Two recent cases illustrate how law and even Constitutional law can be perverted toward indefensible ends if compliance is the only objective, and ethics are left out of the equation. The first case comes to us from Texas, University. of Houston System .v.Jim Olive Photography.
Houston photographer Jim Olive discovered during an online check of his copyrighted works that the University of Houston had appropriated one of his photographs and was using it extensively in its web and print promotional materials. It was an overhead, aerial image of the City of Houston at dusk in 2005 that Olive went to great expense and effort to produce. He rented a helicopter, hired a pilot, and utilizing special photography equipment, suspended himself from the helicopter with a harness.
The university admired it, and found the shot ideal for its purposes, so it downloaded the photo from Olive’s stock library, removed the copyright markings, and did not credit him when they used it. Olive sent the school a take-down letter and a bill, and the university refused to pay. Then he sued, but the university responded that it has sovereign immunity, and can’t be sued, because he isn’t a citizen of Texas. The Eleventh Amendment reads in part,
The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.
The photographer had no right to sue under the U.S. Constitution unless the school waived its sovereign immunity or the act of using the photograph constituted a “taking” of property, the University’s lawyers argued. When the trial court sided with Olive, the University appealed.
The Court of Appeals has ruled against Olive, declaring that the school’s actions wasn’t a “taking.” Not only can’t Oliver sue to be paid for the use of his photograph, he will have to pay the university’s legal costs.
“It just doesn’t seem fair to me,” says Olive. I’d say his instinct is accurate, but this is the law: fairness is beside the point. To make the ruling even more disturbing from an ethics perspective, the University has a page on its site directing readers to report copyright infringements – and also to request permission to use UH intellectual property, like the photograph it stole from Jim Olive,
Nice. Continue reading