Photographer Takes Radio Station to the Court of Social Media

Authors Note: This article originally ran on TALKERS magazine’s website TALKERS.COM. It is written specifically for an audience consisting primarily of radio station owners, licensees, and employees. Therefore, it may seem a bit skewed towards the perspective of the radio station, but this is not the case. Both the photographer and the radio station allegedly made mistakes. The take away here is not that one or the other party was right or wrong, but rather you as a creator of original artistic pieces need to register your copyright before infringement occurs (or within 3 months of infringement if the work was published before the infringement). 

Matthew B. Harrison
Senior Partner
Harrison Strategies

It is important to know more about intellectual property law than just enough to avoid litigation. Disputes involving intellectual property aren’t always played out civilly within the established legal system. Brawls are erupting in the Wild West of social networking, where threats of litigation don’t have much standing and unconventional is the nature of attacks.

As described in a previous article (A Lesson from the NJ101.5 Case.), a radio station got hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit because it used copyright protected images, stripped the identifying information of the photographer from the image, and posted them on its website inviting listeners to download and alter the images.

The station argued that its usage of the image was in the capacity of “news reporting” — a term which appears in the Copyright Act’s non-exhaustive list of potential purposes of fair use (thereby excusing their behavior from infringement liability). While “news reporting” is in fact a justification for copyright infringement – most cases in which news reporting is argued as a fair use defense fail because it is often misapplied – such as in this instance. The Court disagreed with the assertion that the radio station’s usage was news, ruling that news organizations are not free to use any and all copyrighted works without the permission of the creator simply because they wish to report on the same events a work depicts.

The evolving shift in the employer/talent business model

By Matthew B. Harrison

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. –– We are in the early stages of a significant shift in the way radio station owners/operators will be managing and paying for content creation. It is becoming increasingly important for radio talent to take stock of their current business relationship with their employers and consider these changes when mapping out future plans.

The shift coming to radio will be similar to what happened in the motion picture industry when the “studio system” in which actors were employed staff members of film factories such as MGM evolved into a model in which they became independent players contracted by production companies on a per-project basis.

The root of this change grows out of the separation of the “radio station” into two very different businesses which, for many decades, were considered one and the same –– radio station as a licensed property and radio station as a production company. The growth of the role played by the internet in the distribution of terrestrial radio station programming is exposing and speeding up the distinction between these two concepts.

The era of intellectual property law

By Matthew B. Harrison

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. –– In a recent article, Michael Harrison predicted that Intellectual Property Law would dominate talk radio’s legal concerns in the era that is unfolding. (It is filed at under Michael Harrison and is titled “The Ticking of the Clock.”)

As talk programming evolves into new means of digital distribution through advances in technology, so does our need to understand intellectual property. While evolutionary, the nature of the rights themselves –– to control and exploit the products of one’s creativity and innovation –– remains consistent, the manner by which they are expressed and exchanged is constantly attempting to adapt to advances in technology.

The invention of, in turn, the printing press, the phonograph, radio and television broadcasting, cable, transmission from satellite, VCRs, CDs, DVDs, and now the internet has affected both the form and the substance in the interpretation of intellectual property rights.

Rihanna settles with LaChapelle

Pop singer Rihanna has settled the copyright dispute with photographer David LaChapelle. LaChapelle had claimed the music video for the singer’s single ‘S&M’ contained elements similar enough to his photos for it to infringe his copyright. In July a New York judge rejected Rihanna’s lawyer’s attempts to have the case dismissed on the basis of ‘fair use.’ Terms of the settlement were not made public.

Copyright News Roundup

Copyright News Update:

Rapper 50 Cent has another notch in his court battle belt as a federal judge in Newark dismissed an infringement allegation against both himself and his record label, G-Unit.

The plaintiff, author Shadrach Winstead, claimed the rapper plagiarized his book, The Preacher’s Son – But the Streets Have Turned Me Into a Gangster, directly ripping off elements for 50 Cent’s 2009 movie and album of the same name, Before I Self Destruct.

According to 50 Cent’s legal team, the judge tossed the case after determining that the only genuine similarities between the works were a main character that came up on the mean streets of Newark. Phrases that were arguably points of contention were deemed common and not infringement worthy.

Matthew David Howard Smith, 23, of Raleigh, North Carolina, pleaded guilty in Virginia federal court for copyright infringement. Upon sentencing (December 16th, 2011) he faces up to five years in prison for each count.

