A Manhattan jury found that Agence France-Presse and its American distributor willfully infringed upon Mr. Morel’s copyright of eight pictures he took of the 2010 Haiti earthquake and awarded him $1.22 million.
“During the earthquake, they were selling my for $45,” Mr. Morel said after the ruling. “This is wrong. Not only did these agencies steal the photos, but they were also giving them away.”
His photographs were originally posted on TwitPic, a website that allows users to put pictures on Twitter, by Mr. Morel hours after the earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010. It was then reposted by a Twitter user named Lisandro Suero, who claimed they were his. Agence France-Presse took the photos from TwitPic and distributed them to clients. Getty Images distributed the photos in the United States.
The photographs moved by Getty were used on NYTimes.com briefly that evening. The images also were used by The Washington Post, ABC, CBS and others who settled with Mr. Morel before Friday’s ruling.
John Lapham, general counsel for Getty Images, responded to the verdict Saturday morning in a phone interview.
“We’re disappointed with the damages,” he said. “And we understand that Mr. Morel’s pictures were miscredited, and that’s why we took the steps to pull the images and make corrections as soon as we were made aware. We’ve taken a lot of steps, at the time and since then, to improve and enhance our ingestion practice to best protect people’s copyright.”
Efforts to reach Agence France-Presse for comment on Saturday were unsuccessful.
Mr. Morel, who is 62 and lives in Port-au-Prince, was in Manhattan for the court case. His work from Haiti was featured on Lens on Jan. 27, 2010. After the ruling, he said he had pursued his case for four years “because someone had to fight for photographers.”
After he had objected to the use of his images, Agence France-Presse filed a suit against Mr. Morel seeking a judgment that the agency had not infringed upon his copyright and that instead he was interfering with its business practices. But Alison Nathan, a Federal judge, disagreed and ruled this year that Agence France-Presse and Getty had infringed on Mr. Morel’s copyright.
It was up to this jury to determine whether the infringement had been willful, and to decide the damages. The jury also found that Agence France-Presse and Getty had violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Originally, the agency argued that Twitter’s terms of service allowed them to use the images once they were posted. In January 2011, a Federal District Court judge ruled against the agency and said that it needed Mr. Morel’s permission to publish his photographs.
In a phone interview Friday night, Mickey Osterreicher, the general counsel to the National Press Photographers Association, said that the ruling reinforced photographers’ rights in the era of social media.
“Like anything of value, people need to ask permission, give credit and pay fair compensation for those images,” he said. “And when they don’t, photographers need to be able to stand up for their rights.”
He added: “This ruling is important because far too often we find that photographers don’t have the power to stand up to those that infringe with impunity. I hope that this sends a message, but in reality we need a cultural change so that once again photographs are valued.”