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.”