Continuing Copyright Confusion

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“Copyright”, image by Pete Linforth, Pixabay license.

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

This year has been a real roller coaster ride. From COVID-19 to a presidential election and from wildfires to hurricanes, we’ve been put through the wringer. It’s been a wild year for copyright decisions, too, with the pendulum swinging from decisions that horrified photographers to ones that reaffirmed the rights of visual artists.

First, in Sinclair v. Ziff Davis, a court ruled that an online publisher could take a photographer’s work from Instagram and republish the photos without paying or obtaining permission because of Instagram’s Terms of Use. Sean Fitzgerald describe the impact of that decision here.

Then, Instagram changed its Terms of Use to expressly state that it does not give API users a license to embed third-party content. That prompted a judge to deny a motion to dismiss a copyright complaint brought by photographer Elliot McGucken against Newsweek. The publication had claimed the right to reproduce McGucken’s photo because he had posted it on Instagram. See more here and here.

Newsweek is now appealing. In light of the McGucken v. Newsweek ruling and Instagram’s clarification of its ToU, the court that heard the Sinclair v. Ziff Davis case has now reinstated Sinclair’s suit.

Recently, in Mango v. Buzzfeed, an appeals court ruled that photographer Gregory Mango was due statutory damages for copyright infringement and violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by Buzzfeed. The online publisher had used a photo by Mango that had originally appeared, with attribution, in the New York Post. Buzzfeed used the same photo, without permission and without crediting the photographer. Read more here.

Finally, a photographer and model filed a copyright infringement suit against the automobile company Volvo. The photographer and model had done a photo shoot with a Volvo S60. The photographer had posted some of the shots to his Instagram account and used the tag #volvo. Volvo asked for permission to use the photos without compensation, which the photographer refused. Months later, the photographer and model were surprised to see their photos in Volvo advertising and sued. The car company is asking the court to dismiss the case by claiming that not only do they have a right to use the photos as a sublicensee of Instagram, in spite of Instagram saying that’s not true (see McGucken v. Newsweek above), but also that, because the photographer set his account to “public” and tagged Volvo, he automatically granted Volvo the right to reuse his photos. Additionally, Volvo claims Behance’s Terms of Use allow the company to also use photos posted there without compensation. Read more about this case here.

NANPA continues to monitor cases involving photographers’ rights, has been part of amicus briefs in critical court cases, and plays an active role in the Copyright Coalition, as well as the Coalition of Visual Artists. NANPA joined with other arts groups in a successful campaign to convince Instagram to change its Terms of Use, and is pushing Instagram to give photographers an option to say whether we allow third party embeds without additional permission.

NANPA also advocates for the CASE Act and modernizing copyright law. See more about all that NANPA does to protect and enhance photographers’ intellectual property rights or tell us your copyright story here.

Possible Copyright Registration Changes – Take a Quick Survey, Please!

By Jane Halperin and Sean Fitzgerald

We have good news and bad news. Let’s start with the good. As part of the Creative Rights Caucus, NANPA is working with fellow visual arts groups to modernize and streamline the copyright registration process and the Copyright Office has been very receptive to doing the same, within the constraints of their current legal mandates, system constraints and budget. Continue reading