Confusion Over Photo Publication Rights p. 26

By: Mark Fitzgerald Picture of Oklahoma firefighter holding dying
infant illustrates misunderstandings that can
arise over who owns rights to a photo sp.

AN AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER'S haunting picture of a firefighter tenderly holding a dying infant has come to symbolize the horror of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing.
In a far more prosaic way, though, it also epitomizes the misunderstandings that can arise over photo rights to a suddenly hot picture ? especially one taken by an amateur.
The story of how the fortuitous photograph taken by Charles H. Porter IV landed at the Associated Press is by now a familiar one (E&P, May 13). But, in some ways, the story did not end when AP acquired the photo.
Porter was apparently besieged by other news organizations clamoring for rights to the picture ? and he made arrangements with a couple of them.
After selling the picture to AP, Porter also sold some magazine rights to Sigma and first news magazine rights to Time magazine.
If AP is disappointed about that, it is trying hard not to show it.
"Surprise me? No, nothing surprises me anymore," said Vincent Alabiso, executive photo editor/Newsphoto for AP.
Porter "obviously didn't realize what he had at the time," Alabiso said. "A lot of [news organizations] learn of a picture like this when it goes over the wire. And they go after it."
AP, though, clearly believed it was buying all rights when David Longstreath, AP photo editor at the scene of the bombing, bought Porter's shot.
"When AP purchases a picture, it is assumed it is [for] all rights," Alabiso said.
But these purchases are made in the white-hot heat of AP's never-ending deadline, and ambiguities are almost inevitable.
The contracts are just handshake deals ? and amateur photographers can misunderstand the procedure. Bank clerk Porter, for instance, confessed in an article written by AP's Southwest regional writer, Julia Prodis, that he "did not know AP meant [a photograph would be distributed] everywhere."
Porter could not be reached for comment for this story.
AP's experience with Porter ? which Alabiso is at pains to characterize as no problem at all ? nevertheless, has happened enough times before that some thought procedures for purchasing photos should be tightened.
"I don't know that there is a typical procedure," Alabiso said. "People bring work into wire services all the time. If it's a good picture, we will buy it . . . .
"We are finding a need to be more specific about what we are buying."


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