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Photo rights in dispute; lawsuit by photo stringers accuses AP of trying to strong-arm their copyrights.

ALTHOUGH A FEDERAL judge recently ruled against freelance writers in a case involving copyrights in electronic media, freelance photographers are involved in a similar battle with the Associated Press.

A group called the National Association of Freelance Photographers sued AlP last March in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and on charges of copyright infringement and unfair business practices. But in a recent response to the suit, AP countersued, denying all accusations and taking the position that the organization has no basis in law to make a case.

The NAFP said AP attempted to deny the association's existence, despite its claimed 200 members. But AP is asking for a summary judgement dismissing four of the six charges in the suit.

AP's counterclaims allege that three former freelancers infringed AP copyrights by displaying photos they took on the NAFP Web site--even though the AP had acquired the copyrights to the images. NAFP's suit also seeks:

* a declaratory judgment that freelance photographers own the copyrights to their work;

+ an injunction prohibiting AP from forcing freelance photographers to give up copyrights in order to get assignments;

+ a ruling that AP has infringed copyrights of Dwight Gooden,Wayne Gretzky, and O.J. Simpson;

+ a decision holding AP liable for restraint of trade, unfair trade practices and attempted monopolization. The complaint alleges AP has violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act by using its strength in the marketplace to coerce freelance photographers into surrendering their copyrights in exchange for continued work.

AP is seeking a dismissal of the anti-trust charges and of the count requesting a ruling that copyrights belong to photo stringers.

NAFP President Kevin Larkin explained that the suit evolved after AP drew up an agreement, which bureau chiefs told freelancers to) sign by July 1,1996. But three clays before the deadline, AP withdrew the agreement. In a memo June 28, 1996, AP director of photography Vin Alabiso told bureau chiefs (available on NAFP's site at http://www.worldpies.com/ nafp/) the stringer agreement "was merely to confirm in writing the standard practice and professional relationship which exist at the AP and throughout the industry."

"Nevertheless, it appears its intent has been misunderstood by some. Since some important mutual concerns have been raised, we are postponing the deadline for signing the stringer agreement so we may consider these concerns and seek a resolution."

Larkin says he is determined about the case and is prepared for a long fight.

"If AP is going to drag it out, fine. But we're going to win" said Larkin.

Alabiso, AP's vice president and executive photo editor, said in a statement that AP "has always treated freelance photographers fairly and professionally. The allegations in the lawsuit are without merit. Although we regret that litigation has developed, we will vigorously defend our position."

Attorneys for both sides said there was no way to know when to expect a decision in the case.

Suing The Boss Hurts

KEVIN LARKIN, PRESIDENT of the National Association of Freelance Photographers, said he is effectively being "blackballed" by the Associated Press because of his role in forming the association and suing AP over copyrights to freelance photos.

As an AP stringer for over nine years, Larkin, 33, has earned as much as 90% of his freelance income of about $40,000 a year from AP--a proportion he suspects is common among AP photo stringers. He says he is no longer getting AP assignments "absolutely," because of his opposition to AP's claim to copyrights of photos taken by stringers.

AP spokeswoman Tori Smith called the charge "unfounded." AP has continued to offer him photo assignments, and he has worked for AP as late as this month. She said he has "refused" some assignments and taken others.

Larkin, who said some freelancers fear being identified with NAFP because of the risk of losing work from AP, suggests photographers diversify their business as much as possible, to avoid becoming over reliant on a single income source. --John Sullivan
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Title Annotation:Associated Press
Author:Sullivan, John
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Date:Sep 6, 1997
Words:665
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