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Turning the Tables on the Associated Press

The AP threatened to sue the Snapped Shot blog for reproducing their photos without authorization. But they didn't ask permission before they grabbed Ashley Dupre's pictures.

by
Brian C. Ledbetter

Bio

March 24, 2008 - 1:10 am

The life of a blogger will occasionally resemble that of Buffalo Bill Cody’s stories of old. And, much like the lead-slingers of times long past, we sometimes get nicked.

For the past year and a half, I’ve been writing Snapped Shot, a blog that focuses on providing commentary, analysis, and the occasional exposé on professional photojournalism. Looking through the product of the photo newswire services daily and pointing out anything that seems out of the ordinary. Looking for possible counterfeiting in Lebanon. The ever-raging Rage Boy. Mystery missiles, unfired bullets, and playground munitions (oh my). All in all, it’s proven to be quite an entertaining hobby to keep my spare time occupied, and has introduced me to a terrific bunch of people.

Then, one day, a volley of proverbial bullets appeared on my porch, neatly wrapped in a FedEx envelope. The label said it all, the gunslinger having put their return address ever so neatly on the envelope. The Associated Press had sent me a friendly little care package.

The counsel for the Associated Press had fired the first warning shot, informing me that it was their opinion that Snapped Shot was in violation of their copyright.

The violation “Frequent and systemic,” they said. In fact, they said that I was so bad that they were going to forget all of their past condemnations of Abu Ghraib, and book me for the next flight over that way.

Okay, so I may have made up that last part.

Now, not having access to legal staff of my own—or the local Sheriff, for that matter—my first order of business was to try and assuage the gunslingers. I immediately took the site offline, along with every last photograph that was on there (including those that were my own).

I posted a notice that the AP content had been removed from the website, and hunkered down for an anxious weekend worrying about subpoenas and other not-so-hobbylike things.

To make a long story short, after going back and forth with some experts regarding the AP’s notice, I discovered that the process of disputing their warning letter would likely lead me to court, whether I was in the right or not. Did I mention that I don’t have a lawyer? True, number of the world’s second-oldest profession had written to offer their kindest advice, but most who wrote were unable to be of direct assistance. It looked like I was outgunned by a long shot.

In the old Westerns, the lone fighter would usually have single-handedly taken on the black hat-clad bad guys, and emerged victorious. The problem with trying this approach in the digital age is that the aforementioned bad guys have all of the guns.

The lone ranger, on the other hand, is merely armed with a keyboard and a cup of coffee. This makes the odds here somewhat less hopeful.

So, in the end, the only choice I really had was to cooperate with their demands, ensure that all of their content was removed from Snapped Shot, and hope for the best. “The best” being that this lone fighter gets to live to tell the story, of course. After all, I do have to put this “mere” keyboard to good use, don’t I?

After writing back to their legal team and informing them that I would cooperate with their demands, they agreed not to pursue the matter any further. This left me with a website that was largely threadbare, considering that much of the discussion to date had revolved around the visual aspect of the news wire service. But, armed with my trusty keyboard, I think I’m going to manage.

A week or so later, as I was getting into the swing of painting my pictures with words rather than hanging them in the digital saloon, I noticed that the press at large, including my fresh new acquaintances in the Associated Press, seemed to have stepped in a touch of a quandary.

As it was described, there was a certain woman who was involved in a certain New York scandal who seemed to have had some of her pictures reproduced by some very major news services.

Copyright experts asked about this apparent misappropriation of pictures noted that the newswires were walking in “dangerous waters”—a phrase which seems to be a common greeting amongst Copyright lawyers—by publishing her photos. These services were accused of taking something of tangible value and redistributing it for profit, without her or her photographers’ consent.

Hmm, that’s funny. Other than the “for profit” part, isn’t that exactly what they accused me of doing?

Interestingly enough, not every news service was enticed by the easy pickings on Ms. Ashley Dupre’s MySpace page. An internal European Pressphoto Agency report stated, “We refused to use these photos for legal and ethical reasons,” and that the republication of her photos might, as they describe it, “have some repercussions for those who were using these images.”

A shining example of the fine art of understatement.

Dupre’s legal counsel issued a press release on the matter within hours, putting every news agency that used the photos on notice that he’d be pursuing them for damages from the supposed destruction in resale value of her photographs, and he would work to ensure that “her likeness” is protected.

Now, it’s entirely possible that he’s trying to divert attention from the young lady’s alleged crimes, which is generally the lawyerly thing to do.

Regardless, the delicious irony of a multinational corporation being charged with the very breach that it had just gotten finished charging a lone blogger with was not lost on me.

While it’s amusing to see the tables get turned on the wire services, things remain unchanged for this lone fighter. I’ll still be here, watching the black hats with a steely gaze, waiting for the moment where it’ll be safe for me to ride off into the sunset.

It’s what the Duke would want.

Or was it Dick Cheney?

Brian C. Ledbetter is the owner, operator, resident extremist of Snapped Shot, a blog dedicated to the observation, analysis, and critique of the professional photo news wire services.

Brian Ledbetter writes Snapped Shot, a blog dedicated to critiquing photojournalism amongst other things, and is a part of the small but proud club of people who the Associated Press loves to hate.
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