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Federal Court Hints Websites That Strip Metadata Could Face Copyright Liability

March 7th, 2014 by and tagged , , , , , , ,

A U.S. District Court in California recently hinted that online service providers who strip copyrighted photographs of their identifying information could forfeit “safe harbor” protection under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

District Judge Gonzalo Curiel found late last month that e-commerce vendor CafePress.com was not entitled to summary judgment on a claim it hosted and facilitated the sale of copyrighted photos, denying a request that an infringement case be dismissed under the DMCA’s safe harbor provisions.  The decision rested partly on the fact that when users upload photographs to CafePress.com, the website’s automated process strips the images of copyright information imprinted as metadata.

Cafe Press is a website that allows its users to upload images for printing on items like hats and t-shirts.  The plaintiff in the infringement case alleged that Cafe Press facilitated the storage and sale of the plaintiff’s copyrighted photographs of Alaskan Wildlife.  The plaintiff claimed that before the website disabled access to the images in response to the lawsuit, more than $6,000 in merchandise had been sold.

Under the DMCA, service providers that unknowingly store infringing images online are typically immune from damages, as long as they  meet requirements aimed at preventing violations.  Among those requirements, the provider must “accommodate and not interfere with standard technical measures” that copyright owners use to identify and protect their works.

Broadly speaking, “standard measures” are those that have been widely adopted by providers and copyright holders to prevent infringement.  Additionally, those measures must not overly burden providers.

Cafe Press disputed the claim that its upload process interferes by stripping the information, claiming metadata as an anti-infringement tool has not been “developed pursuant to a broad consensus of copyright owners and service providers in an open, fair, voluntary, multi-industry standards process.”

The court refused to accept this argument as a matter of law, holding that “[fr]om a logical perspective, metadata appears to be an easy and economical way to attach copyright information to an image.”  This means Cafe Press may be forced to defend its policy in later litigation.

The decision is a positive sign for photographers.  Within the industry, IPTC information stored in the metadata of photographs has proven one of the most effective and cost efficient tools for copyright holders to keep copyright information connected to digital images  Its legal relevance, however, its inexorably tied to the courts’s willingness to recognize it.  The Café Press decision is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

Posted in Access, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism | No Comments »

Fallout from Asiana Air Prank Provides Lesson on DMCA Takedown Notices

July 26th, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fallout from a prank associated with the tragic Asiana airlines crash is teaching a valuable lesson about copyright law and the fair use defense.

When a transpacific flight crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport earlier this month, preliminary media reports focused on the key questions, “Is everyone okay?” and “What went wrong?”

But even before authorities could clear the wreckage of Asian Airlines Flight 214, whose crash claimed the lives of three and left more than 180 injured, the story had taken a different turn.

Duped by an intern intent on playing a tasteless prank, KTVU in Oakland, California aired a list of names purported to be those of the pilots of ill-fated flight.  It quickly became clear that the list was nothing more than a racist joke.

asiana-racist-pilot-names

Hundreds of YouTube videos of KTVU’s snafu sprang up in the hours following the incident.  Obviously not anxious to see its gaffe immortalized, and concerned about the insensitive nature of the prank, KTVU filed “takedown notices” under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in an attempt to suppress the content.

A DMCA takedown notice is a tool that allows the owners of digital content to request that a website operator or internet service provider take down media displayed without the owner’s permission.   If a website operator complies with a take down request, they are immunized from any legal action arising from the material in question.  This provides a substantial incentive for websites to defer to takedown notices.

The DMCA takedown notice is a remarkably effective tool for any creator of content to protect their work-product.  Its prolific use is evidence.  Google reports receiving more than 14 million DMCA copyright removal requests in the past month alone.

So why does a YouTube search of KTVU still yield dozens of clips of the Asiana Airlines debacle, many of those clips with millions of views?

It has to do with the way those clips are being used.  Copyright law allows the free use of a protected work for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.  So while the KTVU news clip is copyrighted content, those who want to voice an opinion on the situation by posting it to their YouTube account are entitled to do so.  The idea is to balance the author’s right to compensation for their work against the public interest in the spread of ideas and information.  In this case, people were clearly more interested in poking fun or expressing anger at KTVU than in profiting from the stations’ copyrighted content.

Given the digital photograph’s vulnerability to online misappropriation, professional photographers should be particularly aware of the fair use defense.  More often than not it will be the foundation of any defense to DMCA takedown notice, and in the case of legitimate fair uses, it will overcome the photographers claim of copyright infringement.

Whether a use qualifies for the fair use defense is determined on a case-by-case basis. A court will consider four factors in making its determination:

1)  the purpose and character of the contested use

2) the nature of the copyrighted work

3) the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and

4) the effect of the use upon the potential market.

The Stanford University Libraries have put together an excellent in-depth analysis of the four factors, and Columbia University’s checklist can help in the initial evaluation of a fair use defense.

If you believe your work-product has been illegally used online and want to file a takedown notice, this quick guide explains the basic steps to putting together a claim.

Posted in copyright, copyright infringement, Digital Millenium Copyright Act, Fair Use, First Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, NPPA, photographers, photojournalism, Uncategorized | No Comments »

UPDATE: AFP v Morel Copyright Infringement Case

January 16th, 2013 by Mickey Osterreicher and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

***** UPDATE 10/18/2013 – In a case already full of twists and turns, presiding U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan, had harsh words for the attorneys representing Daniel Morel in his copyright infringement lawsuit against remaining counterclaim defendants AFP and Getty. According to reports the counterclaim plaintiff’s attorneys Barbara Hoffman and Joseph T. Baio have attempted to involve the court in their dispute over Hoffman’s access to the terms of the confidential settlement agreement that was recently reached with the Washington Post (see update below).

