Ethical and Legal Concerns in a Digital World

A Confusing Legal Situation, At Best

Posted in legal issues by digitalprof on December 29, 2005

 Courts Just Can’t Agree

Two groups of photographers whose work frequently appeared in National Geographic magazine have recently had a new legal hurdle thrown their way courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Douglas Faulkner, Louis Psihoyos and Fred Ward (Faulkner) sued the Geographic in 1997 over the use of their photographs in a CD-ROM collection without their permission, or additional compensation. Jeffrey Greenberg (Greenberg) filed a separate suit against the Geographic in 1998, based on a similar complaint.

Faulkner lost on a summary ruling, and then appealed. The Faulkner appeal was denied. Greenberg won at trial, and then lost in a combined appeal with Faulkner.

The crucial element in both suits was the reuse of the photographers images in a new form…the CD-ROM. What the Supreme Court has ruled is that the reuse of the photographs in the new form was allowable under Copyright Law.

Certainly the cases were not unusual under the auspices of intellectual property as represented by the Copyright Act. The importance of the ruling is that it shows the inability of the current copyright act to address the issues of new technologies.


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