Student Wins Copyright Skirmish Over Falling Bear Photo

In case you missed our earlier post, let’s get you up to speed: in the internet age, the argument is that you don’t own anything anymore. This is relevant because yet another copyright infringement lawsuit has made its way across our computer screens, this time between a student photographer and the Colorado University newspaper The CU Independent that printed and distributed his now famous falling bear image.

The photo (seen above) was captured when a friend of student photographer Andy Duann’s told him that a bear was stuck in a tree on the CU campus. Duann did what any good photographer would do: he picked up his camera and booked it, making it only minutes before the bear was shot with a tranquilizer and fell.

The events that followed are still under debate, but the gist of the story is that Duann claimed he was the owner of the image, and that the CU Independent shouldn’t have sold the image to several major newspapers without him getting a cent. The CU Independent, on the other hand, maintained that Duann was a “staff photographer,” meaning that they owned the rights to the image, not him. On Saturday, the Associated Press issued a “kill order” on the photo, instructing its members to eliminate it from their systems and archives.

The case finally came to a close earlier today — somewhat quicker than expected — when the newspaper conceded that Duann is the rightful owner of the photo. Perhaps the newspaper didn’t expect Duann to take the issue as far as he did, and we certainly know that he didn’t expect the photo to become as popular as it did, but at least in this case we can chalk one up for the little guy.

(via Poynter [2])

Image credit: Photograph by Andy Duann

  • Matherd

    So how much is Petapixel paying the copyright owner?

  • Matt Williams

    “If a photo itself (or video, song or any other copyright-protected work) becomes the subject of news coverage, then it is defensible under the Copyright Act to republish as much of the work as is necessary to illustrate the point. For instance, if you are writing a story about the (recently settled) copyright litigation between the Associated Press and the creator of the iconic “Obama HOPE” poster, you are well within the boundaries of fair use to reproduce the disputed works to illustrate the story, even without consent from the owners.If other media organizations were writing about the bear being captured, then permission (from the rightful owner) was necessary. If they were writing about the overnight-sensation popularity of the photo, then permission probably was unnecessary.”

  • DJ Bloom

    None, why would they the story in this case is about the picture of the bear. Fair use newsworthiness dictates that it can be used

  • JosephRT

    I’m hearing way to many of these stories lately, kinda discouraging as a photographer

  • Sfaulk

    The CU Independent took advantage of a young and inexperienced photographer. If he knew better he would have claimed copyright, called on Getty Images to represent and distribute the image around the world. Nuf said period.

  • bob cooley

    The interesting thing here is that while It’s good that the paper backed down, in this case, they may actually have been right, had he been a staffer – but in this case, he was not.

    Students that create work for student publications (if they are on staff of that student publication) actually often do not own the rights to their own images – the university owns them. 

    Same thing with works created in a class – if you create a great piece of art in a class (photography, painting, writing, etc.) it is in many cases owned by the school, depending on the copyright charter for that school.

    I don’t agree with this, but it IS often the case.  That being said, most schools don’t enforce this;and ethically it’s pretty shaky; but ethical and legal are not always the same thing…

    Interestingly, the student paper is changing its copyright policy (in the right direction, in favor of the image creator). So good on them.

    Its also good to see that Duann will get a lot more attention for this photo now – attention certainly doesn’t pay the bills, but as a student this is a good amount of attention for a single image.  It will pay off in the future.

  • bob cooley

    Actually, if you read the accounts (which are published pretty widely) – the paper thought they were acting in good faith; They are even changing their copyright policy in light of this incident. 

  • Kbledsoephoto
  • 9inchnail

    I’m sure the student doesn’t have any illegally obtained music or software on his computer and respects everyone else’s copyright.

  • Benicio Murray

    separate issues 9inchtroll

  • 9inchnail

    Not really. Everyone wants to use stuff for free but will raise hell if someone uses their intellectual property without paying.

  • Steviedenyer

  • Taras Dzedzey

    Checkout this photoshoped variants )))): 

  • Richard

    I love those, made me laugh. Thanks.

  • Guest


  • Cthulhu Shrugged

    You know what happens what you “assume,” don’t you?

    (Hint:  You make an “ass” of “u” and leave “me” shaking my head)

  • Markci

    Speak for yourself, half-wit. Some of us are happy to pay for what we consume

  • bob cooley

    LOL – hillarious…  and that is the type of publicity that money only wish it could buy.

  • NoMail

    You are mostly incorrect about schools owning artworks or writing created at the school. You pay tuition to learn, and it would require a specific signed statement to sign over your rights to your intellectual property. The expectation is that when you take a class YOU are creating something for your benefit not the schools. This includes using school equipment since that is part of the tuition you payed…especially if there is a lab fee (which there usually is).

  • Rob

    People also use tired cliches.

  • bob cooley

    That may be what you wish were were the truth, but I assure you, it isn’t.

    When you apply to a school or university, you sign that if you are accepted to that school you agree to the charters and rules of that institution (this is where you sign over your rights, its a blanket indemnity for the school, and does not require individual signature regarding copyright of works).

    Depending on the copyright charter of that individual institution, you may or may not be the copyright owner of work you create when working for the school, or make in classes (although any work outside those situations would not be subject to those stipulations).

    Many schools are loosening and changing their copyright charters; and many have not enforced them rigorously, the case-law is pretty solid.

    Merely saying “you are mostly incorrect” and writing YOU in all caps is not a valid argument.

    No Sale, No Name…

  • Steve Waugh

    like Lois said I didn’t even know that people can earn $8421 in four weeks on the internet. have you seen this page ===>>

  • perceptionalreality

    Copyright has to be signed away specifically or it is automatically owned by the creator of the work. Try for your source of information on the subject (at least in the United States), rather than hearsay, imagination, or wherever else you’re pulling this stuff out. Here’s one qualifying statement directly from that expresses this fairly well (in this case regarding whether works created in the course of employment belong to the employee or employer, rather than as part of a “school charter”, but since the implication is even more clear in the case of employment the fact that they need to qualify it even here demonstrates the importance of such specificity): 

    “if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.”

  • bob cooley

    to perceptionalreality


    I’m well aware of and familiar with Title 17.  I’ve been a professional shooter and Creative Director for over 25 years, and deal with it every day.

    I’ve also worked for several universities.

    You DO sign a work for hire with many universities upon application to the school – its part of what you are agreeing to when you sign your application and agree to the entire charter for the school. 

    See Yale and Cornell’s copyright policies as specific examples.

    Additionally, when you are creating a photo or other artwork in a class (even in universities where there isn’t a specific copyright charter), you are given the assignment by a professor who is an employee of the university, who is expressly under Work for Hire, and who is (because they have contributed to the creative process by giving you instruction and guidance on your assignment), are partial authors of the work.  This muddies the copyright waters even further.

    I’m not wishing it was this way, but I’ve seen real, not abstract, cases of this. The law is never as simple as it seems.

    And as stated, more and more schools are abandoning this policy, but it still widely exists.

    This isn’t hearsay or imagination (thanks for the Ad Hominem attack, by the way) – this is how it actually plays out in the real world (or as real as academia gets, in any case).

  • Cthulhu Shrugged

    If the shoe fits….

  • John Kantor

    This has a lot more to do with slavery than copyright.

  • Marja

    Not the same at all. The newspaper sold the photo.

    A more accurate analogy would be a guy downloading a band’s music, then selling it to others. No, a more accurate one would be a band handing off their original recordings to their manager, then the manager selling it as his own music and keeping all the money.