12 Jul Photo agency refuses to return copyright to photographer, claims journalists don’t have copyright protection

Source: DP Review

Do photographers own the rights to their images? This is the question at the center of a legal battle between photographer Francisco Leong and his former employer, Agence France-Press (AFP).

Leong, a Lisbon, Portugal-based photojournalist, had worked under contract for AFP. He first joined AFP in 2005 as a stringer and became a staff photographer in 2010 before leaving the agency in 2019. The agency in France claims that it owns Leong’s images.

However, Portugal’s Journalist Statute and Code of Copyright appear to give ultimate rights to journalistic work created during employment to the original creator. Leong told Press Gazette that ‘It is a rule that stands above any individual contract and states that the copyright belongs to a journalist, period… on my contract with AFP there was a clause saying the copyright was for AFP. I believe this violates the law and therefore is null and void.’

The AFP’s defense goes beyond the contract Leong signed. According to Leong’s union, Sindicato dos Journalistas (SJ) in Portugal, AFP is also arguing that it distributes news within the public domain and that what it publishes doesn’t deserve protection under copyright law, as it constitutes ‘mere vehicles that broadcast to the public the set of facts that portray a particular daily event or news.’ SJ argues that AFP’s defense could be a ‘scorched-earth policy’ and that it threatens the livelihoods of news photographers and agency journalists if AFP wins in a European Union (EU) court.

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