Tu Nidito rejects funds from photo licensing litigation

Media Watch 

TU NIDITO REJECTS FUNDS FROM PHOTO LICENSING LITIGATION

As the days unfolded following the shooting on Jan. 8 that killed six and injured 13, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the media introduced onlookers to the victims. One of those was nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, who was shown in a portrait photograph that was reproduced by media outlets nationally and internationally. By now it's among the most recognizable photos connected to the mass shooting. Local photographer Jon Wolf owns the copyright, and has obtained a legal firm to collect royalties for the use of the image.

"Mr. Wolf is the copyright holder of certain images of Christina Green and members of her family," Edward Greenberg, the New York City attorney handling the case for Wolf, said in an e-mail statement. "Those images were used without the consent or authorization of our client who under copyright law has the sole authority to license such use. The infringers include major news organizations who were aware or should have been aware that they were making unauthorized copies and did so simply to avoid the payment of licensing fees. Simply put, his images were stolen or copied.

"This office was retained to prosecute infringers and secure monies as a result of these blatant federal copyright infringements. A substantial portion of the monies raised via litigation, settlements or authorized licensing will be donated to Tu Nidito, a local AZ charity which supports families who have lost loved ones. At present we are in the midst of settling with some media outlets, have settled with others and intend to file suit against still others."

Media outlets obtained the photo directly from the Green family, but Greenberg contends that even though they purchased the portfolio packet, they don't own the copyright.

"Certain images were provided by the Green family to the media," Greenberg said. "Not all such occasions are cause for a claim under Federal Copyright law. It is a violation of Federal Copyright Law to photograph another photograph and claim it as your own. This is an unethical and/or illegal technique frequently employed by the media when confronted with an immediate demand for photographs for which they do not want to pay. Those media companies who improperly employed our client's registered image without his consent did so for the primary purpose—in some cases, sole purposes—of avoiding paying for news content to working photographers and journalists thus increasing their own profit margins."

Greenberg says many of the cases are being filed against national news outlets based in New York City, although local news organizations that used the photo are facing legal issues as well. Wolf, who is off-limits to media interview requests as per his attorney's advice, contacted Tu Nidito with the news, but failed to mention in his conversation the method of procurement for the "significant portion" of monies raised. As a result, the non-profit organization has decided against accepting Wolf's donations.

"Jon (Wolf) has been a longtime supporter of Tu Nidito, and he notified us a while back that he wished to donate proceeds from funds he would receive from the use of this photo to Tu Nidito," said Tu Nidito assistant director Ciara Meyer-Garcia. "We were unaware there was any litigation or any issues surrounding these. We wrongfully assumed these were funds that would be automatically generated from the use of this photo. He contacted us and said, 'I'm going to be receiving some money for this and I'd like to donate it to Tu Nidito.' He's well aware of our work within the Tucson community and felt like it would be an appropriate place for him to make what we had viewed as a personal donation from him. We were not aware of any litigation, any lawsuits, and do not want to be associated with them."

Tu Nidito Children and Family Services is a non-profit organization that provides ongoing support for children whose lives have been affected by a serious or fatal medical condition within the family. The organization assists upwards of 1,200 family members annually, including 600 grieving the loss of loved ones. Since the shooting, Tu Nidito has used its expertise to coordinate numerous grief-counseling support group events designed to assist those impacted.

Bottom line: The sheer volume of licensing collection could lead to a significant payday for Wolf. It's safe to say that with its enhanced community role, Tu Nidito could be well-served through the undisclosed percentage of his settlement Wolf had planned to contribute. Clearly, Tu Nidito's decision to reject his offer was not taken lightly.

"We offer services for many of the people in our community who are now in need, and we've extended those services at no cost to our community so that we can provide support for the victims and provide support to the larger community. We've been providing support for individuals. We've been in schools, church groups," Meyer-Garcia said. "As an agency, we felt like that was our role in the aftermath of what had happened.

"We did not associate any type of controversy with what he had proposed to us. Given the nature of the work we do, it's important for us to remain a safe place for families and other members of our community who have experienced great loss. I believe his intentions were probably good. That said, this is getting into an area that's very uncomfortable for us to be in. We make it a decision not to engage in these types of practices. When it was explained to us, there was no controversy or issues surrounding it.

"We need to stand by our own fundraising practices. It's an uncomfortable association for our agency. Now that we're aware of it, we will make the steps to no longer be a part of it."

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