Daniel Morel Wins Suit Against Getty Images/AFP

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One of Daniel Morel’s photographs of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti/ ©Daniel MorelOne of Daniel Morel’s photographs of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti/ ©Daniel Morel

In a trial likely to be a landmark in terms of strengthening copyright protection for photographers, photojournalist Daniel Morel has won his suit against Getty Images and Agence France Presse (AFP). Morel was awarded $1.2 million in damages for copyright infringement of photographs he took in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. 

A Federal judge had ruled in January that Getty and AFP infringed on Morel’s copyright by distributing his images without his permission; this trial was held to determine whether the infringement was “willful and intentional.”

Morel was in Haiti at the time of the January 2010 earthquake, and he posted images of the destruction on his Twitter account. Those images were lifted from his account and re-posted under the name of another Twitter user, Lisandro Suero, and AFP picked up the images and distributed them through its own image service and through Getty, crediting them to AFP/Getty Images.

Morel’s agent, Corbis, sent take-down notices to Getty and AFP, but it took AFP two days to issue a kill notice, according to PDN Pulse, and when they did, they told clients and partners to kill images credited to Morel, but not the identical images that had been sent out initially under the false credit. Getty allegedly didn’t purge the images with the false credits, and continued to distribute them.

After Morel sued AFP, the company in turn sued Morel for “commercial disparagement,” sought to strip him of any copyright protection in his photographs, and requested compensatory and punitive damages against the photojournalist.  The judge dismissed the claim that Morel forfeited his copyright in the photographs by posting them on Twitter.  

Morel was represented by Joseph T. Baio, himself a collector of photography, and Emma J. James, both of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP.  

According to a statement from Baio, “We and Mr. Morel are extremely grateful for the jury's careful evaluation of the evidence and the damages awards they have rendered against Agence France Presse and Getty Images for their conduct.  Particularly satisfying to Mr. Morel are the jury's findings that these major agencies violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and willfully violated the Copyright Act when they wrongfully downloaded, misidentified, and licensed his iconic images of the immediate aftermath of the catastrophic 2010 Haiti earthquake.”