Photo Rights in Dispute; Lawsuit by Photo Stringers Accuses AP of Trying to Strong-Arm Their Copyrights

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH A FEDERAL judge recently ruled against freelance writers in a case involving copyrights in electronic media, freelance photographers are involved in a similar battle with the Associated Press.

A group called the National Association of Freelance Photographers sued AlP last March in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and on charges of copyright infringement and unfair business practices. But in a recent response to the suit, AP countersued, denying all accusations and taking the position that the organization has no basis in law to make a case.

The NAFP said AP attempted to deny the association's existence, despite its claimed 200 members. But AP is asking for a summary judgement dismissing four of the six charges in the suit.

AP's counterclaims allege that three former freelancers infringed AP copyrights by displaying photos they took on the NAFP Web site--even though the AP had acquired the copyrights to the images. NAFP's suit also seeks:

* a declaratory judgment that freelance photographers own the copyrights to their work;

+ an injunction prohibiting AP from forcing freelance photographers to give up copyrights in order to get assignments;

+ a ruling that AP has infringed copyrights of Dwight Gooden,Wayne Gretzky, and O.J. Simpson;

+ a decision holding AP liable for restraint of trade, unfair trade practices and attempted monopolization. The complaint alleges AP has violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act by using its strength in the marketplace to coerce freelance photographers into surrendering their copyrights in exchange for continued work.

AP is seeking a dismissal of the anti-trust charges and of the count requesting a ruling that copyrights belong to photo stringers.

NAFP President Kevin Larkin explained that the suit evolved after AP drew up an agreement, which bureau chiefs told freelancers to) sign by July 1,1996. But three clays before the deadline, AP withdrew the agreement. In a memo June 28, 1996, AP director of photography Vin Alabiso told bureau chiefs (available on NAFP's site at http://www. …

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