Ban on Photography of Animal Cruelty Struck Down

20 04 2010

Two important pieces of legal news for photographers today.

U.S. v. Stevens

The Supreme Court today overturned a law that made photographs of animal cruelty illegal. The defendant, Stevens, was the first to be convicted under a federal law that banned the creation, sale, or possession of a depiction of animal cruelty.

Much like child pornography laws, the law was designed to target the market for videos of animal cruelty, because it is often difficult to determine the person who committed the underlying cruel acts. Designed to allow law enforcement to go after “crush” videos, which appeal to a disgusting fetish for the crushing of small animals, the law in this case was applied to a video of dog fights.

The problem with the law, as evidenced by the fact that it was used against a dog fight video (not that I am any fan of that either), was that it was way too broad, and could potentially impact journalists, as well as others exercising their First Amendment rights. There was an exception for any depiction that has “serious journalistic value,” but the term “serious” excluded too much, and there was no exception for entertainment. The NPPA joined the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in filing an amicus brief.

The Supreme Court ruled that the law explicitly punished expression based on the content. Although speech restrictions based on content are allowed in a few exceptions, namely, obscenity, defamation, fraud, incitement, and speech integral to criminal conduct, and some specific narrowly tailored areas, this was not one of them, and the court declined to create a new category.

In attempting to bring videos of animal cruelty to the level of child pornography, the government proposed the following test for adding new areas of exception to the First Amendment : “Whether a given category of speech enjoys First Amendment protection depends upon a categorical balancing of the value of the speech against its societal costs.”

Justice Roberts responded, “As a free-floating test for First Amendment coverage, that sentence is startling and dangerous.” The court declined to carve out a new exception to the First Amendment for animal cruelty.

Finding that the law was far too much of a limitation on the First Amendment, Roberts said, “We read §48 to create a criminal prohibition of alarming breadth.”

There are some great lines in the opinion, including, “We would not uphold an unconstitutional statute merely because the Government promised to use it responsibly.”

Animal rights fans, take heart. The court did “not decide whether a statute limited to crush videos or other depictions of extreme animal cruelty would be constitutional. We hold only that §48 is not so limited but is instead substantially overbroad, and therefore invalid under the First Amendment.”

You can read the entire opinion, and the dissent, here. There is also a good analysis of the ruling on the SCOTUS blog.

Ken Light v. Current TV

Also important for photographers is the ongoing case of Ken Light, a San Francisco photographer who took Current TV to small claims court for “unfair competition,” after they violated his copyright. Light originally won the case, but Current TV appealed it and the court threw the case out. The reason- it was basically a copyright violation and small claims courts do not have jurisdiction over copyright, only federal court does.

I am aware of some cases where a copyright violation was successfully taken to small claims court as a breach of contract or failure to pay an invoice, but it is always a risk as the federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over copyright claims.

There is a wonderful story about the case, and the legal history of “in-line linking” on the NPPA website. I recommend it.

UPDATE: The New York Times calls the ruling a “major and muscular First Amendment ruling





Obama snubs international media

14 04 2010

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/13/AR2010041303067.html





Media companies saying “No Thanks,” for the hand-outs

12 04 2010

One of the dangers of “official” photographers, is when they are used as a replacement for admitting the media.

The media doesn’t like this, but for years, there was not much in the way of response.

Things are changing. More and more, I have seen media companies refusing to run “handout” photos when they are offered as a replacement for media access.

Recently, the media was kept out of a meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama. Response was strong.

The Associated Press declined to distribute the handout photo, instead offering the following Photo Advisory:

AP Photo Advisory: The AP will not be distributing an official White House photograph of today’s meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama. The AP declines to accept or use handout photos when we feel access would have been possible by the media, either as a group or through a pool photo arrangement.

The New York Times and the Washington Post also stated that they would not publish the hand-out photos.

The impact of a media blackout used to be more significant. But since the Obama White House has it’s own photo distribution system (via a Flikr Photostream) it doesn’t have to rely on the AP, or even newspapers, to get its images across.

There are several good sources for this story:

Associate Press release about the Dalai Lama and Obama meeting.

Washington Times article about the Dalai Lama handout photo.

Columbia Journalism Review article on the handouts trend.

White House Flikr photo stream.

White House News Photographers Association position on handout photos.





