Photo © Jeremy Nicholl 2006. All Rights Reserved.

The web is all a-twitter over comments made by Visa Pour L’Image’s Jean-Francois Leroy concerning the copyright infringement case between Daniel Morel and Agence France Presse, Getty Images and others. Speaking to Olivier Laurent in the British Journal of Photography, Leroy stated that he “couldn’t defend” Morel and “it’s not easy to say that Agence France Presse messed up.” His comments have not been well received in the photojournalism community.

Leroy’s first comment is easy to dismiss. He’s unlikely to be called as an expert witness to the New York court hearing the case, so for all practical purposes who if anyone he chooses to support is of no consequence. His second claim however – that AFP “didn’t mess up” – is far more dangerous. Leroy attempted to support this by saying “You don’t put images you think are worth $10,000 on Twitter. If I’m the witness of such a tragic event as this earthquake, I call an agency or Getty or Corbis.”

Really? Leroy’s assertion that the pictures would have been better placed with an agency likely rests on three assumptions. Firstly, that an agent would get better prices for the pictures; secondly, that the pictures would be more secure if hosted at an agency site; and thirdly, that if any pictures were stolen the agency would have better resources than an individual photographer to prosecute infringers.

Photo © Jeremy Nicholl
But one of Leroy’s suggested agents – Getty – did get their hands on the pictures, and according to court documents the licensing fees, although many, were in the hundreds, not thousands, of dollars. Surprisingly low in fact, and certainly not in excess of what could be achieved by a photographer of Morel’s experience selling on his own.

The second assumption, that of security, seems based on ignorance: no image placed on the internet is secure. Not one. Ever. The best an agency site can offer is a password wall for high resolution images, watermarking on the publicly viewable low resolution versions, backed up with a copyright warning to deter would be thieves. But would-be thieves don’t care about the warning and watermarks are trivially easy to remove. And once the pictures leave the agency site, legally or otherwise, all that security is gone. So any agency site security is at best flawed and inevitably temporary.

What about Leroy’s third assumption, that a major agent is better placed than an individual photographer to pursue copyright infringements? Since 2007 Getty have been pursuing businesses in the UK for multiple cases of copyright infringement. Ironically the infringers being chased by Getty complain that the agency is being unreasonable and heavy-handed: terms like “bullying” and “threatening” echo AFP’s complaint of Morel’s “antagonistic assertion of rights.” And inevitably the defence the infringers present against Getty is in many cases exactly that which AFP/Getty present against Morel: “the pictures are on the internet so we thought they were free.”

But the interesting thing is that in three years the best Getty’s legal department has managed is a total of £26,000 from one business in an out of court settlement; and the majority of that was legal fees. Should Morel succeed in his case against AFP and Getty he is likely to be awarded damages far in excess of that. So in this instance, who’s doing better at pursuing infringements?

Leroy would surely agree that a prime function of a news photojournalist is to get the pictures out as quickly as possible. Morel did that, and, incidentally, from an earthquake that was still in progress. So if, as a senior BBC correspondent recently stated, Twitter is just another news outlet, shouldn’t photojournalists working on a breaking story be able to use that outlet without fear of their work being stolen?

Photo © Jeremy Nicholl
Finally, Leroy says that photographers have to accept their responsibilities. Fair enough. But someone in his position also has a responsibility to recognise picture theft for what it is, even when – in fact, especially when – one of the accused happen to be major sponsors of the festival of which he is director. Instead he’s chosen to endorse that tired old excuse employed by every small-time freetard crook who ever stole a picture from a website: “it’s on the internet, so I thought it was free.” Cheers, J-F!

Bookmark and Share

11 Responses to “Visa D’oh! J-F Leroy Messes Up On AFP vs Morel”

  1. Marquess of Queensberry Marquess of Queensberry says:

    Why do you assume that JF Leroy on the photographer’s side? He’s always been a corporate sell out. Which is why Visa has become such a crap place for photogs.
    Every time he opens his mouth, it’s against freelance photographers and pro large corporations.

  2. Alan Chun Alan Chun says:

    What ever happened to the “Ignorance is no defence in a court of law” train of thought?

    Why is it that the legal systems all around the world seem to have taken leave of their senses and allow these cases to continue when it is glaringly obvious that the photographer has been wronged?

    Most people, me included, put links to important images on Twitter, load them up to their flickr groups and put them on their own website as part of the necessary marketing that one has to do in business.

    So why is it that these massive corporations feel it’s ok to come along steal something from a hard working photographer and then try and get away with it with a nonsense defence that smacks of a small child in the playground when confronted stating “It wasn’t me, I didn’t do it, I thought it was ok to take as it was just there”

    I wish Daniel Morel all the success in the world in winning his case.

  3. Donkybhoy Donkybhoy says:

    I agree with the Marquess. JF L has long sold out, his backing of Getty and Corbis which signalled the death of many niche agencies and their photographers has long shown which side he sits on..

  4. [...] you put photos on Twitter, you deserve to get ripped off [...]

  5. [...] work, and tried to illustrate why.  This was partly the same ground already foolishly trodden by JF Leroy and the NPPA, but Harrington took the attack on Morel a step further: rather than simply make vague [...]

  6. [...] Away from the courtroom there’s also a comic sub-plot to be resolved, starring various figures who either absolved AFP of blame or actively defended the agency’s actions.  Aside from the usual freetard nutters these included the National Press Photographer Association’s Mickey Osterreicher, photo blogger John Harrington and Visa Pour L’Image’s J-F Leroy. [...]

  7. [...] Away from the courtroom there’s also a comic sub-plot to be resolved, starring various figures who either absolved AFP of blame or actively defended the agency’s actions.  Aside from the usual freetard nutters these included the National Press Photographer Association’s Mickey Osterreicher, photo blogger John Harrington and Visa Pour L’Image’s J-F Leroy. [...]

  8. [...] Visa D’oh! J-F Leroy Messes Up On AFP vs Morel The founder of the Visa Pour L’Image photojournalism festival expresses some surprising opinions on the case. [...]

  9. [...] Visa D’oh! J-F Leroy Messes Up On AFP vs Morel The founder of the Visa Pour L’Image photojournalism festival expresses some surprising opinions on the case. [...]

  10. [...] have attracted the attention of many photojournalists and bloggers (on A Photo Editor and The Russian Photos Blog, among others), with many accusing the festival’s director of siding with a large agency at the [...]

Leave a reply: usual Marquess of Queensberry rules apply.

(required)

(required: will not be published)

What I’m thinking…

    Translate this Page