In late January, Freedom’s news editor received an email from “the authorised representative of the copyright holder” of an image we had published a year prior.
“It has come to our attention that the Copyright Work has been reproduced [by Freedom] without our permission”, it informed us, and that “as a result of your unauthorised use, we are justified and entitled to commence legal proceedings for copyright infringement and to seek an injunction, compensation and reimbursement of our legal costs,” before asking us to give them a quick call.
The story of the photo in question is this:
In February 2018, during the Yarls Wood female detainees hunger strike, we were contacted, quite late at night, by an activist group providing assistance to the striking women. They offered an interview with one of the detained hunger strikers. We said of course, and following a heartbreaking phone conversation with a young female detainee awaiting, due to UK’s racist immigration policy, deportation to the country she had no links with, the interview was ready to publish that same night, minus the picture. And then someone from the group offering the interview suggested we use the pic which a year later would get us in trouble. As far as we knew, they had permission.
When we were emailed and informed that, contrary to our honest belief, the picture was copyrighted by a photographer, we took this seriously and responded the same day saying: “Thanks for informing us that the listed photo is under your copyright, now that you have informed us (…) we have deleted it from our system. We hope this shows we did not knowingly infringe copyright and that we have no intent to do so.”
This prompted the “representative of a copyright holder” to send us another email: “you have yet to compensate us for the unauthorised use. Sct 96(1) and (2) of the CDPA entitles us to commence justified legal proceedings for copyright infringement and damages or an account of profits, delivery up and costs.” This came with an invoice for £408 – around twice union rates, as they were claiming “damages”.
Surprised by this aggressive behaviour from a presumably left-wing friendly photographer, we looked up the “copyright holder”. Turns out it is Jess Hurd, a photojournalist self-described on her website as a “campaigning photographer” “working with a broad range of campaigning organisations on social issues often inadequately covered by the mainstream press”. According to her portfolio, Jess covers a lot of activism and protest-related issues.
After establishing who Jess is, we thought the whole legal email exchange thing was probably just a misunderstanding, coming from a “legal representative” who just doesn’t understand that much about activism. Surely Jess, considering her line of work, would not be happy to take money from Freedom: especially since it was certainly used in a text discussing “social issues often inadequately covered by the mainstream press”. So we contacted Jess directly asking for clemency.
In response, Jess Hurd sent us a link to the current National Union of Journalists rates, and eventually agreed that we pay £175 plus VAT: a total of £210.
Now it is obvious that Jess Hurd was within full legal rights to request we pay for use of her copyright work: even if the sum she agreed on has been described as “fucking outrageous to charge a non-profit” by other activist journalists we have spoken to. It is also obvious that we made a mistake by publishing a photo without properly checking who it belongs to, and that it is very annoying to have your work published without credit. It is also true that the person posting the picture has made a mistake not to check the copyright properly.
But as far as we are concerned, it is also not ok, and quite unethical in fact, to pursue a legal fight over a minor and promptly fixed copyright infringement against a group such as Freedom.
Freedom is a volunteer-run website and twice-yearly magazine providing lesser-covered news stories serving anarchists and the wider activist community. Currently the editorial team consists of two people, who work every day to keep our website lively and relevant. We do not get paid and we work based entirely on the non-profit principle. We run on a Creative Commons license, meaning that content we produce can be re-used for free by other non-profits. Or, if you may, we stick to our founders’ ideals of Mutual Aid.
Jess Hurd is a photojournalist who has built her career largely on documenting activism. She appears to benefit from the trust of activists who, based on the fact she declares herself a “campaigning photographer”, allow her access to their actions and other happenings. This trust comes with responsibility: we think this should include not shaking down activist news sources and groups with legal threats. Frankly, we think journalists who do this should not be allowed anywhere near activism, and instead should stay where their place is: on the other side of police line, with other mainstream media journos.
We don’t have the sort of money which leaves us with spare to pay Jess (a fact she was made aware of which led her to “magnanimously” charge us standard NUJ rates), and in the end one of our volunteers had to cover the cost from their own pocket. We are therefore calling for a fundraiser to help us with it.
If you have some spare cash, we would really appreciate if you could send it our way through our Paypal, so we can pay our volunteer back for the cash they had to lend to us so some “campaigning photographer” gets paid. Otherwise, share widely!