The headline is hardly a revelation: it’s been obvious for a long time that AFP’s theft and distribution of Daniel Morel’s award-winning Haiti earthquake photos would cost the agency dear. But the voice is a surprise: it belongs to AFP deputy photo editor Eve Hambach, writing in an internal agency email in March 2010.

The Hambach email is contained in opposing memoranda at law from lawyers representing Morel, AFP, Getty Images and the Washington post seeking summary judgement in the two-year-old copyright infringement dispute.

The basic facts of the dispute have been well documented and the memoranda, running to hundreds of pages, broadly confirm the previously published timeline of events. However investigations by the Morel team have unearthed far greater detail than before, and their documents paint a damning picture of AFP and Getty’s joint activities, described as “essentially a business model gone wild “. Among the most damaging claims:

  • AFP director of photography for North and South America Vincent Amalvy emailed Morel two hours before downloading Morel’s images – allegedly from the Lisandro Suero TwitPic account – and entering them into the AFP system. It’s unlikely that Amalvy could have been unaware of the true provenance of the images on the Suero account having previously approached Morel.
  • Amalvy also stole a number of other images from websites on the evening of the earthquake, including from the New York Times website.
  • Internal Getty Images emails reveal that senior Getty staff, including the Director of Photography, knew of Morel, his association with rival agency Corbis, and his ownership of the earthquake images several hours before Getty began distributing those images.
  • AFP ignored their own written rules for using social media content, rules that specifically warned of the “significant risks” of stolen images and copyright abuse.
  • Amalvy claims that in fast moving news situations guidelines such as those in AFP’s rulebook don’t apply. This is in stark contrast to other news agencies, including the Associated Press, who also chased the Morel images but declined to use them when they were unable to contact the photographer.
  • AFP and Getty had no workflow in place to ensure the removal of AFP images with a Mandatory Kill notice.
  • AFP fed the Morel images to Getty multiple times under different names. As a result, when a Mandatory Kill notice was issued for the Morel images only those with a Daniel Morel byline were removed from Getty’s distribution network. Those with the erroneous bylines David Morel and Lisandro Suero remained available.
  • Both AFP and Getty misled clients into believing that they represented the Morel images by removing his Copyright Management Information and replacing it with their own.
  • Getty also licensed the images for commercial use, despite the fact that AFP’s Morel feed specified “editorial use only”.

The two sides are playing for very high stakes. Morel claims 820 instances of willful copyright infringement and associated offences, each carrying a possible award of up to $150,000: should the defendants lose they could face a bill of $123 million plus hefty legal fees.

The memoranda make clear the parties’ strategies in the case. The Morel documents – all 237 pages – are forensic, containing a detailed timeline of events, emails from AFP, Getty and Corbis, interviews with AFP and Getty staff, and depositions from Getty clients and subscribers.

In contrast, the AFP and Getty documents are somewhat sparse and surprisingly light on specifics. Rather than address specific Morel claims, the defendants largely restrict themselves to brief generic statements: “AFP does not intentionally sell infringing content”, “Getty Images does not promote or market infringing activity or content on its website”, and so on.

At the heart of the AFP defence is a reliance on the Twitter and TwitPic terms of service in force at the time of the infringement. Essentially this argument claims that the terms allowed AFP – or anyone else – to grab anything they fancied and redistribute it outside the Twitter and TwitPic environments. But this argument was rejected by Judge William Pauley in December 2010 when AFP went to court in an attempt to halt the Morel case: its resurrection now suggests that the AFP defence are running out of ideas.

Getty’s defence, meanwhile, attempts to place as much distance as possible between the defending partners. Essentially this amounts to “nothing bad was done, but if it was, it’s all AFP’s fault”. To support this Getty stress the automated nature of both the AFP feed and Getty’s own distribution system. However this argument is undermined by evidence that Getty staff manually altered metadata attached to the Morel images, and that agency staff licensed some of the images in telephone sales.

While the memoranda provide a clear insight into the thinking – or lack of it – at the two agencies as the scandal developed, one fascinating question remains unanswered: just who decided it would be a clever plan to sue Morel for defending his own property? It was this single fateful decision more than any other that escalated what could have been a dispute ending in a quiet out of court settlement into a highly publicised multi-million dollar war zone.

