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Photographer loses copyright lawsuit

A jury took less than an hour to decide Monday (Aug. 7) that the Mercury News didn’t violate a photographer’s copyright when it used his photo to illustrate a book review. The newspaper didn’t need the photographer’s permission to use the picture because its use constituted “fair use” under copyright law, the Merc reported today.

“This is a classic example of how newspapers use material that is sent to them every day,” said James Chadwick, the Merc’s attorney. “If a photographer or photo agency had veto over the use of these kinds of images, then newspapers would just stop using them and readers wouldn’t get the visual information. … This is the kind of information that newspapers are supposed to provide to the public.”

The plaintiff, Christopher Harris, is a photojournalism professor at a college in Tennessee. According to the Merc, Harris filed a lawsuit against the New Orleans Times-Picayune under identical circumstances, but the case was settled for an undisclosed amount. Instead of settling, the Merc took the case to trial — which lasted a week — and didn’t have to pay Harris a dime.

Presiding over the trial, in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, was Judge Charles Breyer, brother of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer.

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