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Bring in the clowns

It’s not there yet but it is certainly starting to look like one. The Morel Vs. AFP lawsuit has all the ingredients of a circus stage, without the tent.

Morel, if you remember, shot some images of the earthquake in Haiti, put them of Twitter/Twipics, only to see them taken by AFP to be sold world wide. Both parties are now suing each other, provoking many public debates, to which we would love to add our voice.

To be a photojournalist is to be a witness.  Those who become the best of the best and pursue a life time career in photojournalism are driven by one passion that is stronger than photography: The urge to report what they see. Photography is only a vehicle to that passion.

Thus, how can one be surprised that a photojournalist would use social media ? It is a witness tool. Jean Francois Leroy, Kriegmaster of Visa pour l’image, self-proclaim Pope of Photojournalism,  has been decrying the lack of space in magazines devoted to these images. Yet, in an interview in the BPJ, he criticizes those who use social media as a vehicle for their images, including Morel. In a nutshell, he is happy Morel got his pictures stolen by AFP. That will teach him, and others, a lesson. He probably believes that photojournalism belongs only in the pages of magazines and in his Festival. Nowhere else. How so quaintly XX th century of him. Can someone hand him a computer and show him how it works ?

While Morel pavlovian’s reaction was to, of course, share his image with the world (Not AFP) via Twitter, it was also AFP’s duty to take that image and distribute it. Let me explain: Similar to a photojournalist, a wire service intravenous gut reaction is distribute images that show a news event. As quickly as possible. Not only because of the competition, but because of the urgency of breaking news, especially in the first few hours when little or no visuals are available. AFP did not take that image out of greed ( they are partly owned by the French government and will probably never go bankrupt). They took it out of duty. They, also, had to inform the world.

Morel and AFP were build to work together. They think the same way. Except, in this instance, they had not reach any agreement and both acted on instinct.  Who was right, who is wrong?

Let’s do an experiment. Put a table full a brand new Ipads in the street with a sign next to it saying ” Free, Take one”. Sit next to the table and wait. What will happen ? People will come to the table, read the sign, see you next to the table and ask you ” Can I take one ?”.

On the Internet, because no one is visible, no one asks anymore. You take. Everybody takes. No questions asks. Regardless if you have an contact info clearly marked. It’s a free for all. Especially photography. It is one of the most used asset of the internet, yet no one thinks they should pay for it, let along ask permission.

And this is where AFP is terribly wrong : Regardless of the terms and conditions of Twitter/Twipics, they should have asked. Common Courtesy.

They should have resisted their instinct and remain human : just ask for permission.

Instead, they turn to their sharks lawyer and desperately try to make a legal case of what should be a human courtesy case. The worst is that other photographers seem to take their defense and claim proudly ” The law is above human courtesy”. That is sad.

No “terms and conditions”, whatever they are, should prevent one company, one individual to politely ask another the permission to use a photograph. Ever. No one should hide behind these “Terms and Condition” and forget the most  basic laws of human interaction.  Especially if they have a common goal : Inform the world.

Considering the financial discrepancies between the two parties, it is quite obvious that AFP will prevail in this issue. That is the way law works in the  USA ( well, the world actually). The one who throws the most money on a trial wins. Laws are made for the rich and powerful. Quite frankly, it is not that important.

What is important is the role of social media and photojournalism. Twitter has been many times labeled as  the new journalism destination for breaking news ( see the Hudson plane landing, Iran,  Michael Jackson death, etc). It has become faster than news outlet, including the wires.  The confusion comes from misinterpretation of what social media is : A end product and not a distribution platform.

Morel, and many like him, use social media as a means to inform the world.  Morel posted pictures on Twitter/Twitpic for the world to see. AFP does not beleive that Twitter/Twitpic can do that properly. They still think  that, in order for the world to see these images, they had to go on the AFP wire.

What is important here is that AFP are, like JF Leroy and others, misunderstanding the role, the reach and impact of social media. Morel lives in the present, they live in the past.

Everything else is a comedy.

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