Photographer Drops Arizona Shooting Copyright Lawsuit
Posted by David Ozanich — 21 Feb 2011
One photographer learns the hard way that maybe not every copyright infringement suit should be fought, at least if you want to remain in a community's good graces. Jon Wolf is a portrait photographer in Tucson, Arizona. He shot one such portrait of Christina Green, the 9 year old victim of the Tucson massacre, which was published widely in the subsequent media storm after it was provided to them by the family. Wolf demanded to be paid $125,000 from the Arizona Republic for use of the image which he had copyrighted the day after the shooting. From KGUN 9:
The newspaper quoted Barbara Wall, the senior vice president and counsel for its parent company, Gannett Co., Inc., as saying that the company does respect intellectual copyrights. "We'd be willing to pay a modest license fee for the use," the article quoted her, "and we're still willing to do that."
Multiply that $125,000 demand by 30, and you begin to get a glimmer of how much Wolf and his attorney think Christina's picture is worth. That's how many defendants Greenberg told KGUN9 news last week that he had in mind for the lawsuit he was planning to file.
But is this picture really worth that much? What is a standard licensing fee for a photo of this nature?
One of the hottest photos related to the shooting and its aftermath was a one-of-its-kind picture taken by a freelance photographer showing a small replica of a human skull atop what has been described as a makeshift "altar" at the home of shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner. The New York Daily News first published the photo. The image rights were then marketed through Getty Images. The asking price for that picture now is $1,160, which is about half what Getty was asking right after the photo was first published. That price gets the purchaser a 5-year license for publication on any and all media within the United States.
All well and good, but this feels a bit exploitative of a horrific tragedy. As the television report below makes clear, while some photographers are defending Wolf's right to copyright, others believe he's bad for business. And it's safe to say he's not winning any friends in the still-rattled Arizona community.
Last week, the Green family said in a statement:
"Our intent was not to allow others to profit from the Jon Wolf image but to allow the media to portray our daughter in the best light possible and to tell her story.
It is unfortunate that he has chosen to litigate over the use of his photograph at this time, or at all, in light of the fact that our family is still mourning and grieving the loss of our daughter."
Wolf recently announced he was dropping the lawsuit but the damage to his reputation may already be done as the Facebook page "Boycott Jon Wolf Photography for suing over Christina Green's photo" has about 1700 fans.