Tag Archive: law


Defamation, Girls, and pictures through a window: recent legal news affecting photography and copyright

There’ve been a bunch of legal developments in the world of photography and copyright in the past couple weeks. Here are a few things that have been on my radar that all have relevance to freelance and staff photographers in the US:

UPDATE: Judge rules commercial drone use legal in USA (updated)

“A ruling by an administrative law judge on Thursday held that the Federal Aviation Administration lacks clear-cut authority to ban the commercial use of drones in the continental U.S.” -Wall Street Journal

In January, I wrote about the legal issues of using drones for journalism in the US. This week, administrative law judge Patrick Geraghty struck down a $10,000 FAA fine against Raphael Pirker, a drone videographer, stemming from the 2007 filming of a University of Virginia advertisement using a 5-pound drone. The judge stated that the FAA lacks authority to regulate commercial drone usage, and as such, could not fine Pirker for his drone usage. The judge’s decision can be appealed. The Wall Street Journal also reports that the FAA is considering case-by-case waivers to its ban on commercial drone usage.

I’m very curious to see how drone usage evolves in the US and elsewhere. It could mean a lot for journalism and Facebook has plans to use 11,000 drones to facilitate internet access throughout Africa. As the ACLU has been documenting, however, police agencies across the US are using drones for surveillance and data colleciton.

UPDATE March 10, 2014: The FAA has appealed the decision, saying, “The agency is concerned that this decision could impact the safe operation of the national airspace system and the safety of people and property on the ground.”

NYC mayoral candidate Joe Lhota steals photographers’ work for campaign ad

Screenshot of Joe Lhota campaign ad Can't Go Back with Q. Sakamaki image used without permission.

Screenshot of Joe Lhota campaign ad Can’t Go Back with Q. Sakamaki image used without permission.

Released on October 15 as the New York City mayoral race heats up, Joe Lhota‘s newest campaign video “Can’t Go Back” uses still photography of violence in New York’s past to scare voters away from voting for his opponent Bill de Blasio. However, Lhota did not pay for the licensing of many (perhaps any) of these still images, which includes work by Richard Sandler, Matt Weber, Q. Sakamaki (image from Tompkins Square Park riot in 1991 above), and Eli Reed. Sandler and Weber have reached a settlement with the Lhota campaign, but Sakamaki and Reed have both told Newsday that they are still upset at the usage and infringement. Newsday has identified all of the images used in the campaign ad, finding that one is actually from Bloomberg’s term in office.

According to Newsday, a spokesperson from the campaign says they found the images on flickr and they were tagged as “royalty-free,” and that they did their best to contact images owners given that information. That seems like a object lesson in the difficulties faced both by photographers and image users.

Who owns the copyright to Vivian Maier’s street photography?

“In Illinois, if a person dies without a will, their property goes to their closest living relatives. But if they literally have no living kin anywhere in the world, then the decedent’s property will ‘escheat’ to the State of Illinois. That rarely happens, though, because the law is written so that the property will go to the decedent’s relatives, even if they are very distant.” – Steven Dawson, a trusts and estates lawyer with Bryan Cave LLP, speaking to Gapers Block

We’ve written about Vivian Maier before (first all the way back in 2009), and you’ve probably read or seen much more. I just saw one of the traveling exhibitions of her work at Brandeis University outside Boston, and it’s well worth going to see her work in person, if you can. There’s a recently-released documentary (trailer above, IMDB) that seeks to get the bottom of just who this woman was. There may be a biopic in the works. There have been exhibitions and publications of her work all around the world. Two books have anthologized her photos: Vivian Maier: Street Photographer and Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows.

All of these books and movies and exhibitions stem from three separate collections of Maier’s work bought at auction after her death. The larger and more well-known collection is John Maloof’s, but Jeffery Goldstein also controls a substantial number of images (here’s a piece on Lens about that collection. A third man, Ron Slattery, bought a smaller collection of negatives and prints in 2007, before Maier’s death, though I can’t find a link that collection. A forthcoming book, Vivian Maier’s Fractured Archive, tries to make sense of all of these different collections and the woman herself.

The question remains, however, of just who owns the copyright to these photos. Ordinarily, copyright of unpublished works with a known author stays in place for 70 years after the death of the creator. Maier died in 2009, which means her copyright belongs to her heirs until at least 2079. But because Maier left no will and had no known heirs, the ownership likely goes to the state of Illinois, where Maier died. As Chicago-area web publication Gapers Block reports, “First, the state could do nothing, which would allow the owners of her work to continue with their ventures. Second, if the state decides it is the rightful owner of Maier’s work, cease and desist letters will be sent to the current owners explaining the laws of succession, how the state is now the main beneficiary, and that any selling of her work needs to stop and all profits made would need to be paid to the state.”

Maier’s photographic legacy now is worth thousands, if not millions, of dollars, so the state and the stewards of the various Maier collections have a compelling interest to maintain and exercise their ownership of these materials. It will be interesting to see how this legal situation plays out over the coming years.

