If you think understanding photography law can be a nightmare, try dealing with the horrors that can happen when you don’t understand it.
Or when publishers choose to ignore it, stock agencies hide behind it or subjects try to use it to restrict the use of images.
Here are five photography court cases that should scare the bejesus out of photographers.
1. Lara Jade Coton Versus Bob Burge and TVX Films
Lara Jade Coton, who we interviewed here not long after the story broke, was a 14-year-old schoolgirl in England when she shot a self-portrait wearing a top hat. She was still under 18 when Bob Burge, owner of TVX Films put the photo on the cover of a porn film called “Body Magic.”
Lara Jade, now an 18-year old photography student, had placed the image on deviantART, protected (she’d hoped) with a watermark and copyright symbol.
After being told that her self-portrait was being used to promote porn, Lara Jade contacted Bob Burge who was less than polite. Complaining that her photo was harming sales anyway, he promised to change the cover of his Hustler-rated DVD.
Months later, ads for the film featuring Lara’s image could still be found on the Web.
It was only when Lara Jade used her Flickr page to describe what happened that things really took off. She received press coverage around the world, comments of support from hundreds of photographers… and a court case filed against Bob Burge and TVX films in the summer of 2007.
Photography: Lara Jade Coton
2. Flickr Member Sues Virgin Mobile after Appearing in Australian Ad
Lara Jade isn’t the only underage victim of a company trying to promote itself. Alison Chang, a 16-year-old from Bedford, Texas was photographed flashing a victory sign at a church fundraiser in April 2007. The photographer, a youth counselor, posted the image on his Flickr stream with a Creative Commons license.
Advertising executives at Virgin Mobile Australia grabbed the image and placed it on at least one bus shelter with the caption “Dump your pen friend.”
Ryan Zehl, an attorney for Ms. Chang was quoted in the Dallas Morning News saying:
If a company uses your face in its ads without your consent, then you’re entitled to whatever money those ads generate for the company… It’s Texas law.
Australia, of course, is a long way from Texas but the law suit does touch on all sorts of important issues, including model releases, privacy and copyright as it relates to Creative Commons licenses.
3. Corbis Sued For Losing Photos
Most photographers have nightmares about something happening to their images. So they keep back-ups and they trust stock companies to do the same.
Or at least to look after their photos properly.
Corbis didn’t do either. Early in November 2007, photographer Chris Usher won his suit against the stock company after discovering that it had lost 12,640 of his analog images — one in four of the images the photographer had submitted.
Usher, who used to represent himself, had signed up to Corbis to supplement his sales to Time, Newsweek and other major publications. He asked for his images back when he grew disappointed at Corbis’s licensing deals and billing practices.
Corbis initially denied that they had lost any of Usher’s photos but admitted on the first day in court that they might have misplaced a “mere 5,877.”
This isn’t the first time that Corbis has been sued for losing photos. Arthur Grace was awarded $472,000 after Sygma, a French stock company that Corbis bought in 1999, lost 40,000 of his slides. That case will receive a new hearing and could lead to even higher damages. Chris Usher will have to wait until December to learn the size of his court-awarded compensation.
4. Passer-By Sues Philip-Lorca diCorcia for Selling his Photo
In general, if you’re in a public place, you can photograph it. And in general, if you want to sell an image of someone for commercial use, you need their permission.
Philip-Lorca diCorcia though, thought he was on safe ground when he set up strobe rigs in New York in 2006 and photographed people walking down the street. He didn’t put the photos on ads or mount them on billboards. He placed them in an exhibition and sold them as prints.
And he was sued by Emo Nussenzweig, an Orthodox Jew, who appeared in one of the photos and considered the sale both an invasion of his privacy and a breach of his religious rights.
The court ruled that although ten copies of the images had sold for up to $30,000 each, they were still considered works of art, were not commercial and were therefore protected under the First Amendment. Nussenzweig’s appeal was filed too late to be considered.
5. Goosed Farmer Seeks $7.5 Million in Damages for Photo
You might be able to argue that a work of art is not commercial but photographer John Burwell could struggle to make the same claim for an image he shot that appeared on greeting card.
The photo, which was taken in 1996 at the State Fair of Virginia, shows poultry farmer Andrew Marsinko with a goose on his knee. Burwell submitted the image to Jupitermedia who licensed it to a company called Leanin’ Tree.
Leanin’ Tree used the photo on the cover of a greeting card with the caption “Since it’s your birthday, you decide — Would you rather get spanked… or goosed?”
Marsinko, who was a well-known figure in goose-breeding circles, is now an even more well-known figure.
He is suing Burwell and his wife, Jupitermedia, Getty Images (who bought the rights to the image) and Leanin’ Tree, for defamation, unauthorized use of a picture, conspiracy and attempted conspiracy, and reckless infliction of emotional distress. Marsinko claims that he did not sign a model release form.
Photography: Courtesy of Roanoke County Circuit Court
[tags] lara jada coton, photo legal issues [/tags]