UNC reaches settlement with Justin Cook over copyright infringement, will also hold public forum about creative rights

This is wonderful news. After our post–one of this site’s most shared posts–on Justin Cook‘s futile attempts to get the University of North Carolina to acknowledge and correct its infringing usage of one of his photos, the University and Cook have reached a settlement. In a public statement on facebook, Cook wrote:

Yesterday The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and I came to a resolution. They agreed to pay my fee for their use of my image, and I agreed to drop my copyright claim on the condition that the Department of Psychology collaborates with me, the UNC School of Law, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the Media Law Center and others to hold an interdisciplinary public forum about the importance of creative rights.

This resolution is a win for everyone that is more meaningful than what any lawsuit could have afforded us, and it’s consistent with UNC’s core values. A community of impassioned friends and strangers united and pushed us to this huge victory that will further build community and foster conversation. That’s The Carolina Way!

Justin Cook, 5 November 2014

This is, indeed, a win for everyone. Cook’s issues with non-payment and infringement have been resolved and the greater community, including the infringing parties, will be working together to educate the public about the rights of creative workers, which I’m sure will include coverage of how to respect the copyright of photographers. I don’t think I could’ve imagined a better outcome.

I’m especially happy for this news. I’ve known Justin Cook basically since my start as a photojournalist, when we spent time together at the Flint Journal in Michigan. He’s a heck of a nice guy and a great photographer. Make sure to check out his portfolio and his most recent project, Made In Durham, a look at the effects of homicide, incarceration and gentrification in Durham, North Carolina.

University of North Carolina steals photographer’s work, claims it could not have known photo was not free to use

UPDATE (5 Nov. 2014): The University and Justin Cook have reached a settlement. Read this post for more info.

Original post: This is a case that defies belief. The University of North Carolina used a photo by photographer Justin Cook on a departmental Facebook page without permission. When Cook, who attended UNC and is based in Durham, North Carolina, contacted the university about the unauthorized usage, university lawyers wrote back saying that they removed the image, do not acknowledge that it was an infringing usage, and could not have known that the image was copyrighted and not intended for redistribution. The image was taken from Cook’s wife’s wedding photography portfolio site.

Cook has written back and forth with the University and its representatives, and NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher stepped in with a letter to UNC explaining just why their response is wrongheaded, abusive of copyright, and generally unbelievable. UNC refuses to budge on the issue, essentially saying that because Cook put the image online, he was essentially allowing free usage of the image by anyone. There’s a detailed look at the whole saga on the Crusade For Arts website.

“I felt like their counsel’s comments were a backhanded way of saying to me: ‘you shouldn’t have put your work on the internet if you didn’t want it used.'” Justin Cook

In my dealings with copyright infringement, I’ve generally followed this advice. A cordial but direct approach to the right people at the offending organization usually results in an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, removal of the infringing usage, and payment. But Cook wasn’t as lucky in this case. It seems like the only option now is to pursue legal action, and that’s a costly endeavor.

It’s sad to see a University treat a photographer–and a graduate of that University!–with so little respect and disregard for copyright. UNC has a host of issues at the moment, though, so my guess is that this copyright case is low on their priority list. But, the institution recently paid $782,000 to hire a PR firm to handle its response to scandals plaguing the university, so you’d think they could afford a few thousand dollars to settle the unauthorized image usage.

Buy prints to support A Photo A Day and go to GeekFest Sept. 12-14 in Philadelphia

Support APAD by bidding on prints
Support APAD by bidding on prints

Both Matt and I have participated in the A Photo A Day community (APAD) over the years. It’s a wonderful community, run by Melissa Lyttle, of (mostly) photojournalists who look at each others’ work on an email listserv. Now, APAD has become a registered non-profit and will be offering grants to photographers to work on projects. I’m happy to see this development; money for projects is always a good thing. You can help out by bidding on prints from a wide-ranging group of photographers. The auction goes until September 16 and features the work of: Alan Berner, Barbara Davidson, Kendrick Brinson, Matt Eich, Preston Gannaway, Todd Heisler, Ariana Lindquist, Susana Raab, and others. For some of the work available, these are likely the lowest prices you’ll ever see. Check out the auction here.

A Photo A Day
APhotoADay

And while you’re at it, consider going to APAD’s annual GeekFest in Philadelphia Sept. 12 – 14, 2014. It’ll be my first GeekFest, but everything I hear about previous years is that it’s an experience not to be missed. For me, it will be an opportunity to finally meet many photographers around the US whom I’ve only known through email and social media. But even if you aren’t a member of APAD, it should be a great weekend. There’s a full roster of talks and presentations, including Ed Kashi, April Saul, Kainaz Amaria, Sara Lewkowicz, David Maialetti, Holly Andres, J. Kyle Keener, Luanne Dietz, and Vince Musi. Saturday night will also be the book launch of Sol Neelman’s Weird Sports 2.

As you can see from the schedule, it’s a full weekend, and if you buy a ticket this week, it’s only $100 (next week it goes to $125). You can get more details in the GeekFest Philly facebook group.