It’s unlikely anyone will ever step forward to claim the credit for that particular piece of ingenious public relations, for it’s clear that AFP and Getty are already bracing themselves for a crushing defeat. Buried deep in their memorandum is a plea to the court that should it find in Morel’s favour, damages should be limited to a maximum of $240,000. That’s a far cry from previous ringing declarations that “in the end, we shall prevail”.

The Case In Quotes:

January 12, 2010 at 9:42 PM, Amalvy emails Morel:
“Hello – I am the AFP Photo Editor- I am searching to contact you – Do you have images of the earthquake – You can send them to me at this address – – Thank you.”

From the Morel memorandum:
“At 7:48 PM, Amalvy sent an email to with the image attachment ‘haiti 2.’  At 9:03 PM, Amalvy sent an email to with an image attachment ‘haiti 3.’  At 9:03 PM, Amalvy sent an email to with the image attachment ‘haiti 4.’  As set forth in Morel 56.1, there is no genuine dispute that the above images were taken from the Radio Tele Ginen website.  At 9:07 PM, Amalvy sent an email to with an image attachment ‘haiti 5.’  The image by Tequila Minsky was sent via e-mail at 7:00 PM to The New York Times in exclusive.  The image was never posted to Twitpic or social media site.  At 9:38 PM, Amalvy sent an email to with an image attachment ‘haiti 7.’  This image is Minsky’s and was stolen by AFP from The New York Times website.”

January 12, 2010 at 11:04:19 PM, Andreas Gebhard, Getty Images Manager, Global Picture Desk, emails Francisco Bernasconi Senior Director of Photography News and Sports at Getty Images:
“Not sure if it’s worth contacting Name is Daniel Morel. Don’t know anything else. Pix on twitter look very decent.”
Three minutes later Bernasconi responds: “Former AP staff shooter..I don’t want to contact directly now. He normally works for Corbis now.”

January 13, 2010 at 4:36 AM, Benjamin Fathers, Chief of Desk for AFP Paris, emails Amalvy:
“Vincent – I’m not certain Lisandro Suero’s photos are his but they belong to Daniel Morel – Look”.

January 14, 2010 at 9:03 AM, Samantha Dubois, Deputy to the Chief of Desk AFP Paris, emails Amalvy and others:
“Hellooo, Hope you slept well !!! Here is today’s bad news”.

January 14, 2010 at 2:16 PM, Eva Hambach, AFP’s deputy photo editor for North America emails:
“US copyright law requires that the image be pulled and removed.”

From AFP Guidelines For Video And Photo:
“We may on occasion use video and photo used on sites such as Twitter . . .
There are three key questions before publishing:
1. Does the material have a news value that justifies its use given the risks?
2. Have we verified the content, origin and ownership?
3. Have we provided the proper context to our clients?
Verify five basic elements:
3. Source: Is the source’s identity and authorship confirmed?
5.Copyright: Is the image protected and if so what are the specific legal terms?”

Vincent Amalvy testimony:
“When have you have to decide to dive, I took my responsibility . . . As a result . . . was success for AFP during the three next days following the catastrophe. Guideline doesn’t care about this kind of situation. When there is no picture, no any anything, except a few of them, that’s different circumstances.”

March 9, 2010 at 2:20:51 PM, Chris Eisenberg, Getty Images Director of Content Management emails:
“What is our workflow for removing images from our site when AFP send us a
Mandatory Kill notice? Are AFP responsible for doing so themselves? We currently have 32 AFP images with ‘Mandatory Kill’ in the caption on the website, and when I spot checked, the original image for at least one of those is still on our website.”
Just over an hour later Andreas Gebhard responds: “At the moment, we have no definitive workflow on this.”

March 16, 2010 at 8:23 AM, Hambach emails Amalvy:
“You realize that it is impossible to clean up the worldwide web of all Daniel Morel AFP entries. There are images on websites, on blogs…they are used in video clips on YouTube. They are everywhere. Anyway, AFP got caught with a hand in the cookie jar and will have to pay. Now that we have a better understanding of the use of these images, shouldn’t it be up to the lawyers to negotiate. It is not my futile tries or attempts to clean that will change much to what will have to be paid.”
At 9:20 AM, Amalvy responds: “I agree except on the fact that we have what we – because we are in contact with robbery and we can’t – we have to show that this guy put the picture in high definition on the web and that’s the reason…”

March 26, 2010 at 4:56 PM, Catherine Calhoun, Senior Director Media Sales at Getty Images, emails Marc Kurschner Getty Images’ VP of Sales for North America:
“I just sent you a bit more details, along with the list of clients that downloaded these images. It’s a long list.”
At 5:55 PM Kurschner responds: “Oh boy, that’s not good.”

