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Hearst Facing Trial Over Photo of Trump Crashing a Wedding

By George Khoury, Esq. on December 14, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When President Donald Trump crashes a wedding, even at own of his own golf courses, even in New Jersey, it's "news." And when things start trending or going viral on social media, online publishers are always eager to jump on the bandwagon chasing after those clicks and views, which translates into revenue.

Unfortunately for "news" publishers, using a photo sourced from social media may be getting a little bit trickier due to one wedding attendee's claim to fame, or perhaps more accurately, his copyright. The recent case against Hearst was filed by a wedding attendee at one of Trump's golf courses in New Jersey, whose photo, which was posted on social media by someone else, ended up being republished by Hearst and other big sources.

Only Hearst Remains

Interestingly, Jonathan Otto, the picture taker (aka amateur IPhone photographer), sent the picture of Trump crashing the wedding he was attending to one other attendee. The next day, his photo was online on multiple sites. He immediately reached out to the other attendee to inquire about it, and he also sought immediate legal counsel, to register his copyright, and even contacted one of the publishers (TMZ).

Otto filed suit against Hearst and four others, and all but Hearst have settled out. Reportedly, one of the agreements actually includes a retroactive licensing agreement. But Hearst insisted and pursued summary judgment on the theory that their use of the image fell under the fair use doctrine.

But the court was not convinced, ruling against Hearst, allowing the matter to proceed to trial. The court found that balancing all the factors, it seemed to weigh heavily in the plaintiff's favor that Hearst did not engage in fair use.

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