AP Asks Judge to Dismiss Navy SEALs' Lawsuit Over Iraq Photos

By: (AP) The Associated Press asked a federal judge Friday to dismiss a lawsuit claiming the news agency violated copyright and privacy laws by publishing photos of Navy SEALs and Iraqi prisoners posted online by a serviceman's wife.

The AP argued that the case should be dismissed because the plaintiffs cannot demonstrate a probability of winning and that the lawsuit is an attempt to punish the news organization for "truthful, accurate and balanced" reporting.

The lawsuit was filed last month by five Navy SEALs and the wife of one of the special forces members. One of the SEALs since has dropped out.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages and want the court to bar the AP from further use of the photos and to require the news agency to protect the SEALs' identities.

Plaintiffs' attorney James W. Huston said he has not yet seen the motion but expected the AP would cite California's law that allows quick dismissal of lawsuits aimed at stifling free speech.

"They're going to have difficulty getting that motion granted," Huston said. "We're not saying they shouldn't write a story, only that they should obscure the faces."

The photos, which were distributed worldwide with a Dec. 3 story, appear to show the servicemen in Iraq sitting on hooded and handcuffed detainees and also what appear to be bloodied prisoners, one with a gun to his head.

The story said the Navy had launched a formal investigation into the photographs after being shown them by an AP reporter, adding that the photos did not necessarily depict any illegal activities.

The AP later reported that the Navy's preliminary findings showed most of the 15 photos transmitted by the agency were taken for legitimate intelligence-gathering purposes and showed commandos using approved procedures.

In its motion to dismiss the suit, the AP said that the photos were freely available to the public on the Internet, despite steps the wife could have taken to limit their accessibility. In addition, the news agency noted, the Navy never asked the AP not to publish them.

AP cited California's "anti-SLAPP" (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) law, intended to allow quick dismissal of meritless cases aimed at stifling free speech.

The AP also argued that the one federal claim of copyright infringement lacks merit, in part, because the agency's use of the photos for legitimate newsgathering purposes is a "fair use" allowed under federal copyright law.

The original AP story said the photographs were found on a commercial photo-sharing Web site, Smugmug.com, and were brought back from Iraq by the husband of a woman who was keeping them in a digital photo album there.

According to the suit, the woman incorrectly believed the nearly 1,800 photos she posted on the Internet site were protected from access by unauthorized users and required a password to view.

The SEALs' lawsuit contended that the AP and the story's writer, San Diego reporter Seth Hettena, violated the woman's privacy and also the copyright of the photographer by using the photos without permission.


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