Photo credit: David Monack/Wikimedia

Sign up for our free newsletter

Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.

Late last week, the Newseum—the museum dedicated to documenting the history of journalism and the First Amendment—found itself at the ire of journalists because of its plans to host a lavish, expensive party for a “man who despises journalists.” Now, the Newseum once again finds itself at odds with the journalism community, albeit for different reasons: Copyright infringement. 

According to a lawsuit filed yesterday with the District Court, the Newseum is being sued for allegedly violating a copyright authorization contract of a prominent 9/11 photo shot by Richmond, Va.-based photographer Khue Bui. Bui, whose work was part of the Associated Press’s 1999 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Photography for its coverage of President Bill Clinton‘s impeachment, was employed as Newsweek‘s White House correspondent on Sept. 11, 2001 and was aboard Air Force One when news broke of the terrorist attacks. He took a photo of then-AP correspondent Sonya Ross, hands clasped over her mouth in horror upon learning the news, which the Newseum sought authorization to display in 2007. 

The lawsuit states that Bui “agreed to an extremely limited authorization,” that basically states the image will only be displayed in a “permanent exhibit on 9-11 attacks,” specifically “in a porcelain railing surrounding broadcast tower from World Trade Center.” And just in case that isn’t clear enough, the contract also states that “only the Newseum has permission for use of image(s) only in the specific capacity mentioned above,” “no electronic rights,” “no archive,” and—this one is important—”the image(s) may NOT be lifted out of the porcelain railing for us in other projects.” 

Turns out, the Newseum did just that, by publicly displaying the Ross photo in a public program that was broadcasted on YouTube. “In flagrant violation of the Contract, and without notice to or authorization by Mr. Bui,” the lawsuit states, “the Newseum subsequently a) archived the Ross Photo; b) prominently displayed the Ross Photo at, at least, a public program at the Newseum; and c) electronically transmitted a recording of that program, including its prominent display of the Ross Photo, to, at least, YouTube, for permanent and perpetual viewing for all to see.” 

Each of those violations, according to the 2007 contract, carries a $25,000 fine. Here’s a statement from the Newseum about the lawsuit: “The Newseum has a long history of championing the work and telling the story of the brave men and women who reported the story of 9/11. The Newseum was informed of the lawsuit yesterday and is looking into the allegations.”

You can read the full lawsuit below: 

Newseum Suit by Matt Cohen on Scribd