The Gods of copyright are satiated . With the recent judgement calling for AFP and Getty Images to disburse $1,2 million to Mr Morel for copyright infringement, they have been offered reverence. Or have they ?
See, both companies had already been found guilty of copyright infringement many years ago. It has been clearly demonstrated that AFP’s procedure had been wrong and by consequence, so was Getty’s. This week’s judgement was all and only about the penalty to be paid, not about the wrongdoing. The fault here is clearly and solely in the hands of that one over-zealous AFP photo editor who single handedly decided to take images from Twitter and distribute via their network. He was not ordered to do so, he took the decision on his own. He then apparently proceeded in making more of mess of the situation by being extremely obtuse and irresponsible. The fact that he still has a job is a testament of the power of the employees in French society. In the US, he would have been sacked immediately and would never work in the photography world ever again. But that is beyond the point.
His mistake, clearly due to the extreme pressure the wire services have to remain competitive at all cost by supplying images as fast as possible, is a clear example on how wire services – and any breaking news media- are ill equipped to deal with social media’s competition. Not only he saw Twitter as a supplier of images – instead of a publisher- but somehow, he wrongly believed that an image published on Twitter would not be seen much and thus deserved to be pushed via AFP’s network. He would not have done the same if it had been published on the New York Times’ website not only because of very clear copyright issue but also because of its perceived audience, that image would have little or no interest for anyone else. In the breaking news business, you want to be the first one to publish an image otherwise you look like you are playing catching up.
But why is this not a great win for copyright infringement ? Because of who is involved. AFP and Getty are both image distributors and are the first to suffer from infringements. Getty has bought into advance technology, as well as massive resources, to fight continuous assaults on photography’s rights. They have set up websites, organised talks and are involved with numerous international associations to educate the market on copyright legislation.Thus, this is a slap on the hand of one , if the not the most dedicated photography copyright enforcer in the world. Furthermore, in this case, they seem to have been the victims of AFP’s mismanagement more then anything else. They receive thousands of images a day and one would assume that they would trust a state-owned company they have been working with for years to respect and honor copyright legislation. Once the images made it into their pipeline, because of the speed of distribution, it is already too late to stop.At the time, much was written about Morel’s move to post some of his images on Twitter. Some had notoriously said he was “stupid” and deserved what happened to him and others protected his right to publish his images wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. Seems the latter were proven right.
Sure, a cop can break the law and should be punished if he does. Getty was found guilty and is paying a hefty price for not having stronger controls in place and trusting their partners too much. You can be sure that they have changed their procedures since. AFP, who knows?Because they are a state owned company that can never fail, they might continue business as usual.
But copyright infringement continues to be rampant. Pinterest is not worried about this judgement, nor are thousands upon thousands of websites that continuously use photographs without proper approval. Flickr, or Tumblr – you pick- are currently hosting thousands, if not millions of illegal images. right now. ( including probably, ironically, Morel’s images). They don’t get caught, judged or punished. In fact, they are valued at billions of dollars. Do they do anything to educate or protect copyright? Nope. Nor do they care.
So yes, AFP, and by consequence, Getty should have not done what they did. I think everyone agrees on that. Should they have been punished. Probably. Should the photo community rejoice ? No. Because neither AFP nor Getty are the bad guys. They are a very far cry from being any threat to photography copyright, especially compared to social media. Sure, this judgment will make images taken from Twitter to be republished or sold less likely but it is certainly not a win for the photography world.
Hopefully Morel and his lawyers will donate some of their earnings to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. At least, like that, some good would have come out of this.