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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.


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