotoMorel” were he posted, through the TwitPic service, 13 images he had taken that day.

The images were stolen by another Twitter user, Lisandro Suero, who allowed AFP to distribute them. However, according to Morel, AFP knew the images didn’t belong to Suero. Morel’s claims are supported by a series a Twitter messages an AFP employee, Ben Fathers, wrote to Morel.

In his counterclaim, Morel wrote: “AFP wilfully or with reckless disregard of Mr Morel’s rights, in its rush to receive credit for the news-breaking photographs to the world, failed to use due diligence to ascertain the identity of Mr Suero, or to verify his authorship of the photographs.” He added: “No standard or traditional good journalistic practices were followed. Either AFP has no reliable process in place to verify the authenticity of the image or the accuracy of the source, or AFP failed to use such process or procedure.”

Last Friday, AFP asked Judge Pauley to throw out Morel’s counterclaims arguing that the photographer had granted, by posting his images on Twitter and TwitPic, a non-exclusive license to his pictures.

In a statement, AFP says: “AFP published Mr. Morel’s photographs in good faith with the understanding that by posting them on Twitter, he had granted the requisite license to third parties to use, copy, publish, display and distribute those photographs.”

Judge Pauley didn’t issue an immediate ruling on AFP’s request, choosing to wait until the court reconvenes.

According to a source close to the case, AFP has also asked to modify one of its claims against Morel in regards to the online service the photographer used to publish his images. Previously, AFP argued that Morel had published his images on Twitter. However, Twitter doesn’t host images. Instead, the freelance photographer had uploaded his images on the third-party service TwitPic – posting links to these images on his Twitter account.