Noteworthy Updates 9/13/09

Post One: Annie Leibovitz Reaches Temporary Setttlement

Good news for now. At least for the time being Annie Leibovitz got a little bit of air to breath and more time to figure things out. Read the article on NY Times here.

Post Two: Los Angeles Times Writer Unclear About Copyright

This article that I read this Sunday left me speechless not to say angry. So a bit of a steam blowing seems to be appropriate.

What’s it all about? Here is writer David Lazarus who I believe is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. The story is about a copyright problem that a small Long Beach travel agency encountered. Somebody who must have lived in the stone ages or has the mind of a five year old (I see it therefore it’s mine) somehow manages to use a Getty Images photo without realizing that they need to pay a use fee. “We were really surprised, because we didn’t think we were using any copyrighted pictures,” Formella (the travel agency owner), 51, told the writer.

Mr. Lazarus column explains how Getty sent a letter asking for $1000 in penalty and proceeds to tell that he feels this is and outrageous request suggesting that it may even border on extortion and finds a lawyer who says just that. Nevertheless the article states that there are after all 200 million images to guard and Getty Images alone finds over 70,000 infringements a year. Mr. Lazarus seems to think that this is no problem at all.

As long as our fellow content creators  don’t GET IT, we are in bad shape. Have we not been fighting this kind of ignorance for years? Are we not entitled to fair compensation before the fact? Are we wrong to ask that you respect the content I create and before you use it make sure you can? Is it really OK to promote theft in a major newspaper and put out a statement that states (and I translate freely) “use the images and if you get caught just say you are sorry.” Because as the thief you get to say what you think is fair you should say or do that makes it OK? Photographers are not loving parents to infringers – it’s not cute and at a certain age sorry alone won’t do it. If I think about it, oops is not a valid business argument, is it?

Doesn’t the law state that not knowing (=ignorance) does not protect you from the consequences of your wrong doing?

For my part, I can’t wait what direction the article would have taken if the writer had thousands of articles he wrote as a freelancer on the free market and would have to chase hundreds of global infringers a year. Perhaps once he realizes what kind of cost, effort, aggravation time is associated with chasing people and businesses who just take your stuff he will recant his statement and figure out that infringement in essence really is stealing.

But wait, it gets better. The writer puts a poll on the website asking what readers think of his ideas to curb copyright statutory damages and penalties and here is the poll:


Should there be a limit to damages for online copyright violations?

  • Yes. The penalty for infringements should be commensurate with market value. (20 responses)


  • Maybe, if the damages claim is completely over the top. (7 responses)


  • No. Copyright violations need to be deterred, and big fines do that. (10 responses)


37 total responses

(Results not scientific)

Here is what I would like you to do: Please go to this poll and state your opinion about this (whatever that might be) and/or send him an email. This was on the front page of the Business Section on September 13, 2009. Here is the email

For my part: I wrote this post yesterday and I was quite upset. So I let it sit a day and re-read it. I do that when I get angry or upset at something or someone. I write it and save it, revisit it the next day when I have calmed down and then send it. In this case I am still upset.

NOTE FROM BEATE: It’s been only a few hours but the poll has significantly changed already and the vast majority is picking option three. Of 163 responses now 62.6% want to see stiff penalties for infringements.


  1. says

    This is a copy of the letter I wrote the reporter.

    Mr. Lazarus,

    I just wanted to take a moment and respond to your article “Controlling illegal use of copyrighted material on the Web.” First, why did you even give this shyster of a lawyer the time of day? He is making a case where one doesn’t exist. The only thing that might make this news worthy is that the web design company is not mentioned as co-defendants. They used the image. Granted that Mr. Formella didn’t know the image was copyrighted.

    Guess what, tough. It’s your business to know and to ask where the images come from. When I was taught right and wrong I was told “ignorance is no excuse.” I am sure he knows know and will always ask where an image comes from every time from now on.

    I want to take a moment to point out that your reporting this has totally negated the fines in the first place. The publicity you are giving him is more than making up the $1000 fine. How much is an add on your site or in your paper? Add them together, have we exceeded $1000 yet? Now let’s add the business he will get from other yahoos that think it’s ok to steal images. I do believe you have just made it profitable for him to steal someone else’s work.

    Yes steal. What this man and his web design company have done is theft, plain and simple. What is the difference if I go into a store and steal a cup of coffee or a grocery store and steal a loaf of bread? Let’s make it a bit more personal. Let’s say Mr. Formella goes into the photographer’s home and steals a prepared meal off of his table, is it any less of a crime? The average home cooked family meal costs $10-$12 for 4. This guy just stole a workweeks worth of dinner off the table of the photographer.

    So I will answer your question of is damages of $1000-$1200 too much? No its not. He should get 30-60 days in county prison too.

  2. pogo says

    I think you are a bit off. The writer presented a case of copyright infringement with the explanation of costs of tracking and verifying the image by Getty. I don't think the article is meant to vindicate or justify poaching images, but to explain the real costs involved for managing images and tracking copyright violations. Getty has a right and I think the author presents that clearly. If AP, LATimes, etc had been able to pursue equal violations of their copyrights, perhaps they would not be in such precarious positions. But this is difficult because Getty is clearly commercial enterprise, while it can be argued that newspapers and news media re educational l and free game. A lot of peole poach off Getty and they think they can do so because after all the internet is free. However, they also poach off other large photographic archives and repost images as their own on photo-sharing sites even when the FAQs and TOS clearly state that the images must be their own. All you have to do is hop about flickr or picasa and you'll find famous photography being posted and claimed as original. With picasa, Google makes it easy with a report abuse button. But I've seen Getty images "re-edited" and posted and listed in RF agencies--in which case I just notify Getty. I never get a thank-you not, but I'm sure that Getty acts on the tips. If kids plagiarize in school and companies steal patents, then wake up to reality, theft is easy business. tracking and recovering the theft or catching the thief is not. But don't shout at the poor writer for covering a topic which needs coverage. I don't think he endorsed any form of theft, but his point ws to explain the cost to an agency and Getty's rights. No need to lose your cool.