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Photographer awarded $1.2 million from media companies that lifted images off Twitter

A New York jury Friday ordered media companies Agence France-Presse and Getty Images to pay $1.2 million to freelance photographer Daniel Morel for using and distributing without permission eight photos he’d taken and posted to his Twitter feed.

The landmark case is the first of its kind to address copyright infringement involving photos made public on social media.
Reuters reports that an AFP editor discovered Morel’s pictures of the 2010 Haiti earthquake through another Twitter user and then circulated them to Getty Images’ clients including the Washington Post, CBS, ABC and CNN.

AFP filed a lawsuit in 2010 against Morel, wanting the photographer to rescind his claims that the agency willfully infringed on his copyrights. Morel responded by filing a countersuit. But U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, who presided over the trial, ruled in January that AFP and Getty were liable for infringement.

Initially, AFP argued that Twitter’s terms of service permitted use of Morel’s posted photos, but Nathan found in January that the social media company’s policies did not grant third parties their use for commercial purposes.

“[Getty] sold my exclusive earthquake photographs stolen on the first day for $45, $9,” Morel told the Editorial Photographers UK. “I was shocked when they presented this evidence in court. They don’t really represent the friends of photographers as they claim.”

The New York Times spoke with John Lapham, general counsel for Getty, about the verdict.

“We’re disappointed with the damages,” he told the Times in a phone interview. “And we understand that Mr. Morel’s pictures were miscredited, and that’s why we took the steps to pull the images and make corrections as soon as we were made aware. We’ve taken a lot of steps, at the time and since then, to improve and enhance our ingestion practice to best protect people’s copyright.”

The $1.2 million was the maximum statutory penalty available under the Copyright Act, Morel’s lawyer, Joseph Baio, said. AFP had asked for the award to be set at $120,000, according to Reuters.

In the interest of full disclosure, the PBS NewsHour is a Getty subscriber.

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