Photographer Who Took Family Portrait Of Girl Shot In Tucson Suing Media For Using The Photo

from the copyright-abuse dept

We're all aware of the recent, tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona and the fact that it resulted in the unfortunate deaths of a bunch of folks who just wanted to meet and speak with their local Representative. The really tragic story of Christina Taylor Green, a 9-year-old girl who was killed, was one that really captured the nation's attention. As part of that, the media often highlighted a family photo that the Green family had with Christina and her mother:
What you might not know is that the professional photographer, who took this photo, apparently seems to think this is an "opportunity." After Christina's unfortunate murder, photographer Jon Wolf of Tucson decided to register the photo at the Copyright Office and then threaten and/or sue a bunch of media properties for showing the photo without licensing it (thanks to Eric Goldman for sending this over). It's hard not to be sickened by someone who would so brazenly try to capitalize on such a tragedy.

As for the specifics of the copyright situation here, as we've discussed before, while it doesn't really make much common sense, it is true that technically the photographer of such portraits usually owns the copyright. Whatever copyright is available automatically applies to whoever took the photograph (remember that the next time you ask a stranger to take your picture somewhere...). Some photographers will be willing to assign the copyright over to the subjects, but many insist on holding onto it, for whatever reason. That said, for the most part, the copyright issue becomes moot pretty quickly, because there's no real copyright dispute that comes up. The one most common is when people take such photos and try to get more prints of them, some photo shops will refuse any professional looking photo without a photographer's release.

That said, in this case, it's unlikely that Wolf has much of a case. The late registration is one issue, in terms of how much he could legally get if it was declared infringing, but the much bigger issue is that the media using such a photo in such a manner is almost certainly fair use. Fair use for reporting is pretty damn well established and you would think that any lawyer Wolf hired would inform him of this.

Separately, Wolf and his lawyer have claimed (differently, at different times) that he intends to give either some or all of the proceeds he receives from this legal shakedown campaign to charity. However, when the charity he named was told how he was getting the money, it smartly refused to accept that money. Of course, if the idea was just to give money to charity, why choose such an abusive, coercive means of getting the money? Why not take a positive step and use the photo to raise money for charity? Claiming (questionable) copyright infringement and demanding cash is not exactly the most charitable of gestures.

Along those lines, it makes you wonder who would choose to use Mr. Wolf as a photographer in the future, knowing how he might act at a later date. Who cares whether or not he's a good or bad photographer, if he's shown a history of exploiting tragic events and questionable copyright theories?

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  1. identicon
    Robert, 18 Feb 2011 @ 5:30pm

    Fair Use

    It could be fair use since there are exceptions for current news events. This is why media harvest Facebook accounts when there's breaking news.

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