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. identicon
    FinnMan, 23 Feb 2011 @ 4:39pm

    People are confusing several issues here. The photographer seems to have been savy and negotiated the licensing of only certain rights to the image to Palin's office. Those rights may have allowed the office to hand out physical prints of the image for display use, say in a constituent's home or place of business.

    However, Palin's office may have also sent prints to various publications to be used along with articles about her. These are often called "handout" prints and are only to be used in conjunction with a specific published article. The images use to advertise a product or service is also usually NOT allowed. This type of handout usage by Palin's office may or may not have allowed by their agreement with the photographer.

    If it was NOT allowed in their agreement with the photographer and they did it anyway, then the photographer cannot be blamed for the wide distribution of the photos, especially if he also made them available for licensing as stock images.

    In addition, the licensing of headshots such as this is typically TIME LIMITED to a period of three years or so, on the theory that as styles change, people will get new photos made. This may be why the photographer and his stock agency are now pursuing these claims.

    Finally, many, if not most, states have on-staff photographers who are paid salary and benefits by the taxpayers and are therefore covered under the "work for hire" provisions of the copyright laws. This is how most "official" portraits of governors are available in the public domain.

    So here is a guy who tried to his work available for people to license by placing it with a stock agency, as Mike frequently suggests, getting reamed in the comments because his customers/clients may have distributed his work in a way he did not license them to and now he is trying to stop others from profiting from his images. Suddenly he is the bad guy abusing the copyright system?

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