May 1, 2012

Gil Asakawa, adviser to the University of Colorado student newspaper, the CU Independent, emails with an update on the rights to a bear photo that went viral last week:

“I’ve personally apologized to Andy Duann for the mistaken assumption that the CU Independent owned the copyright to the falling bear photo, and the resulting controversy that ensued. At Andy’s suggestion, we’re working on a new policy that will assign use of content to the CU Independent but allow content producers to retain the copyrights to their material.”

This is great news for student journalists, and also for the school, which previously demanded ownership of students’ work even though the students were volunteers.

A falling bear set this rethink of copyright policy in motion: CU senior Andy Duann, who’d photographed a few times for the school paper, got an incredible picture of a tranquilized bear falling from a tree on campus last week. He emailed it to the school’s paper, which ran it. The picture went viral, but not before Asakawa got in touch with the Boulder Daily Camera asserting that the school, not Duann, owned copyright on the photo. The Daily Camera couldn’t pay Duann for the shot under those circumstances, and Duann complained to me.

On Monday, Student Press Law Center attorney Adam Goldstein said  that it was “kind of insincere” for a student newspaper “to assert that it has a traditional employment relationship with its students for copyright purposes, but that it doesn’t have a traditional employment relationship for minimum wage purposes, or social security purposes, or that its payroll shouldn’t be taxed the way a traditional employer’s would.”

Duann had not signed the previous CU Independent contract with contributors, which included the following provision:

Copyright: I understand and agree that all materials contained in the online or any print editions of the CU Independent (including, but not limited to, text, photographs, illustrations, video and audio) are the sole and exclusive property of the CU Independent for a period of one year, protected by U.S. copyright and other laws and may not be copied, modified, distributed, transmitted, displayed or published (either in hard copy or online) without the express written prior permission of the Editor-in-Chief of the CU Independent.

Asakawa says the paper is patterning its new agreement after the model on the Student Press Law Center’s website, which grants a student newspaper an exclusive three-month license to content produced for it but allows students to keep the copyright.

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

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City…
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