Copyright in footage captured by members of the public

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A New-York based photo journalist, Paul Martinka, is suing the publisher Time Inc (Time) for copyright infringement.  This follows the publication by Time of two photos of John Kasich, a former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, eating pizza.  Rather like the photographs of Ed Miliband wrestling with a bacon sandwich that emerged during the UK General Election campaign last year, the photos of Mr Kasich’ dining experience did him no favours whatsoever.  Attempting to eat pizza with a knife and fork in New York is not a vote winner apparently.

As well as publishing the photos, Martinka maintains that Time features the photographs in a video that is stored on Time’s servers and which could be shared through social media platforms. They did so, allegedly, without Martinka’s consent.

Martinka is reported to be claiming statutory damages of up to $150,000 per work infringed and also statutory damages of at least $2,500 and up to $25,000 for each instance of false management of copyright information.

The practice of members of the public seeking to monetise video footage or photographs captured of newsworthy items – terrorist outrages, natural disasters and the like – appears to be gaining ground. We reported last year that the man who captured video footage of the shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer in South Carolina and which later went viral, subsequently sought €10,000 from news agencies for the reproduction of the footage.  As a sign of the times, organisations now exist to help members of the public to license the copyright in their photos and videos to media outlets (they do not do so altruistically of course, they will expect a fee in return).

The Martinka case is slightly different in that Martinka is a photo journalist by profession but, in an age where we all carry smartphones with cameras, we can expect to see more disputes involving the copyright to images, still and moving, taken by members of the public.