| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Nov 22 A federal jury on Friday
ordered two media companies to pay $1.2 million to a freelance
photojournalist for their unauthorized use of photographs he
posted to Twitter.
The jury found that Agence France-Presse and Getty Images
willfully violated the Copyright Act when they used photos
Daniel Morel took in his native Haiti after the 2010 earthquake
that killed more than 250,000 people, Morel's lawyer, Joseph
The case is one of the first to address how images that
individuals make available to the public through social media
can be used by third parties for commercial purposes.
"We believe that this is the first time that these
defendants or any other major digital licensor of photography
have been found liable for willful violations of the Copyright
Act," Baio said in an email.
Lawyers for AFP and Getty did not immediately respond to
requests for comment.
U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, who presided over the
trial, had ruled in January that the two companies were liable
An editor at AFP discovered Morel's photos through another
Twitter user's account and provided them to Getty. The photos
were then widely disseminated to Getty's clients, including
several television networks and the Washington Post.
The trial was held solely to determine the amount of damages
for Morel, based on whether the jury found that AFP and Getty
willfully infringed on Morel's copyrights.
The $1.2 million was the maximum statutory penalty available
under the Copyright Act, Baio said. AFP had asked for the award
to be set at $120,000.
Several news outlets that published Morel's images
previously settled with the photographer for undisclosed
amounts, including the Washington Post, CBS, ABC and CNN.
During the trial, Marcia Paul, a lawyer for Getty, said
Morel was asking the jury "to make him the best paid news
photographer on the planet."
Joshua Kaufman, a lawyer for AFP, blamed the infringement on
an innocent mistake and said the Twitter user who posted Morel's
photos without attribution bore responsibility for the error.
The AFP editor, Kaufman said, believed the pictures were posted
for public distribution.
AFP filed the lawsuit in 2010 against Morel, seeking a
declaration that it had not infringed on his copyrights, after
Morel accused it of improper use. Morel then filed his own
AFP had initially argued that Twitter's terms of service
permitted the use of the photos. But Nathan found in January
that the company's policies allowed posting and "retweeting" of
images but did not grant the right to use them commercially.
The case is Agence France-Presse v. Morel, U.S. District
Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 10-02730.