AFP and Getty appeal record-breaking $1.22 million Morel ruling fine


posted Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 2:01 PM EDT


In November, we covered a jury ruling on the Daniel Morel vs AFP/Getty case which saw the two media organizations hit with the maximum possible penalty for infringing on the photographer's eight images of the Haiti earthquake in 2010. Slapped with a $1.22 million dollar fine, AFP and Getty have now mounted an appeal on the ruling.

For those of you who aren't up on the particulars, Morel took a number of stunning images during the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, which he uploaded to Twitter. These images were then rehosted by another person, claiming they were his, and then picked up by the AFP and Getty, and sent down the wires to a number of major news services, who ran them falsely attributed. Many of these organizations settled out of court with Morel, but the AFP filed a suit, saying that Twitter's Terms of Service allowed them to repost the image — a suit which was dismissed. When the judge found in Morel's favor, the two organizations asked the jury for a $120,000 fine for the infringement, but were instead met with the maximum possible damages.

Now the pair are calling the ruling “a miscarriage of justice” and claim that using the images was not willful, a distinction that would substantially change the amount that was paid out if the appeals judge agrees. Willful violations carry a much higher penalty, but the agencies claim the mis-attribution was a mistake, which they tried to correct. They're also calling for the fine to be reduced to $200,000, saying the awarded amount is 4,700 times the going day rate for a photographer on their service.

PDN talked to a juror from the case after the original ruling, and according to them:

The infringement “was obviously willful on AFP’s part because they didn’t check on the author of the photographs. The whole mess stemmed from that,” a juror told PDN after the verdict was handed down.

That same juror explained that the jury consider Getty’s infringement willful because e-mail evidence showed some Getty employees knew almost immediately that the images were Morel’s. Still, the agency continued to distribute them with credit to Suero for more than two weeks after the earthquake.

It now seems the three year long legal battle will continue even further — but hopefully the new ruling continues to be in Morel's favor, if nothing else to help establish protections for photographers who have their work used without permission.

(image by Brian Turner on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.)