Firstview.com the largest and best known fashion photo site on the web has been in a legal battle with the French fashion establishment for over two years. Jointly owned by photographers Don Ashby and Marcio Madeira, Firstview photographers shoot all of the top fashion shows from Paris, Milan, London, New York, and other fashion capitals for such clients as Style.com, Ralph Lauren, Prada as well as for the Firstview.com. The site provides a searchable database of thousands of current and past seasons’ runway images for its paying subscribers and provides free access to all users to past seasons’ collections.
Three Firstview photographers were first arrested on March 13th 2003 after the Chanel show and charged with “counterfeit by distribution or representation of intellectual property in violation of copyright for acts committed from March 6-March 10 2003” in Paris at the fashion shows. According to the State of France’s original complaint that led to subsequent arrest (and two days in jail) of photographers Don Ashby, Marcio Madeira and freelance photographer Olivier Claisse, the three had no authorization from designers to sell photographs from the fashion shows. According to French laws, all rights of such pictures belong to the designers, and not exclusively to the photographers as in the US laws.
Francoise Benhamou, the head of judicial affairs and intellectual property at the French Fashion Federation, said at the time that an “illicit traffic” of photographs for profit upset the federation and some of its largest members”. Didier Grumbach, head of the federation, explained in an interview to French radio “Europe 1” that the problem was the selling of the pictures, not the journalistic process itself. “They (Firstview photographers) claim to be working for the Vogue site, and then they sell the pictures on their own pirate site” (Firstview.com), he said.
A similar complaint was filled two years earlier against the site, but after the judicial process, the US authorities refused to arrest the owners. French authorities therefore waited for their presence on the French soil.
On June 17, 2005 after several years of litigation the French Criminal Court found all three Firstview photographers innocent of all criminal charges brought against them by the State of France acting for members of the French Fashion Federation. The court found that the Firstview photographers shared with the designers intellectual property rights over the use of the said photographs and Firstview photographers (and all other photographers shooting the shows) had a right without prior authorization from the fashion houses to benefit by reselling images that are — again — the shared creative property of both the photographer and the designer.
The Court’s decision is important in that it gives photographers in Paris for the first time equal rights with designers over the use of photographs taken at the shows. However, most photographers seeking official credentials and badges from Chambre Syndicale, the main governing body of French fashion, are still required to sign agreements that essentially take publication and resale rights out of the hands of the photographer. But Firstview photographers do not sign any agreements with Chambre Syndicale and they instead go directly to each fashion house for permission to shoot their show.
The case is on appeal…