Student Photo of Bear Falling from a Tree in Colorado Crashes CU Independent Site, May Trigger Lawsuit

First, the bear was tranquilized.  Then it fell.  Then it went viral.  Now it may be the center of a lawsuit.  Welcome to collegemediatopia in 2012.

This past Thursday, Andrew Duann, a student photographer for The CU Independent, snapped an instantly-iconic shot of a brown bear falling from a tree near a University of Colorado Boulder residence hall village.  The bear had been tranquilized by local wildlife officials and was subsequently taken into custody for its own– and others’– protection.

The photo almost immediately zoomed across the mainstream and outer reaches of the interwebs.  As Denver’s Westword confirms, “[W]ithin four hours or so [of its posting], it had become a Facebook and Twitter smash, as well as winding up on Gawker, Reddit, Yahoo and more traditional news platforms such as CBS4, 7News, Fox 31, the Boulder Daily Camera and the Denver Post. . . . The surge of traffic eventually crashed the Independent‘s site.”

And now for one post-viral twist: In the wake of the photo’s web success and its republishing by other news outlets, Duann is looking into legal action against his own paper.  As Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon reports, Duann is “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 considers the bear shot his copyrighted property, even though he is on the paper’s staff and apparently supplied it willingly for the story it accompanied. Reporters and photographers are not paid at the Independent, and Duann told Beaujon he had not signed a contract outlining his specific rights in cases like this.

So the larger question broached here: For campus papers relying on student volunteers or lacking formal contracts (i.e. many campus papers), who is considered the owner of published content– the student creators or the papers?

Asakawa says that in this situation the paper owns the copyright, but top staff “had already decided that money they got for the photo would go to Duann.”

The bear is OK, by the way.

 

Update: SPLC’s take on the ownership question

Comments
3 Responses to “Student Photo of Bear Falling from a Tree in Colorado Crashes CU Independent Site, May Trigger Lawsuit”
  1. bschraum says:

    Short answer: the student is probably in the right here. SPLC has a legal breakdown of the situation: http://www.splc.org/wordpress/?p=3602

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