Michael Yon is an amazing man.
A former Green Beret, he has placed himself at the forefront of the media revolution. He is literally a one-man media outlet, a blogger who pays his own way (through other incomes and donations) to go to Iraq and write back dispatches from the front lines. He works for no one, and no one works for him. There is absolutely no filtering, no editing, no censoring of his raw observations.
He’s also an amazing photographer, as well as a superb obsever and writer. His picture of an American soldier cradling an Iraqi girl fatally wounded in a terrorist attack has almost become the image of the fighting in Iraq, on its way to becoming the equivalent of the firefighters hoisting the flag on 9/11, or the naked Vietnamese girl running away from the napalm, or the Marines raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi. It’s that powerful.
And there’s the rub.
Yon granted the Army permission to reprint the photo for its internal use. Instead, the Army sent it around the world, and it ended up getting printed nearly everywhere — without Yon’s permission.
The Army’s defense of this particularly egregious act of piracy is truly offensive. They bring up the waiver Yon signed where he held the Army blameless for any harm that might befall him in Iraq. They say that this “hold harmless” waiver includes financial harm, should the Army trample all over his copyright.
The law, as I understand it, is simple. Any creative work — including a photograph — is copyrighted by the creator the instant it is created, unless steps are taken in advance. The Army is not disputing his ownership of the image, merely saying that they can do whatever they want to Yon with utter impunity. And getting ripped off by the Army is just one of the many risks he accepted when he signed that waiver.
Now, it’s arguable whether Yon should give up the copyright on the photo, or assign its proceeds to some cause. But he is under absolutely no obligation to do so. The photograph is his, and the rights to it are his and his alone to grant or deny. Personally, considering the risk and work he’s put into taking that photo and all his other fine works, I have no problem at all with him profiting from his works.
And the Army, at the least, owes Mr. Yon an apology and should stop spreading his photo beyond the scope he granted them.