I enjoy taking photographs. The entire process feeds my soul. What I do with those photographs is up to me alone. Some I delete, some are shared freely with friends, and others are sold. Their greatest value, though, is that they remain mine and nobody can reproduce them without my permission. They are my “intellectual property.”
Matt Halverson is a highly respected professional photographer. In 2005 he created a beautiful composite photograph of Mount Rushmore and published it with “Matt Halverson Photography” in the photo’s lower right-hand corner. This ensured, at the very least, that any reproduction would contain proper attribution.
The past Independence Day, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem ridiculed President Biden for not having fireworks at Mount Rushmore and tweeted side-by-side photos. One of these showed Mount Rushmore fireworks under former president Trump which she captioned “Trump’s America”; the other, sparklers under President Biden.
Putting her snark aside, the problem is that she lied about the Trump fireworks photo. It was in fact Halverson’s photo, taken during the Obama administration. The lie was compounded by cropping Halverson’s photo to remove attribution.
Once the lie and misrepresentation came to light, photographers were livid and rightly so. If someone used my photograph for their own political purposes (and even lied about when the shot was taken), my reaction could well be to sue. MY problem is that the legal cost of enforcing my intellectual property rights has traditionally been exorbitant and time-consuming.
Here comes the ironic part. In December of 2020, then-president Trump signed the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2020 (CASE Act), The CASE Act created the equivalent of a Small Claims Court for copyright infringement. As is the case in all small claims matters, the money damages you can recover are limited. Here it is $30,000.
So, should he decide to do so, Halverson will be able to sue Noem for copyright infringement under streamlined Trump administration rules concerning a photograph that purportedly showed “Trump’s America.”