Student photographer says he’s considering legal action against school for falling bear photo
Andy Duann's famous photo of a bear falling out of a tree blew up his college newspaper's website Thursday. Reached by telephone on Friday afternoon, Duann started to tell me how he got the great shot.
And then he mentioned he was waiting at the University of Colorado Boulder's law school building, because he wants to take legal action against the paper.
“They did not pay me even a penny,” he said. Duann, 22, is a native of Taiwan who’s been in the United States for five years. He’s about to graduate with a degree in electrical engineering; photography is his hobby and passion. “We did not sign any contract,” Duann said.
He’s upset that the paper’s advisor, Gil Asakawa, allowed publications around the world to reproduce the photo, asking most outlets only for it to be credited to Duann and the CU Independent. Duann said the Denver Post and the Colorado Daily paid $200 each to the school to use the photo. That turned out to be incorrect: Matt Sebastian, the city editor of the Boulder Daily Camera, said Friday that photo editor Paul Aiken had contacted Duann, offering to buy the photo to run on the Daily Camera's site. (The Colorado Daily is owned by the same company and operates out of the Daily Camera's office.)
"Andy agreed, there was some back and forth on the price, and ultimately the Camera agreed to pay $250 to Andy for use of the photo, and he agreed that he would be credited 'For the Daily Camera,' as we do with freelancers," Sebastian wrote in an email. "After we posted the photo on our site, the CU Independent's adviser, Gil Asakawa, e-mailed me asking that we credit the photo to the CU Independent." The Daily Camera, Sebastian wrote, pays freelancers but doesn't pay news organizations: "In the end, the CU Independent's adviser decided he'd rather have the student publication credited than receive the money, so he gave us permission to use the photo free of charge, and we changed the photo credit online."
Gil Asakawa and Aiken confirmed Sebastian's account in emails this weekend. "Since Andy is a staff photographer for the CU Independent," Asakawa wrote, "the Camera needed to contact the [CU Independent] for permission. We assumed the Camera went directly to one of our staff photographers specifically to avoid giving the CU Independent -- a competitor -- credit. Think how outraged the Camera would be if we approached one of their staff photographers to buy an image in order to credit the photo as 'for the CU Independent.' As of yesterday morning, the CU Independent had decided to pay Andy $250 that the Camera had offered him out of our general budget, even though we weren't being paid."
Asakawa says CU Independent owns the copyright to the photo. In a phone interview Friday, he said Duann is, despite his protests to the contrary, a staff photographer. The Denver Post, Asakawa said, had agreed to pay the school but the two sides haven’t negotiated a figure yet. Asakawa said he and CU Independent’s editors had already decided that money they got for the photo would go to Duann.
When Poynter asked Duann about using the photo on Friday, he asked to be paid $200 for it; he has since said he'd rather wait until the copyright issue got sorted out. He maintains that he owns copyright.
"I need to point out that nobody here is making money," Asakawa said. "All the reporters and photographers are volunteer positions."
Duann said he wasn't on staff at CU Independent and he started attending photographers meetings at the paper two months ago. (See correction below.)
Duann's beef with the Independent goes back to President Obama's campus visit on Tuesday. (No, Duann didn't take the picture of Obama posing in a bar with a young woman that also went viral this week. I asked.) The Independent hadn't gotten photo passes to cover the visit, Duann said, so he called the White House and requested press passes. Here's one of his photos, which I'd like to stress I am reproducing with his permission:
"I think I worked my ass off for CU Independent and in return I get nothing," Duann said.
"I have to say that I think everybody here works their ass off," Asakawa said. "We were very aggressive in making sure that Andy got credit as a photographer."
OK, about the photo: Duann lives in Williams Village, a section of campus he said is a bus ride away from the rest of the school. He received a phone call from a friend alerting him to the bear and the police who'd gathered to try to remove it from a tree. "I was still sleeping," Duann said. "I just jumped up and put my jeans on without brushing my teeth." He ran down with no socks ("I don't like wearing my running shoes without socks," he said, explaining that he considered flip-flops but decided that would be "less professional"). He ran down five flights of stairs, not waiting for the elevator. A photographer for the local newspaper was at the scene already. "I didn't think it would be a big deal because I thought the other photographer from the other media would take the same photos."
He only had to wait about five minutes for the bear to drop. "I barely missed the whole thing," he said. After the bear dropped, he said, "he was still awake, he was moaning. The police give him the second shot and he passed out."
He took about 300 photos, several of which made it onto the site and one of which he just discussed with a professor who specializes in copyright law, who "told me that I definitely own the copyright and we are going to write a letter to inform them not to use the photo any more, and we will take further action to collect the money from them," Duann writes in an email.
Correction: I misunderstood Duann in our phone interview; he said joining a CU Independent photographers group was "like a photography club." He did not say he'd joined a photography club. Also I originally paraphrased Asakawa as saying the Daily Camera didn't offer to pay for the photo; it offered to pay Duann but wouldn't pay the paper, because it's a news organization. His original quote was: "The Daily Camera expressly said they would not pay us."