University acknowledges that student Andy Duann retains copyright to falling bear photo

Six Times an Hour | Daily Camera | Student Press Law Center
The saga of Andy Duann’s bear photo appeared to conclude Monday evening. Newspaper adviser Gil Asakawa had previously asserted the University of Colorado paper, the CU Independent, owned the copyright to the photo, which it first published in a story about an ursine interloper on campus. The photo went viral, became a meme and was picked up by the Associated Press, which issued an “elimination notice” telling its members not to reproduce the photo after the news broke that Duann did not acknowledge the university’s claim to copyright.

Duann never signed a release granting such rights. “Once Gil…realized that Andy hadn’t signed the standard release, there was no question about his ownership of copyright,” Christopher Braider wrote me in an email last night, confirming what was first reported by Matthew Keys. Braider is head of the school’s transitioning journalism program. Asakawa and Duann both confirmed Braider’s statement. What’s still unclear is why the CU Independent went to so much trouble to assert its copyright without first checking whether it had a contract with Duann.

Last week, Asakawa contacted the Boulder Daily Camera, which had agreed to pay Duann $250 to use the photo, and insisted CU Independent be credited; the Camera does not pay for photos from other news organizations, so City Editor Matt Sebastian agreed with Asakawa to run the photo with a courtesy credit and not pay Duann. After asking Poynter to pay him $200 to run the photo, a sum to which we agreed, Duann told me he’d been contacted by other media organizations interested in paying him to run it. These offers were largely obviated by the weekend, after the photo went viral. Duann decided Monday not to pursue payment from any media organization, including Poynter.

Duann told me last night in a phone call that Braider had said the university would give him $250, which he could use as a credit toward his tuition (he is planning to graduate with an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at the end of this term). In the Daily Camera, Brittany Anas reports that “Asakawa said the publication will be more stringent in the future, ensuring that every staff member signs the agreement.”

Yesterday Adam Goldstein of the Student Press Law Center expressed skepticism that a work-for-hire contract, which would grant the university copyright, “is even something that a student newspaper would want.” Since students who work on school newspapers are customarily volunteers, he said, it would be “insincere” for a university to demand the right to their work without “a traditional employment relationship for minimum wage purposes, or social security purposes” or tax purposes.

In a blog post, Student Press Law Center director Frank LoMonte wrote that all parties in this dustup appeared “to have acted with good intentions — the student, to get his newspaper a terrific action shot free of charge, and the adviser, to get his student a credit-line in a bigger newspaper.” But students, he wrote, should bone up on their copyright law: The situation “ought to remind all student publications to clarify the terms of employment and ownership, to avert just such disputes in the future,” LoMonte wrote.

Previously: Student’s photo of bear falling from tree goes viral | Student photographer says he’s considering legal action against school for falling bear photo | Lawyer: Student likely owns falling bear photo, not newspaper

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  • Christopher Watson

    I am very glad that this is the way it turned out; that Duann retains copyright. That’s how it should be. How  it also SHOULD have been is that Duann made a killing from this photo, and have ALL his educational costs covered from the licensing fees he COULD have raked in. Oh well….

  • Anonymous

    Did any posts mention this man is from Taiwan and that this is big news in his home country, too?

  • Anonymous

    Photographers should never sign away their copyright without a huge payment, and should learn the art of licensing their photos instead of giving away their copyright.

  • Tracie Powell

    Interesting story. Journalists, including student journalists, need to know copyright law especially in this digital age. Thanks for staying on top of this one Andrew.