Ethical and Legal Concerns in a Digital World

AP and a Problematic Photograph

Posted in ethical issues by digitalprof on January 14, 2006

Verification? Aw, c’mon Associated Press

In what may be the latest case of digital manipulation of a photograph passing itself off as a news image has recently made national, and international publication through one of the largest news agencies in the world.

Associated Press has that dubious distinction with “Cyclops Cat.”

The supposed single-vision feline, nicknamed Cy, reportedly came into the world on Dec. 28, according to owner Traci Allen, an Oregon woman who supplied the photograph to AP.

As The (Bend, Oregon) Bulletin photo editor Dean Gurnsey said,

“It was not an AP photographer and I also have not been able to find her name in the phone book. You can do anything in Photoshop these days and it did not come from anyone whose name I recognized.”

Tom Stathis, AP regional photo editor, said,

“someone from the AP Portland office could have traveled to Allen’s home in Redmond to see the kitten, which she contends she has kept in her freezer. But he said that idea was dismissed because the woman’s home is about a four-hour drive from Portland. “We had a lot of other things on our plate.”

Excuse me? Had a lot of other things on our plate??? Pay attention Tom…AP should never use that excuse. The problem is really that you should have spent some time reading a document that AP has been working on for quite some time…and recently made public. It is seductively titled: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS STATEMENT OF NEWS VALUES AND PRINCIPLES.

C’mon Tom…spend some of your time keeping-up with company policy. Afterall, it’s AP’s reputation…something that is valuable enough to clear your plate for.


David and Goliath in the Media World

Posted in ethical issues,general concerns,legal issues by digitalprof on January 6, 2006

A Freelance Photographer Wins A Major Ruling against A Media Giant:Right(s) Win-Out

In light of the current onslaught on author’s rights as evidenced by the GOOGLE Library Project, and the continuing mis-appropriation of photographers work by publications and websites worldwide, a photographer from Tennessee has recently established a groundbreaking precedent in a case against a “flagship” newspaper in Northern California.

Photographer Christopher R. Harris, a professor in the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN filed suit when he discovered that a photo of Southern author Walker Percy, that he had shot originally while on assignment for Esquire Magazine, was used in a book review by the (San Jose) Mercury News. What was most troubling to Harris was that he had never been contacted by the Mercury News for rights to use the image, and was never paid for any such use. Additionally, the Mercury News had removed his copyright notice from his photo credit when they published the “pirated” photo, thus possibly violating an aspect of the Digital Millenieum Copyright Act under Federal Copyright statutes.

Harris, who still leases stock photos from his collection of images shot over a 25-year career, derives part of income from such leases. Professor Harris is well know for his long-term work with the New York Times, TIME, Newsweek and other national and international publications.

He was one of the first photographers to work with GAMMA/Liaison photo agency, with offices in New York and Paris. Due to the agency’s international scope of representation, the distribution of his many stories, and assignments by GAMMA/Liaison led to his work appearing in literally hundreds of publications worldwide.

Confronted with the legal dilemma of someone “pirating” his work Harris then hired the Silicon Valley law firm Tech & Trial Law Group. Robert Spanner and Susan Kalra , known experts in intellectual property, were attorneys in this suit.

At a hearing on this case in mid-Summer 2005 Judge Breyer hinted that this could be an important case in author/photographer rights. Judge Breyer stated for the record that,

“On the one hand, this case looks like a very small case. I don’t know whether the copyright fee would have been 50 bucks or a hundred bucks, or whatever it is. I don’t know, but it’s not a large amount. So I must believe that what is at stake here is the principle of whether a newspaper writer can take a photograph from a book and publish it without permission of the copyright holder, and I guess there’s sort of a further – there’s some further arguments as to in publishing the photograph, the copyright notice was eliminated, cropped.” (emphasis added)

In its later motion for summary judgment the Mercury News introduced evidence that its practice of accompanying book reviews with copyrighted photographs taken from the book being reviewed was common to other metropolitan newspapers (The Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and others) throughout the country, and that the practice was legal under the “fair use” defense.

That motion was denied in a ruling by, Northern District of California (9ThDistrict) Judge Charles Breyer on January 2, 2006:

“Defendant argues that use of the photo was the equivalent of a pictorial quotation from the book and similarly falls under the fair use exception. Yet the photograph was obviously marked as a copyrighted photograph in the book, both on the page the photograph appeared and then again in the credits in the back of the book. In other words, the photograph was a copyrighted work within a copyrighted work. … As a result, the Court cannot say as a matter of law that use of a copyrighted photograph in a book review, in which the book clearly states that the photograph is copyrighted, constitutes fair use. Accordingly, defendant’s motion for summary judgment is DENIED. (emphasis added)

In plain English, Judge Breyer ruled that no one could successfully claim “fair use” if the claim contained copying copyrighted photographs. The exclusive rights to those copyrighted photographs resides with the copyright holder,i.e., in most cases the photographer.

