Photographer Demanding Cash From Sites Using Palin's Official Governor Photo

from the copyright-gone-mad dept

Pickle Monger points us to the latest ridiculous story involving copyright and the government. Apparently, a photographer named Jeff Schultz, who has taken many photos of Sarah Palin, took the photo that Palin used as her "official state photo," while she was governor of Alaska. Members of Palin's administration say they regularly handed out that photo to all sorts of folks as Palin's official headshot. Not surprisingly, the image can be found widely on the internet.

However, it appears that Schultz is now claiming that those who use it are violating his copyright, and are demanding they pay up. And not just a marginal sum, but $11,750, according to the demand letter embedded below. The story covers a demand letter that was sent to a restaurant owner who, back during the last Presidential election, hosted an event where he showed the VP debate between Palin and Biden. In promoting that event at the restaurant, the owner pulled Palin's official pic and put it on his website, where it has remained "in the archives" where almost no one sees it. However, Schultz or his lawyers found it and demanded money from the restaurant owner. Even after the image was pulled, they still demanded money, and rather than fight it, the restaurant owner eventually paid up. Schultz's lawyers also demanded a gag order, that he not talk about the threat and the demand for cash, but he refused to agree to the gag order. Of course, this just makes you wonder how many other folks did pay up and can't talk about it...

Palin's deputy press secretary while she was governor notes that Schultz did, in fact, retain the copyright, but that seems silly. If you're going to post a headshot like that for an official government figure and use it as distribution material for all sorts of media, it seems like you should automatically relinquish any copyright on it. That Schultz is going around now, years later, and demanding cash (and silence!) from those using it seems like yet another story of copyright trolling.

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  1. icon
    B's Opinion Only (profile), 22 Feb 2011 @ 11:04am

    It sounds like Palin's office was too stupid to negotiate proper terms with the photographer they hired.

    The photographer is completely within his rights to be paid for the use of his work, and we've seen that ugly mug around enough to suspect he should be paid quite handsomely. The image in question is obviously a professionally-shot portrait and any editor should know enough to ask who owns the copyright when publishing it.

    The real case for the courts to decide is whether Palin's people should be the ones paying or the end users, who were probably led to believe they were allowed to use the photo.

    Techdirt writes a lot of good things about the abuses of copyright and trademark law. This article isn't one of them.

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