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Court Orders Corbis to Pay Close to $1 Million to Two Photographers for Lost Images

Corbis must now pay up in the order of $800,000-plus in damages for losing the slides of two prominent photographers, according to a New York U.S. District Court.

Corbis Corp. has been tied up in court since 2005 over claims that it lost more than 50,000 images of photographers Chris Usher and Arthur Grace.

While Usher was awarded $157,121 in Feb. for the loss of 12,640 of his images, Grace appealed a judgement by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York because he was dissatified with the award amount.

The appeal was argued in the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, on October 30, 2006 against Corbis-Sygma (Corbis bought Sygma in 1999) and was decided on May 25, 2007. The appeal stated "Sygma had no adequate means of tracking the inventory of images entrusted to it by any of the photographers it represented." It challenged the court to "develop and apply an appropriate arrive at a reasonable assessment of damages." Damages, it said, could be calculated by assigning a value to each image and multiplying that by the number of lost images.

Grace had entered into an agent arrangement with Sygma, a French News Agency, in early 1974. In a letter dated May 10, 2001, he notified Sygma that he was terminating his relationship and requested the return of all images from 1972 to present.

The appeal pointed out the "uniqueness" of the photographs, difficulty of replication and the fact that Grace cannot enjoy them any longer.

The monetary amount of $667,685 was awarded on Jan. 30 for the loss of a "noncontested" 45,000 images. This up from the previous $472,000 judgement for damages.

The awards were the court's estimates of the income the images would have generated had they not been lost. Grace served as a White House photo correspondent for Time from 1978-1980. One of his photographs, published in the New York Times, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He also covered celebrities, major news events, and sports during the 70s, 80s and 90s.

The dispute was not over whether images were lost, but over the value to be awarded Grace. Orginally seeking $100 million for the loss of 67,000 images, Corbis said the number lost and their value was lower.

In late 2005, the court estimated that 40,000 images were lost and set damages at $472,000. The trial court's arrival at $677,685 consisted of $300,960 for lost income in the past, $237,728 for interest on that amount, and $138,966 for lost income in the future.

The calculations for the lost income were based upon an estimate of what the images were generating annually before they were lost and their "uniqueness."

The same court set damages for Usher's transparencies at $100,000 for past and future lost income and $57,000 in interest on income lost in the past.

"After nearly a decade of litigating lost image cases against Corbis on behalf of photographers, we have yet to hear an explanation or excuse for any loss of any image by Corbis," Usher's lawyer Edward C. Greenberg told the National Press Photographers Association in November 2007. "The court found that fully 25%, or one in every four historical or photojournalistic images entrusted to Corbis by Usher, were lost by Corbis."

Another filing in the Supreme Court of the State of New York claims Corbis lost transparencies of photographer and author Michael Grecco.That case was settled in 2000.

Check out the Eyeopeners blog entry on the same issue at