Hoffman and Baio each sent letters to the court asserting their position (see Hoffman Letter and Baio Letter) In her one page Order addressing the “letter dispute,” Judge Nathan admonished the lawyers for having “failed to meet and confer in a professional and reasonable manner before burdening the court with this dispute.” She then ordered them to meet and confer “for no less than one hour in an effort to come to a reasonable and professional agreement. Failure to abide by this requirement may result in sanctions.”

As can be read in the dueling letters (above) Hoffman, who earlier represented Mr. Morel on a contingency fee basis, has claimed a charging lien on any settlement agreements. Baio, whose law firm, Willkie Farr & Gallagher, LLP, now represents Morel expressed concern about confidentiality terms.

In two other late developments, Roger Netzer, of the same law firm entered an appearance of counsel of record for Mr. Morel on October 17th and Matthew R. Farley filed a motion for admission pro hac vice (a legal term literally meaning “for this turn” and usually referring to a lawyer who has not been admitted to practice in that court but may be permitted to represent a party in that case).

The trial is still scheduled to begin on 11/12/2013.

 

****** UPDATE 10/3/2013 – This week the presiding judge dismissed claims against the Washington Post Co., one of the defendants in the copyright infringement case, after the parties reported they had reached an undisclosed settlement. In her two-page order, Judge Nathan dismissed the claims against the Post with prejudice and without costs, which means that neither party were responsible for paying the others’ costs or attorneys’ fees. The order also barred remaining defendants AFP and Getty from being able to deduct any payment of the Post settlement amount from any future award of damages to Morel.

The trial is scheduled to begin on 11/12/2013.

**********************

New York District Judge Alison J. Nathan has ruled (AFP-Morel Decision 01-14-13) that news service Agence France Presse (AFP) and The Washington Post Co (the Post) infringed upon photojournalist Daniel Morel’s copyright by their unauthorized use of his photos of the 2010 Haiti earthquake aftermath.

Mr. Morel had uploaded the photos in question to TwitPic.com by linking them to his Twitter account because the country-wide devastation to electricity and Internet connections forced him to use this more public method. Further complicating the matter, shortly after Morel posted his pictures online they were reposted to the Twitter account of Lisandro Suero, who tweeted that he had exclusive photographs of the earthquakes. A number of agencies including AFP then credited Suero for the photos.

In the original Complaint, filed in 2010 AFP sought a declaratory judgment that it had not infringed upon Morel’s copyrights and included defamation claims against him as well. Morel then counter-claimed that AFP, the Post, Getty and other news organizations had distributed his images without his permission.

In its answer AFP argued that it was a third-party beneficiary of the license agreement between Morel and Twitter, by claiming that Twitter’s Terms of Service (TOS) granted it a license as one of Twitter’s “other users.”

“Based on the evidence presented to the Court the Twitter TOS do not provide AFP with an excuse for its conduct in this case,” the Court noted in finding that “The Twitter [terms of service] provide that users retain their rights to the content they post — with the exception of the license granted to Twitter and its partners — rebutting AFP’s claim that Twitter intended to confer a license on it to sell Morel’s photographs.”

In making its ruling the court observed that “the dispute between the parties with regard to liability for direct infringement turns on Counterclaim Defendants’ affirmative defenses, namely their claims that (1) by posting the Photos-at-Issue on TwitPic/Twitter, Morel granted them a license, (2) Getty is entitled to the benefit of a DMCA safe-harbor, and (3) Getty has not engaged in volitional conduct sufficient to impose liability.”

In an ironic twist this recent decision comes two years to the date after District Judge William H. Pauley III issued his Decision denying AFP’s motion to dismiss Morel’s counter-claim suit. In that earlier proceeding Judge Pauley also concluded that the express language of the Twitter and TwitPic TOS did not provide an express license that protected AFP.

In her well-reasoned 58 page decision Judge Nathan granted Morel partial summary judgment ruling that “AFP and the Post are liable for copyright infringement as to the Photos-at-Issue.” But the court rejected his “arguments regarding the scope of statutory damages available under the Copyright Act and DMCA.” The judge also denied motions for summary judgment with regard to whether the infringements were willful; as well as the “claims for contributory and vicarious copyright liability.”

Because there remain genuine issues of fact the Court denied Mr. Morel’s claim for summary judgment regarding DMCA violations and also limited his recovery under that Act should he prevail at trial. After careful analysis the Court also concluded “that any awards of statutory damages against AFP or Getty may not be multiplied based on the number of infringers with whom AFP or Getty is jointly and severally liable. Rather, AFP and Getty are, at most, each liable for a single statutory damages award per work infringed.”

Judge Nathan further rebuked AFP by stating “in making its arguments on summary judgment AFP wholly ignores those portions of the Twitter TOS that are directly contrary to its position, particularly those portions stating that ‘you retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display’ and ‘what’s yours is yours – you own your content.’”

This case serves as a cautionary tale about just how important it is to read and understand any TOS before clicking “agree.” These were the Twitpic TOS at the time that Morel uploaded his images: “by submitting Content to Twitpic, you hereby grant Twitpic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.” You should also read the current TOS which have been substantially modified, due in large part to this case.

Morel settled with counter-claim defendants ABC, CNN and CBS in 2011. A conference is set for February 1, 2013, at 4:00 pm to discuss further scheduling of this matter.

 

Update: Morel’s attorneys have released a press release, stating in part that “Although Judge Nathan rejected Morel’s legal theory entitling him to as much as one hundred twenty million dollars in statutory damages, Morel still hopes to win millions in damages following trial.”

Posted in AFP v Morel, Agence France-Presse, copyright, copyright infringement, Daniel Morel, Digital Millenium Copyright Act, Getty, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Twitpic, Twitter, Washington Post | No Comments »