Current TV Wins Back $588 in Photo Case

It happens all the time, but does that make it acceptable? According to a court decision this week, what Current TV’s vice president Michael Streefland calls “standard practice in digital media” is legal after all.

Current TV and photographer Ken Light have been entwined in a legal debate over an image which belongs to Light but was used without his permission on the media company’s website.

Light brought his case against Current TV to small claims court, charging the company with unfair competition. The photographer won initially, which included $500 for compensation and $88 for court fees.  Soon after, Current TV appealed the decision, which was subsequently reversed by a San Francisco Superior Court judge.

According to Light, the court’s change of heart stemmed from the technical details. Current TV’s chief technologist testified that the site used in-line linking to the image on the New Yorker’s site, and did not technically copy the photo.

Furthermore, the court ruled that the image qualified as fair use, and the root issue was over the photo’s copyright, which is a federal court case. Light told PDNPulse that he is at the end of the line in state court and doesn’t know whether he will  proceed with a copyright suit.

Although the case may not make it out of the state, the suit has garnered national attention,  including a piece in the New York Times. Times writer Scott James wrote in favor of Light, calling the case a “David vs. Goliath” situation, and suggesting:

“Imagine if Mr. Light’s photograph had been in a frame — few would say it was O.K. to borrow it without permission, deny the artist credit and exhibit it and collect sponsor fees.”

In spite of the loss, Light said he is pleased with the widespread publicity and ensuing discussions the case has sparked. He says he hopes the case sets a precedent for other photographers and journalists to fight for due compensation.

“Yes, I lost, but I think waving the flag is important,” Light said. “We have to keep [pushing] this until we get some protection.”

  • pabloconrad

    It's getting harder and harder for photographers to protect their copyright, therfore, to make a decent living wage.

    I think the best thing a photographer can do is watermark all their images, require a usage contract including web, and any violation would be copyright infraction. Lesson Learned: require a watermark if the image is to be used for the web. And, make them paublication rates the same as printed the printed page.

    Fair Use? Even newspapers, who can uphold the Fair Use standard, pay the photographer. The pull quote sums it up pretty well. They still used it on their site no matter how the retrieved it.

    “Current TV’s chief technologist testified that the site used in-line linking to the image on the New Yorker’s site, and did not technically copy the photo.” What a cheap excuse not to pay for an image. In-line linking? They still used it on their site. Simple as that.

    Current TV seems to be run by douchebags. Pay the man and drop it you cheap bastards.

    I hope the photographer seeks strong counsel and pursues this in federal court. These backalley ways of stealing images need to be stopped.

  • jonliebold

    They may not have stolen the image but they are definitely stealing the New Yorker's bandwidth if they are hot linking. The New Yorker needs to update its .htaccess file(s) and put in a rule of that.

  • Miles

    This doesn't seem to be about copyright. Light pursued the website over “unfair competition” not copyright. I have no idea about the ins and outs of this kind of approach, or the actual way to go about charging currenttv with a breach of copyright in the US, but this decision doesn't give people the right to use your photos without your permission and the case doesn't seem to have been about that.

    Either way copyright law needs to be rethought and updated. For it to be in any way legal to claim that they were not copying the image because they were “in-line linking” is pure bullshit.

  • jonliebold

    It needs to be rethought and updated without ANYONE from the RIAA, MPAA, or their members even thinking about being there. Any copyright “reform” from big content is not real reform.

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