Court date set in Morel v. AFP case

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The legal case between freelance photographer Daniel Morel and Agence France Presse is set to start this Friday 24 September, BJP has learnt.

The case, launched by Agence France Presse against the photographer, accuses Morel of engaging in “an antagonistic assertion of rights,” after he objected to the use by AFP of images he posted online on the TwitPic and Twitter services.


The images were of the 12 January earthquake, which hit Haiti and killed more than 230,000 people. When the disaster hit, Morel was in Port-au-Prince. According to a counter-claim he filled against Agence France Presse, Morel spent most of that day photographying. And with the help of a friend, he created a Twitter account with the usernqme “PhotoMorel” were he posted, through the TwitPic service, 13 images he had taken that day.

TwitPic is an image-sharing website that links to Twitter while being legally independent from the micro-blogging website.

The images attracted immediate attention, from news sources but also from one Twitter user named Lisandro Suero. The latter downloaded Morel’s images and uploaded them again on his own account, claiming to be the author. The images would, later, end up being taken on by Agence France Presse and be published by Boston Globe, the New York Times, The Age, Vanity Fair, USA Today, The Guardian, and many others. Each time, the credit read Agence France Presse.

According to Morel, “AFP wilfully or with reckless disregard of Mr Morel’s rights, in its rush to receive credit for the news-breaking photographs to the world, failed to use due diligence to ascertain the identity of Mr Suero, or to verify his authorship of the photographs.” He adds: “No standard or traditional good journalistic practices were followed. Either AFP has no reliable process in place to verify the authenticity of the image or the accuracy of the source, or AFP failed to use such process or procedure.”

While Morel asked, through his lawyer, the different news organisation to remove the images, arguing that Agence France Presse had no right to distribute them, the agency is now claiming that Morel is engaging in “commercial defamation”. AFP filed its legal complaint against the photographer on 26 March.

In fact, Agence France Presse claims that Morel granted any third-party a non-exclusive license to use the images by posting them on Twitter. According to the micro-blogging site’s terms and conditions, says AFP, Morel granted a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license, with the right to sub-license others, to use, copy, publish, display and distribute those photographs.

AFP adds that “when Mr Morel posted his photographs on Twitter, he made no notation that he was in any way limiting the license granted to Twitter or third parties.

Agence France Presse has been joined in its case against Morel by ABC, CBS and CNN, as well as Getty Images, which has a distribution deal with news wire. The defendants argue that Morel should not be entitled to pursue his claims that they stole his images of the Haiti earthquake.

The case, which will start with oral arguments on 24 September at 10.30am in New York, could set a precedent in online copyright legislation, impacting photographers worldwide.