Litigation Department Obtains Landmark Verdict in High-Profile Copyright Infringement Case Involving Social Media

November 25, 2013

Jury finds AFP and Getty Images to have willfully violated the copyright of Willkie client Daniel Morel and awards maximum statutory damages against defendants for violations of the Copyright Act.

On November 22, a jury returned a verdict of willful copyright infringement against the two digital media giants, Agence France Presse (AFP) and Getty Images, in the high-profile trial concerning the media giants' distribution and sale of the iconic images taken by photojournalist Daniel Morel, represented by Willkie, in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The jury trial was presided over by Judge Allison Nathan in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

As reported widely in the press, the jury awarded the maximum statutory damages that the court allowed for copyright infringement for 8 photographs -- $1.2 million. Mr. Morel will elect to receive the statutory damages amount plus the $20,000 award against the defendants for their 16 non-innocent violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

It is believed that this is the first time these defendants, or any other major digital licensors, have been found liable for the willful violation of a photojournalist's copyrights in his own works.

Willkie was lauded for deftly demonstrating the legal basis on which the jury must determine the award to Mr. Morel for the two media giants’ willful and deliberate copyright infringement, and for showing that AFP failed to even verify, before using as news photos, the location, time, source, publication and copyright (from the agency’s own rulebook) of photographs lifted from social media sites.

The verdict has been reported by major newspapers and media outlets around the world, including The New York TimesThe Times of IndiaReuters, France’s Le Monde newspaper, Malaysia’s New Straits Times and Radio New Zealand. The trial was also closely followed by the photography community, which had reporters in the court on a daily basis. See, e.g.British Journal of Photography and Editorial Photographers.

The case was tried by partner Joseph T. Baio, associates Emma J. James, Teri Seigal, and Maureen Kellett, and legal assistant Monica Jones.