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News agencies secure 50,000 Euro payout over image theft in bid to tame ‘Wild West’ of online copyright theft

By Dominic Ponsford

A group of news agencies has settled out-of-court with a Croatian website for more than 50,000 Euros after it lifted their pictures and re-used them online without credit.

The ten independent agencies, all members of the National Association of Press Agencies (NAPA), sued after finding photographs had been lifted directly, mostly from Mail Online, with no attempt having been made to obtain a licence or pay for usage.

The usage was spotted by a NAPA member news agency which invoiced and sent numerous reminders for the usage but was constantly ignored.

NAPA vice chairman Michael Leidig said: "We decided this was a good case to make a stand on because they hadn't even tried to deny simply lifting things online, they simply didn't care and it was clear that only a legal case would make them see things differently."

The case was taken on a no-win-no-fee basis by the Vienna-based copyright specialists Jakober Rechtsanwälte, led by media lawyer Philip Jakober.

He said: "The law of copyright in Austria and Germany is very clear, the usage of photographic material on a company's own home page for which they have not acquired permission is a clear breach of copyright.

"As this company was owned by multinational in the German-speaking world it was clear that if we followed it to the end of the trial we would eventually have a very good chance of getting a settlement."

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The victory included the fact that after the case, the Croatian website, had also signed a deal with one of the larger NAPA agencies to supply their photographic requirements, and a written agreement that in future it will no longer lift  pictures from the iinternet, agreeing to pay over €20,000 per picture should there be a breach of copyright on photographs owned by any of the 10 agencies involved in the future.

Leidig said that the agencies concerned had only challenged the website over a fraction of the pictures used, selecting those that were easy to find with a manual search.

But another agency that had not taken part in the joint action had used a programme to download all images on the site, and had found over 2,000 breaches of their copyrighted material.

Leidig said: "We settled out of court for a decent sum even though we were sure we could have got more because it was not about crucifying Croatia Telecom, it was always about starting a debate on the subject to highlight the problem of copyright control to the European Union. It's not just about pictures but also about text, we simply don't get paid for what we produce. This case ended with a result, but it took years and I would not advise anyone else to follow the same path, there has to be a better way of doing things."

He added that he wanted to see a congress on copyright to establish a charter for good practice and to set guidelines for reusage and republication of copright material.

Leidig said: "We want to include publishers, internet providers, online publishers, journalists and photographers and anyone else interested in making sure there is money available for good quality content.

"We don't want to stifle the freedom of information on the Internet or create internet trolls milking the system for their own benefit. But journalism brings value to the world wide web, without it the online experience would be a lot poorer, what we need is a middle ground that allows both ideals to exist in one place."

According to  NAPA one member recently complained he had found an exclusive story repeated over 16,000 times on news websites and blogs.

NAPA board member Chris Johnson said: "The days of the internet 'Wild West' are numbered and it is time for a reality check for the cowboys who think they are beyond the law. We have shown that they are not, and we want to set a benchmark for the future."

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