A US jury on Friday awarded a Haitian photographer $1.22 million in damages after ruling that Agence France-Presse (AFP) and its US partner Getty Images willfully infringed his copyright in 2010.
The seven-member jury took five hours to reach a unanimous verdict against AFP and Getty Images over Daniel Morel's pictures of the January 12, 2010 Haiti earthquake that killed 250,000 people.
AFP obtained Morel's eight photographs from the TwitPic account of a certain Lisandro Suero who had posted them on his own feed without crediting Morel or providing any restrictions on their use.
Morel turned around to give his supporters a thumbs up after the verdict was read out by US District Judge Alison Nathan in a Manhattan courtroom following a nearly four-year legal battle.
"I feel good. I hope that never happens again to any of us. This is a victory for all artists, for all copyright holders," Morel told AFP.
Morel's lawyer Joseph Baio said he was "delighted" with the verdict.
Nathan had ruled in January that AFP and Getty Images had infringed Morel's copyright, and limited the amount of damages that Morel could receive.
It was down to the jury at the seven-day trial to determine whether that infringement was willful or innocent and to determine the amount of damages Morel could recover.
They concluded that it was willful and accorded Morel $1.2 million in damages for the copyright infringement.
The jury also determined that AFP and Getty violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and awarded Morel an extra $20,000.
All parties reserve the right to appeal.
Defense lawyer Joshua Kaufman had argued that AFP had acted unintentionally and did everything to make amends, trying to contact Morel and buy his photographs at the time.
When AFP realized that Morel was the actual photographer, the agency sent out a caption correction notifying its subscribers that Morel was the author of the photographs.
When informed by the Corbis photo agency that it had exclusive rights to the Morel images, AFP and Getty Images removed them from their databases and issued a "mandatory kill" informing clients that they were not to use the photos.