Russia jails freelance photog; Russian media blackout photos in protest (UPDATED)


UPDATE 24 October 2013: Russia has dropped piracy charges against the 30 Greenpeace activists, including photographer Denis Sinyakov. They are now charged with “hooliganism,” which seems to be similar to a charge of “disorderly conduct” in the US. Lenta has the news in Russian.

UPDATE 29 September 2013: There’s now website gathering signatures of support and money for the legal defense fund (via Yandex and Paypal) for Denis Sinyakov: FreedomDenisSinyakov.ru

Original: This week Russian security forces arrested 30 Greenpeace activists who were protesting oil drilling in the Arctic. The group, comprising people from 18 nations, used a boat to approach a drilling operation, and a few members tried to board the platform. The activists were arrested and may be charged with piracy in addition to other crimes (though Putin questions the piracy charge).

Among those arrested was freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov, a Redux contributing photographer, who now faces months in prison. Reporters Without Borders has condemned Sinyakov’s arrest and sentence, calling it an “unacceptable violation of freedom of information.” Sinyakov has worked as a photographer for Greenpeace in the past, in addition to regular assignment work for Reuters and AFP. Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy has a petition asking for the release of Sinyakov, and Greenpeace has a petition asking for the release of all the arrested activists.

In protest of Sinyakov’s arrest, major independent Russian media sites have blacked out their photos today. As seen in the screenshots above, Dozhd, Novaya Gazeta, Russian Reporter, Ekho Moskvy, Znak, Lenta, Russkaya Planeta, and others have joined the call to release the photographer.

Ag-Gag Arrest: National Geographic photographer George Steinmetz arrested for photographing Kansas feedlot

Black angus beef cattle stand in a holding pen at a ranch near Ledger, Montana, USA. - M. Scott Brauer

Black angus beef cattle stand in a holding pen at a ranch near Ledger, Montana, USA. – M. Scott Brauer

We’ve covered the so-called Ag-Gag bills enacted across the US to outlaw the unauthorized filming and photography of agricultural operations. NPR’s On the Media has a great primer on the recent movement to enact such legislation.

Now, freelance photographer George Steinmetz, on assignment for National Geographic (he’s done 31+ major assignments for the magazine), was arrested after taking pictures of a feedlot in Kansas while paragliding. Steinmetz and his paragliding instructor are charged with trespassing because they took off from private land without permission and because feedlot employees believe that his low altitude and circling pattern constitute trespassing in the air above the feedlot. The case raises interesting questions about how far up above physical land property ownership goes, but also may run afoul of Kansas’ 1990 Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act, an early predecessor of current Ag-Gag laws. Wikipedia has a nice overview of such laws in various states.

A spokesman for the Kansas Livestock Association told the Hutchinson [Kansas] News that Steinmetz’s activities could pose a safety risk to the food supply and reminds agricultural operators to remain vigilant in identifying and reporting similar incidents.

NYT covers legislative bans on photo and video of US farms

Black angus beef graze in open pastures on a ranch outside of Ledger, Montana, USA. -  photo by M. Scott Brauer

Black angus beef graze in open pastures on a ranch outside of Ledger, Montana, USA. – photo by M. Scott Brauer

We’ve written before about the so-called “Ag-Gag” bills that make illegal unauthorized video and photography of agricultural operations in various states. Today, the New York Times has an update on the increasing number of these types of laws throughout the United States: Videos show cruelty on farm, and taping becomes the crime. The NYT’s reporting connects bills across the country to a business advocacy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council. The organization creates model legislation for state legislatures to adopt such as The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, which would prohibit video and still photography of livestock farms and puts violators on a “terrorist registry.”

Though no laws including a terrorist registry provision have yet been passed, Iowa, Utah and Missouri have passed laws that make it illegal to document operations on farms and agricultural operations without authorization. Indiana and Tennessee will soon vote on similar laws, and California, Pennsylvania, and other states are debating similar measures. The Indiana law would require prospective employees to disclose ties to animal rights groups during the hiring process. Animal rights groups say that these laws make it impossible to document animal cruelty on farms and ranches. Opponents of bills have managed to stall or stop Ag-Gag bills in New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Wyoming.

Photographers, city council members sue NYC for systematic violations of civil rights during Occupy Wall Street

“The claims arise from a series of incidents in connection with Occupy Wall Street protests beginning in and around September 17, 2011 and continuing to the present day in which the City of New York in concert with various private and public entities have employed Officers of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) and others acting under color of state law, to intentionally and willfully subject Plaintiffs and the public to, among other things, violations of rights to free speech, assembly, freedom of the press, false arrest, excessive force, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution and, furthermore, purposefully obstructing Plaintiffs carrying out their duties as elected officials and members of the press, including oversight of the New York City Police Department.” -Rodriguez Et Al v. Winski Et Al. First Amended Complaint (pdf, scribd link)

