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Navy SEALs Sue AP Over Detainee Photos

Navy SEALs Sue AP Over Iraq Prisoner Photos, Claim Privacy Violation, Endangerment of Servicemen

The Associated Press | March 22, 2005
By ROBERT JABLON

A federal lawsuit filed by several Navy SEALs and the wife of a special forces member claims The Associated Press violated copyright and privacy laws and endangered the servicemen's lives by publishing photographs of them with Iraqi prisoners.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in San Diego, seeks unspecified damages. It also asks the court to bar the AP from further use of the photos and to require the news agency to protect the SEALs' identities.

It replaces a lawsuit filed in state court in December to add the federal copyright infringement allegations, said plaintiffs' attorney James W. Huston.

"The claims are just as groundless in federal court as they were in state court," Dave Tomlin, the news cooperative's assistant general counsel, said in a statement. "The pictures are of obvious public interest. AP obtained them in a completely proper way and was right to publish them."

The photos, distributed worldwide with a Dec. 3 story, appear to show the servicemen in Iraq sitting on hooded and handcuffed detainees and also what appear to be bloodied prisoners one with a gun to his head.

The story said the Navy had launched a formal investigation into the photographs after being shown them by an AP reporter, adding the photos did not necessarily depict any illegal activities.

The AP later reported the Navy's preliminary findings showed most of the 15 photos transmitted by the agency were taken for legitimate intelligence-gathering purposes and showed commandos using approved procedures.

"The publication of the photographs has endangered the lives of the Navy SEALs, some of whom are currently serving in Iraq and others who are expected to return there," the lawsuit contended.

The original AP story said the photographs were found on a commercial photo-sharing Web site, Smugmug.com, and were brought back from Iraq by the husband of a woman who was keeping them in a digital photo album there.

The lawsuit said another SEAL took the photographs.

According to the lawsuit, the woman incorrectly believed the nearly 1,800 photos she posted on the Internet site were protected from access by unauthorized users and required a password to view.

The lawsuit contends that the AP and writer Seth Hettena violated the woman's privacy and also the copyright of the photographer by using the photos without permission. The photos weren't formally copyrighted at the time; some were later registered.

Huston claims that under federal law any photograph in "recognizable form" is considered copyrighted, even if it is never published or formally registered.

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