Photographer loses case against Met museum who used his photo without permission

Apr 7, 2021

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Photographer loses case against Met museum who used his photo without permission

Apr 7, 2021

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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When the Metropolitan Museum of Art set up an exhibition in 2019, they used a 1982 photo by photographer Lawrence Marano. The photographer claims that the Met stole it and filed a lawsuit against it. However, a panel of judges has ruled in favor of the museum, stating that it used the image “for educational purposes”

The image in question shows band Van Halen, and it was a part of the exhibition Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock and Roll. Artnet reports that the photographer sued the Met for copyright infringement that same year, but a U.S. district judge dismissed his lawsuit in July 2020. Back then, the judge ruled that Marano and his attorney “failed to show why the Met’s use of [the image] is not protected by the fair use exception.” The judge claimed that the image was used for educational purposes, so it didn’t violate copyright law.

After this, Marano appealed the judge’s decision. However, a panel of judges in New York’s Second Circuit court only upheld the previous ruling.

“Whereas Marano’s stated purpose in creating the photo was to show ‘what Van Halen looks like in performance,’ the Met exhibition highlights the unique design of the Frankenstein guitar and its significance in the development of rock n’ roll instruments.”

The three judges added that the Met using the image couldn’t “in any way impair any other market for commercial use of the photo, or diminish its value.”

The Met’s attorney Linda Steinman said in a statement:

“The Second Circuit’s decision in the Marano case is an important one recognizing that museums, as cultural institutions, have the freedom to use photographs that are historical artifacts to enrich their presentation of art objects to the public.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art values the contributions of all artists, including photographers, and also appreciates that fair use is a key tool for the visual arts community.

The mission of the Met and all museums is to provide the public with access to art—and this important decision protects, indeed strengthens, this important societal role.”

Sure, using images for educational purposes does fall under fair use. But as far as I know, it applies to using images in a classroom, as a part of a slide show for instance. At least that’s how I learned. It sounds like the Met Museum found a loophole in the copyright law and used it to its advantage. I personally don’t think that using someone’s photo without permission, in an exhibition that you charge, is fair use. But I’m not a lawyer nor a copyright expert, that’s just my opinion based on what I know about this matter.

What do you think, who’s in the right here? Does the Met’s use of Marano’s photo fall under fair use?

[via PetaPixel; image credits: Asylum7830, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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15 responses to “Photographer loses case against Met museum who used his photo without permission”

  1. Tunes Firwood Avatar
    Tunes Firwood

    Copyright has a purpose, and that purpose is not served by preventing educational use of an image.

    1. Rickey J. Farmer Sr. Avatar
      Rickey J. Farmer Sr.

      Tunes Firwood nothing was prevented. That is the issue, permission was not requested for the use the museum planned. If it costs a dime to get into the museum then there is an issue, not providing a citation or reference of the author of the copyrighted material is another issue. My question is why did they not ask the owner, if they had this would not be an issue.

    2. Tunes Firwood Avatar
      Tunes Firwood

      Rickey: you miss the point – permission is not required. Copyright is not an absolute or human right: it is a social construct with a specific purpose, and protections *only* to support that purpose.

      IP owners like to pretend that copyright is a natural thing, but in actuality it is more akin to a contract. The museum isn’t subject to that contract.

  2. J Michael Walker Avatar
    J Michael Walker

    Did they charge for admission to see the exhibit? If so then the photographer should be compensated.

    1. Jolyon Ralph Avatar
      Jolyon Ralph

      J Michael Walker No-one was personally profiting from use of this image, the Met is a non-profit organization. As the court has confirmed this comes under ‘fair use’ rules.

  3. Camera operator Hong Kong Avatar
    Camera operator Hong Kong

    So if I’m a writer for education purpose book, I can take any picture I found online to illustrate my book?
    What about my education purpose blog?

  4. Jolyon Ralph Avatar
    Jolyon Ralph

    The image was used in a small and specific way within a much broader exhibition, and in this case I think that it’s important for the protection of the fair use policy by everyone that the rule was confirmed.

    And before fellow photographers get too upset about the idea of ‘fair use’ remember that it only applies in a very specifically limited set of circumstances. It’s not a ‘get out of jail free’ card for copyright abuse.

    I suspect most people who are angry about this don’t understand the specific reasons why ‘fair use’ exists under US law.

    1. Tunes Firwood Avatar
      Tunes Firwood

      Most people don’t understand why *copyright* exists.

  5. Cindy Wood Avatar
    Cindy Wood

    I don’t think it’s a fair law.

  6. James E Weaver Avatar
    James E Weaver

    One question not answered by the judge: Did the Met give the photographer due attribution?

  7. John Beatty Avatar
    John Beatty

    I understand the “fair use” of things. The MET should have contacted the photographer for permission. If you think the MET made no financial gain on this you are living in a cave. Do they have a gift shop, sell food, have exhibits that require a fee to see. They used his work to get people in there. I have given permission for a company and gallery to use my work, because they asked.

      1. Martín Paredes Avatar
        Martín Paredes
  8. ABerCul Avatar
    ABerCul

    It’s legal BUT if the photographer asked THE MET MUSEUM to remove the photo then why not just remove the photo? This may be free advertising but it’s NOT in The Mets favor at all. The Met Museum vs a person doesn’t seem very fair. Feels like you are just taking it. I guess you haven’t learned from your past mistakes! Shame
    I do love The Met but just take it down because winning doesn’t win you more visitors. This whole situation should have never even gone past the first contact from photographer requesting the pic removal. As the bigger guy you should have just taken it down!

  9. Rickey J. Farmer Sr. Avatar
    Rickey J. Farmer Sr.

    A copyright does not prevent an educational use of the image, if permission from the owner is received. Independent use of a copyrighted photo, which is one that is owned when taken, without permission from the owner is the issue. Educational or not, permission should be required before use by any entity and should include a citation for the owner. Anything less is an assualt upon the copyright process and the owners of the photograph. This needs to go a little farther up the justice chain,.