Helicopter news service wins copyright damages over Denny tape
CALIFORNIA–In early October, a federal District Court judge in Los Angeles awarded $60,000 in statutory damages to a news service whose tapes of the Los Angeles riots were copied overseas without authorization.
The court found the news service could not collect damages under U.S. copyright law for the dubbing and duplication that occurred overseas, which was the primary claim in the suit. The only infringement for which they could collect damages was the copying of the broadcast for internal purposes by Visnews International (USA), Ltd., which was later taken over by Reuters Television International, Ltd. In addition, they could only recover “statutory damages” — those specified in the copyright law — not actual damages such as loss of potential income.
Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw concluded that Bob and Marika Tur’s creation of videotape footage “is of great public benefit and should be encouraged. … The Turs must be allowed to profit from them, without the concern that … the very nature of the fast-breaking news gathering business will deprive them of potential profits from those works.”
On April 29, 1992, the Turs, who own and operate the Los Angeles News Service (LANS), were filming footage of the Los Angeles riots from their helicopter and captured the now-famous Reginald Denny beating on videotape.
LANS was under contract to a Los Angeles affiliate, KCOP Television, to provide live broadcasts, but, as part of the contract, the Turs retained ownership of the copyrighted videotapes they provided. During the riots, the station aired live footage that the Turs provided. At the time, the Turs also agreed to grant limited licenses to broadcast their footage to the National Broadcasting Company and the American Broadcasting Company.
On April 30, 1992, the Turs’ video was transmitted by fiber link to Visnews, which then made an unauthorized copy of the videotape for the European Broadcast Union. Representatives of Visnews maintained that they did not know that there was a “restricted use” clause to the tape, and therefore could not have known about the potential for copyright infringement. (Los Angeles News Service v. Reuters Television International, Ltd.; LANS Counsel: William Bergen, Auburn, Calif.)