We’ve written before about photographers being abused while covering protests in New York City. Now, photographers Stephanie Keith, Charles Meacham, the National Press Photographers’ Association (see their blog about the case), five NYC city council members, and others, have joined in a federal lawsuit against various New York City entities and officials, including Mayor Bloomberg, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and a number of identified and unidentified police officers, as well as JP Morgan Chase and other businesses in the Occupy Wall Street area, alleging that they engaged in the intentional obstruction of news-gathering activities, the business of elected officials, and Constitutionally-protected protest activities. The complaint can be read in it’s entirety here. In an NPPA press release about the lawsuit, a quotation summarizes photographer Stephanie Keith’s complaints against the city and others, “I joined this lawsuit because as a working journalist I’ve been arrested, thrown to the ground, hit with batons and yelled at by the NYPD while doing my job on assignment. I have seen my fellow journalists being treated this way as well. Why should journalists be subjected to trauma inducing harassment on the job?”

(via PDNpulse)

Apple patents location-based camera disabling

from US patent 8,254,902

from US patent 8,254,902

This policy enforcement capability is useful for a variety of reasons, including for example to disable noise and/or light emanating from wireless devices (such as at a movie theater), for preventing wireless devices from communicating with other wireless devices (such as in academic settings), and for forcing certain electronic devices to enter “sleep mode” when entering a sensitive area. -U.S. Patent No. 8,254,902

U.S. Patent No. 8,254,902, Apparatus and methods for enforcement of policies upon a wireless device, was recently issued to Apple, Inc, makers of the iPhone and other wireless devices. The patent describes a method for restricting the function of a wireless device upon the occurrence of specific events such as when the device enters a specified area; that is, it will be possible to remotely disable all sounds on patrons’ cell phones at a movie theater or to disable the camera function of a phone when the phone is in a concert venue.

Here’s an example from the patent of a scenario in which such function-disabling devices might be deployed: “a wireless camera hidden in an area or brought in by another individual (e.g., a cellular phone camera) where privacy is normally reasonably expected such as a department store changing room, bathroom or locker room is one example of a significant threat to such privacy…The command instructs the device to enter into a “lockdown” mode. Different facilities may enact different “lockdown” modes. For instance, a locker room facility may issue a command that prevents use of a cellular phone camera or laptop computer camera while in that area, thereby preventing surreptitious imaging of customers/users. Customers of such facilities may be willing to pay extra for the peace of mind associated with knowing that they are not being secretly photographed.”

This specific case seems relatively fine; I don’t want people taking pictures of me in my gym locker room. And there are plenty of legitimate uses for this sort of technology; many device manufacturers produce cell phones without cameras or laptops without webcams for use in high security business or government environments. But we’re living in an era in which photographers are regularly placed under suspicion, accosted, or apprehended by security guards and police and the general public for taking pictures of publicly viewable things from public spaces (we’ve covered this a lot in the past, and Carlos Miller’s Photography Is Not A Crime blog is a good one-stop shop for regular updates on this sort of thing). I can easily imagine shopping malls, amusement parks, concert venues, convention sites, skyscrapers, and other highly controlled areas implementing these technological restrictions on picture taking in order to prevent unauthorized pictures from getting out. Or, in a perversion of the old Kodak Picture Spot or an odd twist to the “Free Speech Zones“, pictures might be allowed only in specific locations that provide the appropriate branding or appearance that the site’s owners wish to impart in tourists’ photos. I never like slippery slope arguments; there’s no telling when, how, or if this technology will ever be used. However, it will be an interesting one to watch.

(via PetaPixel)

Covering the DNC and RNC? NPPA has a handy legal and practical guide for the conventions and protests

Police arrest OccupyBoston protesters at their second encampment at Rose F. Kennedy Greenway a block from Dewey Square, in downtown Boston, Massachusetts, USA.  - M. Scott Brauer

Police arrest OccupyBoston protesters at their second encampment at Rose F. Kennedy Greenway a block from Dewey Square, in downtown Boston, Massachusetts, USA. - M. Scott Brauer

While covering these events police may ask to see your images, recordings or files. Be aware that you do not have to consent to such a request. They may try to intimidate, coerce or threaten you into doing so but “consent” must be voluntary. You should know that absent consent or “exigent circumstances” an officer may not seize your camera. Exigent circumstances only exist where an officer has probable cause to believe a crime has been committed AND that you have captured evidence of that crime on your camera AND that there is also a strong likelihood that such evidence may be lost if the camera is not seized.

Are you planning on covering the Republican or Democratic National Conventions at the end of August and beginning of September? You should be aware of legal and practical issues that may arise during the process of documenting both the conventions and the protests around the conventions. The National Press Photographer’s Association has a handy guide that covers the basics of covering both conventions, ranging from what to do if you’re arrested to how to stay safe in a crowd to dealing with the heat. The guide also includes a brief survey of local and federal ordinances and laws that will apply to people on the scene and educated guesses on how police may treat journalists based on recent actions of police in Chicago during the NATO summit protests earlier this year. For instance, items that could be considered weapons will not be allowed close to the convention areas and include items photographers might bring along such as tripod, monopods, and ladders.

Stay safe out there!