Portland Press Herald to pay woman for using photograph without permission

The Portland Press Herald will pay a woman $400 for publishing a photograph from her Flickr account after she complained that she hadn’t given permission or been contacted beforehand.

The newspaper came under fire for using the photograph (in print and online) in connection with a story about how a local university had allowed a chaplain to return to campus after he had been accused of sexual abuse.

The paper then published an explanation of why it ran the photo, but later deleted the post. In its explanation, the newspaper said a reporter had tried to reach Audrey Ann Slade, but when he was unsuccessful, editors decided that they could legally publish the image under fair use.

Slade wrote on her blog that she was “floored” by the paper’s failure to reach her:

No attempt to contact me. No attempt to credit me. Just taking something I did and with no care or regard, dragged something I did to be kind into a sordid and disgusting story. With not so much as a heads up. …

Surely, if someone were intelligent enough able to defend their decision to employ Fair Use, they would have been able to hit the “message” button on my flickr account? Or perhaps since they were able to see my name attached to my flickr page, they could have googled me, thus finding my google+ id and my email address. Or, one would think if they were able to determine my TITLE (which was in no way associated with my flickr account), surely they could have done a simple search to find out my name.

Steve Greenlee, managing editor of the paper, said that the reporter had just a few hours to reach Slade before deadline. When he was unsuccessful, editors decided to publish the photo without her name so she wasn’t dragged into a sordid story. The paper did, however, note her position at the university.

“This was not a knee-jerk decision to put this in the paper,” Greenlee said. “We put thought into this. We did not just steal a photograph.”

One reason Slade was hard to find: Her Flickr page initially said Audrey Ann Brissette, not Slade. “She changed her name on the Flickr page after we used the photo,” said Executive Editor Cliff Schechtman.

I searched for instances of Slade’s name on Flickr before Aug. 1 and came up with nothing. But I did find a couple of pages referring to “Audrey Ann Brissette” for that time period.

Greenlee said it’s true that the reporter didn’t try to reach Slade through Flickr, but he tried other methods, all of which were fruitless. (I tried to reach Slade via Flickr’s messaging service, but I haven’t heard back.)

In my search for “Audrey Brissette,” however, the third result was for a LinkedIn page for “Audrey Slade” who had once worked at the university. Another result linked to a university newsletter.

“It’s possible that we didn’t use every means at our disposal to track her down on deadline,” Greenlee acknowledged.

The newspaper did consult its lawyer before publishing the photo; Schechtman said the paper was on “strong legal footing.” Slade’s Flickr account noted that the photos were copyrighted, “all rights reserved.”

Greenlee said Slade’s photographs, which the newspaper learned of through another source, were key to the story. “At its heart, it was a story about a photo. It was a story about the fact that these photos existed.”

When I asked if the paper had considered linking to the image on Flickr, Greenlee said that wouldn’t have addressed what to do in print.

In an email to editors, Slade demanded demanded $100 for every day the photo was online. The photo was up for four days, so the paper is processing a check for $400, Schechtman said.

As for the deleted explanation, Schechtman said there was no need to keep it up once the photo was offline. The URL returns an error message.

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  • Frank Taylor

    Very interesting article, but a few key details are unclear. If they believe they were on strong legal ground and haven’t lost a court case, why is the paper paying? It sounds as if they are just trying to save face and make her go away by meeting her demands, while continuing to insist they didn’t do anything wrong. Given the situation, would they do the same thing if it happened again? Also, any legal precedent on this issue or is it a gray area in the laws of Maine and other states?

  • http://twitter.com/stretchphoto Stretch Ledford

    This was not a knee-jerk decision to put this in the paper,” Greenlee said. “We put thought into this. We did not just steal a photograph.”

    No, you stole the photograph with premeditation.

    Surely this editor doesnt believe that an act of thievery is any less an act of thievery simply because the thief puts a lot of time into planning the heist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jodi.renshaw Jodi Renshaw

    Very well researched and written. Shows both sides of issue without prejudice. More stories should be written like this. Glad Slade has been paid and the paper seems to be conversing its failure.