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.