Exchange between Morel counsel Barbara Hoffman and CNN witness:
Hoffman: “Did you believe that Mr. Morel had sold those images to Getty Images?”
CNN witness: “At the time from the e-mails that is what we believed yes.”
Hoffman: “What led you to believe that?”
CNN witness: “Because they were available on the Getty Images website that subscribers have access to.”

Exchange between Judge William Pauley and AFP counsel Joshua Kaufman:
Kaufman: “Your Honor, this is not a unique interpretation of AFP for the purposes of this motion. People are re-twitting and re-Twitpic’ing pictures by the hundreds of thousands a day.”
Pauley: “Is that somebody else on Twitter like Suero?”
Kaufman:  “Suero, yeah.”
Pauley: “Right? Suero, a thief, right?”
Kaufman:  “Suero took -”
Pauley: “That’s your argument?”
Kaufman: “No, other people are allowed to -”
Pauley: “So the multitude is doing it; therefore, it is okay.”
Kaufman: “No, no.”

From the Getty defence:
“Getty Images requires and relies on the representations AFP makes about its content in the License Agreement. It could not possibly investigate whether the hundreds of thousands of images that AFP transmits to Getty Images’ database every year infringe other parties’ copyrights, without altering its business model, incurring massive expense.”

Bookmark and Share

7 Responses to “Agence France Presse vs Morel: “AFP Got Caught With A Hand In The Cookie Jar And Will Have To Pay””

  1. duckrabbit duckrabbit says:

    Terrific summing up. THANK YOU.

  2. Matt Kirwan Matt Kirwan says:

    Top article.

    There is some deeply seated, sadistic pleasure in watching these ‘respectful’ agencies floundering.



  3. Tim Gander Tim Gander says:

    That final Getty quote is an absolute corker. Seems to me that not only would changing their systems to check for copyright infringements incur massive expense, but not having a system to check for copyright infringements is about to incur massive expense. Superb, and a huge lesson to many other organisations and publishers.

    Top article, thank you.

  4. The definitive update and an illuminating bit of lid lifting.

    My oh my, look at all those worms wriggling around in those agency cans. Most of us who’ve had dealings with the big agencies have suspected that this is how they work. Now we get to see their contempt for the law and the creators of the imagery they grow fat on in 3D hi res clarity.

  5. Leif Skoogfors Leif Skoogfors says:

    As exciting a read as a good detective novel. Thanks!

  6. A Mazing A Mazing says:

    Can open, worms everywhere !

  7. Jeremy admin says:

    The truly definitive, director’s cut, wide screen with all the DVD extras version are the legal submissions. What astonishes me more than anything is the absolutely chronic, hopeless incompetence on display. AFP stole a pic of the Chinese earthquake and distributed it as the Haitian quake. Nobody at Getty thought to use their own publicly available search tools to enter “January 12 2010, Haiti”, which would have returned all the falsely named Morel pics, which could then have been nuked. It just goes on and on and on…

    It’s the Corleone family, but run by the Marx Bros.

  8. […] And, while a judge eviscerated AFP’s claims about TwitPic’s license, it appears that AFP is back to relying on that as the crux of its legal argument. […]

  9. […] In the latest twist of events, the photo agencies may possibly be liable for $123 million in damages for more than 820 instances of copyright infringement. […]

  10. […] is only for the truly dumb. Whether it’s one of the world’s largest news agencies facing a $123M copyright suit, a hipster freetard heisting a veteran photographer’s best-known image, or a British Labour […]

  11. […] the end of the affair though, just the beginning of the end. For one thing, there’s the matter of the bill AFP will face. Morel’s claim against AFP calculated damages based on treating each download of any of his […]

  12. […] the end of the affair though, just the beginning of the end. For one thing, there’s the matter ofthe bill AFP will face. Morel’s claim against AFP calculated damages based on treating each download of any of his […]

  13. […] at reaching a summary judgement flounder as a fuller picture emerges of activities at AFP and Getty during the Morel fiasco. Among the revelations are that Amalvy also stole a number of other images […]

Leave a reply: usual Marquess of Queensberry rules apply.


(required: will not be published)