Labor Day Copyright Updates

copyright symbol
Copyright. Image by Pete Linforth, Pixabay license.

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

Since this article comes out on Labor Day, it’s probably fitting that it addresses copyright issues. How cases like these are resolved determines, at least to some extent, how much of the fruit of your labors you can retain. Here are three copyright examples to keep your eye on.

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The Fine Print of Photo Contest Rules

A photo of a colorful dawn sky in the distance. In the foreground is a placid river with a few trees on the opposite bank. Sunrise over the Pocomoke River on Maryland's Eastern Shore. © Frank Gallagher
Sunrise over the Pocomoke River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. © Frank Gallagher

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

It must be photo contest season. Hardly a day goes by without me seeing at least one notification about an upcoming photography competition. Some have substantial prizes, others offer recognition and exposure. Are they worth it? And what are you getting yourself into? The answers are in the fine print. You do read all the contest rules, don’t you?

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New Copyright Grab … by a Museum

MoMA Photo Club

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

We’ve written many times about copyright issues that NANPA’s Advocacy Committee, chaired by Jane Halperin and assisted by Sean Fitzgerald, is following and the actions NANPA has taken to protect the intellectual property rights of photographers. Yet another troubling example has surfaced of an initiative that tramples on photographers rights and, this time, from a surprising source: the Museum of Modern Art in New York, also known as MoMA.

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Warning: Photo Rights Grab by New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife

"Gone Fishin'," Great Blue Heron, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland © Frank Gallagher
“Gone Fishin’,” Great Blue Heron, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland © Frank Gallagher

By Sean Fitzgerald, Co-Chair NANPA Advocacy Committee

It recently came to NANPA’s attention that the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (NJDFW) is conducting a “Photo Campaign” soliciting free photos for their photo library.

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Call to Action: CASE Act

The CASE Act Needs Our Support
The CASE Act Needs Our Support

Over the past two years, we have urged photographers to support the “Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2019” (the CASE Act). This bill would create a “small claims court” within the U.S. Copyright Office to handle copyright infringement claims from individual creators and small businesses. That would be enormously helpful for photographers and everyone in the creative community. It’s time to make one last push to get this bill over the finish line and time is of the essence.

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Continuing Copyright Confusion

copyright symbol
“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.

Challenge to Copyright

United States Supreme Court, photo by skeeze, royalty-free pixabay license
United States Supreme Court, photo by skeeze, royalty-free pixabay license

By Sean Fitzgerald

Did you know that state governments are immune from suit for copyright infringement? In Allen v. Cooper, the United States Supreme Court recently ruled that state governments are immune from suit for copyright infringement and that existing statutes eliminating that immunity failed to pass constitutional muster. As a result, state entities now have a free pass when it comes to using the work of a photographer outside of an existing contractual relationship.

This is not a hypothetical situation. For example, the University of Houston took an image by photographer Jim Olive off the internet and used it in multiple publications. Despite his dogged efforts, the University got away with it, quite brazenly. Olive uncovered at least 17 other similar infringements by Texas state entities in the course of his lawsuit.

NANPA has signed amicus briefs on the issue on behalf of Mr. Olive and others and supports efforts to pass new federal legislation correcting the problem. The Copyright Office has also asked for information regarding the experiences of artists who have dealt with state entities in order to determine the scope of the problem.

You can be part of the solution! Every voice counts. Help us gather your user experiences by answering this short survey.

Update on a Copyright Conundrum

copy of NANPA's Instagram page.
What rights do you give to Instagram and what do you retain?

In an earlier blog post, Can Websites Embed Your Instagram Posts Without Your Express Permission, NANPA’s Sean Fitzgerald wrote about the disturbing copyright decision in a recent court case, Sinclair v. Ziff Davis. The ruling has profound implications for intellectual property rights for photographers and many other creative professionals. A new court decision, McGucken v Newsweek comes to a somewhat different conclusion. Both are complicated cases and conflicting rulings, so it’s worthwhile to revisit the original article.

Sean Fitzgerald fills us in on an important clarification, just announced by Instagram, regarding its Terms of Use, the interpretation of which have been at the heart of both cases.

“In another victory for photographers, Instagram has now come down on the side of visual artists–expressly stating that it DOES NOT grant API users a blanket license to embed public third party content. This decision will undercut the recent decision in Sinclair v. Ziff Davis and give photographers who use Instagram much needed protection from blanket, unauthorized use of their Instagram posts. Instagram explained its determination in a communication with Ars Technica:

” ‘While our terms allow us to grant a sub-license, we do not grant one for our embeds API,’ a Facebook company spokesperson told Ars in a Thursday email. ‘Our platform policies require third parties to have the necessary rights from applicable rights holders. This includes ensuring they have a license to share this content, if a license is required by law.’

“Instagram’s decision is significant. Before a party embeds someone else’s Instagram post on their website, they now may need to ask the poster for a separate license and failure to do so could subject them to a copyright lawsuit. Users who fail to get such a license might still be able to assert a fair use defense as justification for their use, but they can no longer claim a blanket sublicense to do so.  

“Instagram has also stated that it is exploring the possibility of giving users with public Instagram accounts more control over the embedding of their posts. NANPA joined with other visual art groups in requesting that Instagram account holders should have the ability to control how third parties use their post and we will continue that dialogue.”

We’ll continue to monitor this and keep you informed as new information or court decisions become available,

Can Websites Embed Your Instagram Posts Without Your Express Permission?

copy of NANPA's Instagram page.
What rights do you give to Instagram and what do you retain?

By Sean Fitzgerald

Can an online publisher simply embed a photographer’s Instagram post in an online story without paying that photographer or obtaining express permission to do so? Unfortunately, a recent New York district court decision in Sinclair v. Ziff Davis suggests the answer is yes, as long as they do so consistent with Instagram’s various service agreements. While some online publishers have been embedding Instagram posts in their stories for a while, Sinclair is the first court decision that gives legal cover to the practice, leading some photographers to reassess how they use Instagram, and indeed all social media, going forward.

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CASE Act Passes!

Thanks to everyone who made their voices heard this week by contacting their Members of Congress and urging them to vote for the C.A.S.E. Act, H.R. 2426.  The good news is that the bill passed the House by a vote of 410 to 6, with 151 co-sponsors.  The not-so-good news is that we’re not done yet. While a similar bill, S. 1723 has passed committee, it still has to pass the full Senate, where a vote is not yet on the schedule.

The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2019, in a nutshell, establishes a copyright small claims court.  Currently, content creators, like photographers, must file copyright violation claims in U.S. District Court, where high fees can exceed damages and make it difficult for small businesses to seek copyright enforcement. 

NANPA has played an active role in the Copyright Alliance, a coalition of creatives advocating for creators’ rights and the CASE Act. For all the details on the Act, how it would work and the issues it addresses, see NANPA’s CASE Act: Copyright Small Claims page.

Thanks for your advocacy to protect photographers’ rights and keep an eye out for information about how you can help get the CASE Act through the Senate.