According to Robert A. Spanner, lead counsel for the plaintiff,

“a photographer’s right to limit distribution and reproduction of his or her copyrighted photographs is a fundamental tenet of copyright law, and the notion that a newspaper can override that right and freely reproduce and distribute – without a license and for free – photographs which the photographer had licensed to a book publisher for a fee, would obviously be a matter of grave concern to the photographers’ profession. Mr. Harris stood up for the rights of his fellow photographers because he believed it was the right thing to do, and we are gratified that his efforts have been vindicated.”

The Amazing Homeboy

Posted in ethical issues,general concerns by digitalprof on December 29, 2005

I Only Wish I Could Write Like Him

For those who don’t know about Paul (Lester) Elliott, Paul Lester, Carlos, or the Amazing Homeboy, I’m want to introduce you.

Paul is a prolific writer on visual ethics, among other things. In fact I consider him one of the best writers I know. It is because of this appreciation of his work that I want to share it with others.

Here is a link to his “writings” site with links to many of his progeny. Do yourself a favor for the New Year and read some of his observations/musings.

The NPPA Modernized Code of Ethics

Posted in ethical issues by digitalprof on December 29, 2005

Good Guidelines

When it comes to representing the visual (photojournalists and photo editors, still and video) journalism industry the National Press Photographers Association is tops in its field.

Under the guidance of a respected group from industry and academia the NPPA has issued a set of ethics guidelines that address new technologies in the “Digital World.”

A Top Award for What?

Posted in ethical issues by digitalprof on December 29, 2005

What A Mockery

The Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists recently published an “open letter” concerning the SPJ awarding Judith Miller of the New York Times the First Amendment honor at it recent national convention.

To sum-up for those who may not be aware (so where were you that you didn’t hear this story?) Miller went to jail rather than reveal her source for a story appearing in the New York Times concerning information about CIA agent Valerie Plame. Plame is the wife of former United States Ambassador Joe Wilson. Wilson wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times that questioned information in a statement made by President George Bush in his 2003 State of the Union speech.

There has been great debate in media circles regarding this “honor.” If you have some time, and want to read some great venting do a Google search on this subject.

As for my posting…I just could not let the year go by without adding to the questioning of this dubious achievement by a leading organization in the professional world of journalism. And why is this posted on a blog about the “Digital World?” Quite simply, journalism is rapidly becoming a digitally dominated medium. Besides, it’s my blog.

The question I pose is simple: Does a shield law concern outweigh the ethics of “proper” journalism? It really seems to me to be a case of the chicken before the egg. I don’t believe you can have good journalism if a concern for the information received is faulty from the beginning.

For those with their heads still in the ground, the New York Times finally hitched-up their pants and admitted their reporter was “slack” in her duties enough to warrant remideration. Judith Miller was fired/resigned.

And now we will await the news of the source of that leak in the courts. Let’s hope that they do a better job with the truth than award-winning journalists may have done in the past.


Thanks to a comment posted by The Woodchuck I need to make sure to correct what most already know ( I really did know this, but the brain is old…so yup, I got it wrong!)… Ambassador Joe Wilson wrote an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times not a letter to the editor. Later, Wilson wrote a letter to the congressional committee investigating his claim, and that was published in the Times.

Thanks Woodchuck…please read his post…he seems to have an interesting blog. Contribute as you can.

So, who gave Google the right to publish your copyrighted work?

Posted in ethical issues,legal issues by digitalprof on December 29, 2005

Big Mother Won’t Ask Permission

OK, so here’s the lowdown…Google, the mega-web monster, has started their project to copy every known book in print…and for the kicker…WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION!!! Yes, even if you have your work registered with the Copyright office .

As illegal as this sounds its a case of David (us) versus Goliath (Google and their money)…so eventhough some leading writer organizations have voiced their opposition to this “piracy,” Google continues to publish the “stolen” product.

One of my books, Dulce’s Revenge, is on their searchable site…I can only conclude that my publisher gave them the data. So much for my rights.

Oh, BTW, Google says I an “opt-out” of giving them the right to publish my work. Sort of like a bank robber stating that if you don’t want them to rob your bank, you should just say-so now!

What happens to good people and good companies that let them think that they can change the world and its laws? Google used to be a leader in the world of “new technology.” now they have become just an abuser of intellectual property holders. So, why does Google copyright all of their work. I’ll just bet they vigorously defend their copyright.

Copyright laws have a rich history of protecting intellectual property rights, but they just don’t seem to have a place in today’s new digital world.

Associated Press–New Ethics Guidelines

Posted in ethical issues,legal issues by digitalprof on December 27, 2005

AP Addresses Digital Issues

The Associated Press has recently released a statement of News Values and Principles.

While the new guidelines are sweeping for any major news organization it still seems to me that they have no “bite.”

So, what are ethical guidelines about? Is there ever any punishment for violating the codes?

From personal experience, I worked for a major newspaper as a freelancer for eleven years and never received a single written guideline concerning what I could/should do concerning ethics, or for that matter, the law. Of course I was just a photojournalist!

The reporters got an inch-thick set of written guidelines, but not the people that give you the images that are trusted so much.

What do you think? Are ethical guidelines worth anything?

There are some organizations that lead the way in discussions involving ethics and the media. The Poynter Institute is a leader in the field. And, in the field of academic journals, the Journal of Mass Media Ethics has published for over twenty years on the subject.