Commercial Publishers Keep Using Photos Without Permission


by David Newhoff – Republished from The Illusion of More

I understand pursuing a fair use defense in a copyright case when the user of a work does something new and creative and believes there is a plausible argument to be made. I also understand why copyright skeptics file amicus briefs seeking opinions that would change the fair use doctrine. But what I find astonishing is the professional, who makes an archetypal use of a work, for which permission was obviously required, and then believes they can prevail on fair use through costly litigation. Because this keeps happening.

In the Spring of 2019, fine art and landscape photographer Elliott McGucken captured a transitory natural phenomenon—the sudden appearance of a lake in the middle of Death Valley, CA, known to be one of the hottest and driest places on Earth.[1] Heavy rains that March formed the 10-mile-wide ephemeral lake, of which McGucken made a series of beautiful and rare photographs, and several publications used his images by permission to accompany articles about the unusual event.[2] But when UK-based, digital publisher Pub Ocean failed to obtain permission for a similar use, McGucken sued for copyright infringement.

Using a photograph for illustrative purposes in an article or book is a paradigmatic use that requires license from the copyright owner. Newspapers, periodicals et al. have had to obtain permission for this purpose for as long as photographs have been protected by copyright law. Yet, despite this longstanding practice, even large commercial entities, perhaps lost in digital-age habits, too often use images without permission. Then, rather than settling with the photographer upon notification of the alleged infringement, these parties compound the error by litigating fair use defenses that will evaporate as surely as a lake in Death Valley.

Read the rest of the article at The Illusion of More.