What We Learned This Week: Punishing Photographers with Retaliatory Lawsuits

By David Schonauer   Thursday November 9, 2017

Was it a case of petty retaliation or legal intimidation?  Or both?

This week we learned that CBS Broadcasting Inc. filed a lawsuit against photographer Jon Tannen for allegedly posting images from a television show on social media. The complaint, reported PDN, appears to be an attempt to retaliate against Tannen for trying to protect his own copyright: In February, Tannen, a New York City-based photojournalist, sued CBS Interactive Inc. for willful copyright infringement after a sports website owned by the corporation allegedly published two of his images without permission.

Tannen’s suit, noted PDN, alleges that, a sports news website owned by CBS Interactive, took two images of a standout high school football player off of Tannen’s Facebook page and ran them in a story about the player. The suit also claims that falsified and/or altered Tannen’s copyright by adding their own watermark and credit to the photographs. The photographer is seeking statutory damages up to $150,000 per image for the copyright infringement. He is also seeking up to $25,000 for each instance of falsification/alteration of copyright management information, plus his expenses and attorney’s fees.

“According to Tannen’s Tweet history, this is the second time the photographer has accused 247 Sports senior writer Alex Gleitman of misusing his photos in articles,” noted PetaPixel.

Tannen hadn’t yet registered the copyright for his images at the time published them on January 23, 2017. He applied to register his copyright for the images three days later, noted PDN.

CBS’s suit against Tannen alleges that Tannen posted images from a 1958 episode of the CBS series Gunsmoke, a rerun of which recently aired on classic TV network MeTV, noted PDN.

Technically, copying images from TV shows and movies could be considered copyright infringement unless fair use can be legitimately be claimed. But as Ars Technica  noted, posting images of TV shows on social media is not at all unusual these days. “The lawsuit is striking, because using still images from television shows online is so commonplace in a variety of contexts and is often considered fair use,” wrote the website. “Cultural critics and news writers illustrate their writing with such images. So do non-professionals who are commenting or discussing video works on blogs or social media.”

In their complaint, lawyers for CBS Broadcasting wrote that Tannen “hypocritically engaged in this act of infringement while simultaneously bringing suit against Plaintiff’s sister company, CBS Interactive Inc.”

Retaliation and intimidation are of course part of the legal arsenal lawyers employ. Earlier this year we reported  on a first-strike lawsuit filed by the Andy Warhol Foundation against photographer Lynn Goldsmith over her own portrait of the rock star Prince. The image, taken in 1981, was used by Warhol to create a series of paintings. The lawsuit, we noted, amounted to a preemptive legal strike to stop Goldsmith from claiming that Warhol infringed on her copyright of the image.

Here are some of the other photo stories we spotlighted this week:

1. The Rohingya's Desperate Journey Out of Myanmar

Since August, nearly half of Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya Muslim minority have fled into neighboring Bangladesh in the face of attacks by Myanmar’s military and Buddhist villagers that the United Nations’ top human-rights official has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”  We previously spotlighted photographer Patrick Brown's coverage  of the Rohingya exodus. Recently, The New Yorker  featured a report with photographs by Moises Saman (above). “Every single day, I saw someone dying, or someone being buried,” Saman says.

2. "Sheila Metzner: From Life"

Sheila Metzner came out of the world of fashion and advertising. But commerce, she once said, was never a concern of hers. "The idea of commerce grew as the years went by," she said in a 2015 interview. "Originally, I was hired by Vogue as an artist, finally the man who hired me fired me as that artist - Alexander Liberman. His final words were, 'My dear, you're a great artist, but Vogue doesn't need art.'" But the world did, and Metzner went on to earn herself a place among the top photographers in the business. Now, we noted, that work is on view in a new book, Sheila Metzner: From Life.

3. Estaban Torres On Tour in Colombia and NYC

Esteban Torres loves to walk. "It's an activity I do almost everyday, walking with my camera, being perceptive about the people who surround me," said the photographer in a recently interview with PPD. Two photographs that Torres shot while walking — one taken in a small Colombian fishing village called Taganga, and the other in the New York subway — were named winners of the Latin American Fotografia 5 competition. We featured  both images, along with other examples of work Torres created while hoofing it.

4. How The Face Magazine Changed Photography

Founded in 1980 and published through 2004, The Face was one of the first UK magazines to champion youth and counter-culture, fashion, music and film under one banner. And in doing so, it shifted British perspectives on culture, argues music journalist Paul Gorman  in his new book The Story of The Face: The Magazine That Changed Culture. Photography was central to its impact, noted the British Journal of Photography: The Face helped launched the careers of Juergen Teller, Nick Knight, Corinne Day, and other photographers.

5. Inside a Mexican Town Embracing Islam

Islam came to Mexico in spurts over the past decades, with immigrants from Lebanon and Syria who came to convert members of the Zapatista revolutionaries in the 1990s. It caught on quickly: The country now has around 5,270 Muslims—triple what it had 15 years ago, noted National Geographic, which featured photographer Giulia Iacolutti’s look at Mexicans in Chiapas who are building a new identity around Islam. “What is pleasing about Islam is that it brings practical actions in daily life,” said Iacolutti.
At top: from Esteban Torres


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