According to court documents, Smith was a founder of NinjaVideo, which operated from February 2008 until it was shut down by law enforcement in June 2010.

The site enabled visitors to illegally download movies and television programs still in theaters or that had yet to be released.

Users were asked to make donations to the site, which provided access to private forums that contained, more material for download. Officials said the operators allegedly collected more than $500,000 during the website’s two-and-a-half years of operation.

The Idea / Expression Dichotomy

By Matthew B. Harrison

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. –– Good talk radio hosts draw upon multiple sources for material. News, media, pop culture and their own lives and interests are standard sources for talking points. In today’s digital world two pressing legal questions should be on your mind:

1) How difficult is it to infringe upon someone’s copyright when borrowing a concept, the goodwill, or even actual pieces from someone else’s work?

2) How difficult is it to protect your own work from having others use too much?
Copyright protection is only available for the expression of ideas and not the ideas themselves. This is known as the idea/expression dichotomy.

The “idea” is to, say, do a show on conservative political issues. The idea, furthermore, is to spin (or “position”) an issue in a particular way as to highlight a thought-provoking point. The protectable “expression” is the recording of the segment in which you make the point. While you may have been the first person to make such a point, only your exact expression is protected and other –– perhaps not as talented –– hosts can run with the idea their own way as they see fit.

A Lesson from the NJ101.5 Case – Copyright Infringement

By Matthew B. Harrison
Senior Partner, Harrison Strategies

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. –– When choosing to use non-original materials as a portion of programming, it is important to make sure that such usage falls squarely within the accepted affirmative defense of fair use.

A New Jersey federal appeals court recently reinstated a copyright and defamation lawsuit against New Jersey talk radio station, New Jersey 101.5 (WKXW-FM) and its former PM drive team “Carton & Rossi.” Craig Carton currently co-hosts the WFAN, New York morning drive show “Boomer & Carton.” Ray Rossi hosts an evening show on New Jersey 101.5.

The case was simple. New Jersey Monthly (NJM) hired a photographer to take a photo of Carton & Rossi to accompany an article to be published. An unknown employee of WKXW-FM then scanned in the image from NJM and posted it to the WKXW-FM website, among others. The image, as scanned and posted, cut off reference to NJM’s story title, and eliminated the gutter credit identifying the photographer. The station invited visitors to alter the image and submit resulting versions. In all, the station posted 26 of these submissions. At no time did the station or the hosts ask the photographer for permission, and as a result –– the photographer sued.

Putting it out there without giving it away

By Matthew B. Harrison, Esq.
Photos & The Law dot com
as originally published in issue 219 of TALKERS magazine

SPRINGFIELD, MA — On May 16th, at 6:30 am Stefanie Gordon boarded a Delta flight from New York to Palm Beach. Somewhere along the flight, out the window of her airplane seat, she took a photo, tweeted it to friends when she landed, and then headed off to spend the day with her father. Gordon’s now-famous photo of the space shuttle Endeavour soaring through the clouds got her an overwhelming amount of attention but also landed her smack in the middle of an ethical and legal debate inherent to the future of the internet.

The photo was viewed nearly one million times, and has been showed by hundreds of news outlets around the world. She was paid by precisely five news organizations.

Understanding Audio Content Ownership Rights

by Matthew B. Harrison, Esq.
Harrison Legal Group

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. –– Understanding ownership rights of audio content is one of the more common issues to cross my desk. While most of the information that exists on the topic, including court cases and their analysis, is centered on music-based audio, the rules can be similarly applied to both spoken- or music-based content. Therefore, this article will examine the application of such rules to music and aptly apply them to spoken-word content.

A work made for hire is defined as a work created by an employee within the scope of the employee’s employment. A work made for hire can also be created by a contractual agreement between two parties.

Buy My Book on Amazon – Memories of Unsoiled Decay

Memories of Unsoiled Decay

A camera sees differently than our eyes do and can be used as a means to communicate a story. For most artists – the story goes beyond themselves and capturing moments from their lives and the literal content contained within the frame. The photographs no longer reveal literal truth but instead present a metaphor for a greater truth. The viewer is engaged in identifying the metaphor and appreciating the relationship that the photographer has demonstrated with the subject. This portfolio is both. However, there is a third component of this portfolio that makes it worthy of being the work product of a Masters Degree Scholar: these photographs were specifically created in such a way as to maximize a viewers engagement with these images. I applied scientific research to my photographic process – in order to maximize the portfolio’s ability to engage the viewer.