Jacko image sparks legal row

Jackson picture was taken by Splash photographer

Selling grabs of US TV pictures to UK newspapers has become big business for a handful of news agencies.

The practice is tolerated by US networks, who view it as good publicity, but it has landed agency World Entertainment News Network with a law suit after being accused of using the method to steal another agency’s pictures.

Los Angeles-based news and pictures agency Splash has filed a writ claiming breach of copyright against WENN over pictures of Michael Jackson on holiday in Aspen, Colorado.

Splash photographer Phil Penman took the pictures in February and they were subsequently sold to a variety of print and broadcast media. Splash alleges that WENN then took a screen grab of the picture when it was broadcast on a US TV programme called Extra and has since sold it as its own.

British-owned showbiz pictures agency Splash has offices across the US as does London-based WENN.

Splash joint-owner Kevin Smith said: “Basically, they have been taking video grabs off US television and selling the images to the UK papers, magazines and publications around the world.

“It is a practice which has become big business. But WENN is pretty reckless with it and has been grabbing other people’s images.

“Twice they have done it to us, without apology. So we filed suit in Los Angeles.”

He said of the Michael Jackson picture: “It was an important picture at the time for a couple of reasons. One, Jackson had admitted he was undergoing treatment for addiction to pain killers. Secondly, he had been pursued by police and ordered to remove his ski mask because they feared he was a robber.

“Needless to say, the picture was selling for a premium around the world. That was until WENN stole our pic, marked it as its own and started selling it around the world.

“Like most agencies, we do video grabs. There is a tacit agreement with TV shows that see it as free publicity.

But WENN has been riding roughshod and grabbing images which they clearly shouldn’t.”

WENN declined to comment.

By Dominic Ponsford

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