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Ken Light won Round One in the small claims division of the Superior Court of California in San Francisco on December 23. He claimed unfair business practices under state law because Current TV used his 1994 image of Texas death row inmate Cameron Todd Willingham without permission. Light won and Current TV was ordered to pay a retroactive licensing fee and damages to the tune of $588.

Well, Gore survived the count and is up for Round Two. Current TV are claiming their use was “fair use”. Conor Risch of PDN Pulse:

Current TV has appealed to San Francisco Superior Court, where its lawyers will be able to mount a more vigorous defense against Light’s claim.

That will cost Current Media a lot more than simply paying the small claims judgment. But the media company has a self-interested principle to defend: the right to use news photos at will without permission, and without payment. A trial date has been set for April 14.

Again, stay tuned folks …

Ken Light is a career photojournalist and a professor of photojournalism at Berkeley. If anyone is going to push back against the abuse of photographers rights, it’d be him right?

Well, he did. He won a small but symbolic $558

Last year, Light licensed his image of Cameron Todd Willingham to several media outlets coinciding with The New Yorker‘s exposé of dodgy arson forensics and the probable innocence of Willingham.

Current TV was not one of those he dealt with, yet they displayed Light’s image for a couple of months.

Light avoided federal court because it is costly and long-winded and filed a small-claims suit in San Francisco. PDN explains:

Light had charged other users $375 to $400 to license the Willingham image, but he says he would have charged Current TV $2,000 because of how long they displayed the photo. In his claim, he said the $2,000 fee should be tripled as punishment for damages. He added $500 to cover attorney’s fees, for a total claim of $6,500.

What is interesting here, is Light wonders avoiding the impractical, less-reflexive, federal route could be a better option for photographers:

“Yes, I got much less than I thought I deserved. [But] Maybe if we attacked in small claims courts and won, some of these companies might be more careful,”

I think Light has a good point and proven a repeatable tactic.


Postscript: In the summer, I did multiple interviews and one of those was with Light about photographing on Texas’ death row. Everyday, I look at that untranscribed audio file and beat myself up that I haven’t published yet. It’s coming … I promise.


Prisoners All posits that we are all severely impeded, individually and as a community, because of bad politics, poor policy and family devaluation. The posts are really well composed.

The anonymous author – by the pseudonym of Zebulon Brockway – has “worked many years in [California] prisons, and worked many years in journalism” and believes “much written about prisons is misleading at best and wrong at worst. The false impressions and false information are not helpful to public discourse”.

Moving Images

John Malsbary contacted me at the start of the Summer to tell me of his new venture Prison in Cinema.

John’s moving across a country at the moment. His few posts suggest he’ll be worth watching. John brought to my attention the film The Jericho Mile made on location at Folsom State Prison in 1979. Anthony Friedkin photographed Folsom convict portraits twelve years later.  Mann’s directing and Friedkin’s shooting share in visual dialogue.

Four Convicts, Folsom Prison, CA. Anthony Friedkin. 1991. Silver Print. 16 x 20 inches.

Four Convicts, Folsom Prison, CA. Anthony Friedkin. 1991. Silver Print. 16 x 20 inches.


Governing through Crime; WA State Library; Grits and Bid’ness in Texas; and Ben Gunn (Serving prisoner) and John Hirst (Released) in the UK.

Followed LEAP’s twittering and other ones …


The Dallas News reported the ‘Circumstances, Evidence, Problems and Outcome’ of five cases of arson in Texas under re-examination. That includes the Cameron Todd Willingham case. (via The StandDown Project)

‘A Paperclip and a CD’

Matt Kelley at had a well reasoned rallying call for support of prison book programs. Take Action.

Edmund Clark

A favourite of mine. Since recommended by Nathalie Belayche. Colin Pantall (recently back from a summer blogatical) and LensCulture showing Clark‘s new prison series, ‘If the Light Goes Out: Home from Guantanamo’.

Naval Base Cemetery by Edmund Clark

Naval Base Cemetery by Edmund Clark

Naval Base Cemetery (above) is not typical of the project. It is outside. ‘Home from Guantanamo’ uses the same detailed look at everyday institutional and domestic objects in their place. I don’t think it is as successful as ‘Still Life: Killing Time’, as I don’t think this approach lended itself as well to the War About Terrorism as it did to the Geriatric E-Wing of Kingston Prison, Portsmouth. ‘Killing Time’ is best viewed as a slideshow with Erwin James’ commentary.

Reciprocity Success

And finally, thanks to Stan for his coordinations and libations. Stan recommends Courthouse Confessions, as do I.

Cameron Todd Willingham in his cell on death row, in 1994. He insisted upon his innocence in the deaths of his children and refused an offer to plead guilty in return for a life sentence. © Ken Light.

Read the The New Yorker‘s article Trial by Fire about Cameron Todd Willingham, which asks, “Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man?”

Ken Light photographed Willingham fifteen years ago in his death row cell.

Willingham was accused of setting his house alight while his three children slept inside, tried for arson and murder, found guilty and sentenced to death. He always professed his innocence. Willingham was executed on February 17th, 2004. Before and since his execution, evidence supporting his conviction has been brought into question. Eye-witness testimonies conflicted and the fire forensics for the case are considered unreliable.

Recently, I spoke with Ken Light about his Texas Death Row.

The New Yorker only had one photographer to turn to for an image of the incarcerated Willingham. Without Texas Death Row (1994), we would have precious little photographic record of the lives and experiences of Texas’ institutions for the condemned.


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