Digital Economy Bill passes in UK- without orphan works provision

7 04 2010

Busy day. The controversial Digital Economy Bill has apparently passed in the UK. The good news is that the controversial orphan works provisions in the bill were removed, due primarily to the efforts of photographers. YEAH photogs.

Read about it here.

My previous post on the controversy, and photographers efforts is here.





Photo groups file suit against Google

7 04 2010

Well, several photo groups, along with some photographers, have filed suit against Google regarding their google books project.

I won’t repeat what has been said in the various articles. You can read about it:

In the New York Times;

On the ASMP website;

Read the complaint itself.

One thing I will say is that the recent Supreme Court ruling of Reed Elsevier v. Muchnik has paved the way for this case.

Here is why.

Many of the photographers covered  in the Google Books photographers class action suit have likely not registered their copyrights. This means that they could not bring suit themselves and still get statutory damages. But in the Muchnik case, the Supreme Court ruled that the court can still have jurisdiction over a copyright case in a class action, even if the members of the class covered by the settlement have not all registered their copyrights. Of course the google suit asks for statutory damages for each infringement, and a court is not likely to award statutory damages for infringements where the copyright is not registered. But getting a judgment and getting a settlement are two entirely different things. The way is now clear for a settlement.

Photographers should be aware of the danger of class actions suits. Google may get hit in the pocket book, but there is always a risk that photographers who aren’t in the original suit will not see much of the money. Here’s hoping that the photo groups don’t let that happen.





Is your Internship Illegal?

7 04 2010

You need an internship. Companies love having interns because it lightens the work load, they get to nurture and identify young talent and it supports the industry to train future photographers.

Tea pickin' is probably not eligible for unpaid internships. Photo by Alicia Wagner Calzada

There is an interesting article in the New York Times about the expanding trend of unpaid internships and the reality that some unpaid internships violate federal wage laws.

I also found a useful evaluation at this link.

One of the big concerns is that unpaid internships are being used to replace paid workers in this economic recession. This is certainly true in the photojournalism world.

Some states require that an intern receive school credit in order to be eligible as an unpaid intern.

The Department of Labor has provided a set of guidelines to determine whether someone is a trainee, entitled to not being paid (this is relevant for Fair Labor Standards Act- i.e., whether or not minimum wage laws are being violated).

There is also a report by the Economic Policy Insitute on the trends and need for reform for internships.

According to the DOL, there are six factors used for determining if someone is an employee or trainee:

1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the
employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic
educational instruction;
2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees;
3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under their close
observation;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the
activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually
be impeded;
5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training
period; and
6. The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to
wages for the time spent in training.

“If all of the factors listed above are met, then the worker is a “trainee”, an employment
relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the worker.”

This does not affect non-profits using volunteers.

You may think this is overkill when you have a student willing to work for free in exchange for valuable experience, but this is extra important for photographers because the consideration of whether someone is an employee is also important for consideration of who owns the copyright. Also if there is an on-the-job injury or a sexual discrimination case, employment status is extremely important.





Heartbreaking Video of the Killing of a Photographer released via Wikileaks

6 04 2010

This recently released video of the 2007 killing of photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, and his driver, in Baghdad by U.S. troops is one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever seen.

It is incredibly disturbing, so in case you don’t want to watch the actual video, here is a link to the article by the New York Times, which does a very good job of describing the important parts of the video.

Reuters had attempted to get the video for years through an FOI request, but it was an anonymous whistle-blower leak via wikileaks that led the the release.

In addition to the devastating implications of the video, and the pain of the families, there are several important subtexts to this video release.

1) It shows the importance of anonymity of sources. I’m sure this doesn’t make the federal government more excited about a federal shield law, but for citizens, and for the fallen, it couldn’t be any more important than this. This video was “classified” and not released after years of official FOI requests. But as you can see, there is nothing in the video that reveals intelligence. In fact, it simply reveals the horrors of war, and raises outrage. The government shouldn’t be able to hide behind the principle of “government secrets,” in an effort to hide things that are only sensitive because it makes them look bad. Those within the government who realize this should be protected.

2) For those who glorify or romanticize the idea of being a war photographer, this also shows how dangerous it really is. Every photojournalism student should be required to watch this.

Let me repeat… if you are a photojournalism student, you need to watch this video. If you are an American you should be outraged.