Sarah-Ji Rhee, a local photographer, says that Ald. Joe Moore used her photo without permission. [Facebook/ Sarah Ji Rhee]

By Jonathan Ballew, Block Club Chicago

A local photographer and a Los Angeles-based photojournalist are accusing Ald. Joe Moore (49th) of using their photos on campaign mailers without permission — but Moore’s campaign contends they did nothing wrong.

On Friday, photographer Sarah-Ji Rhee accused Moore and his campaign of stealing her photo for a campaign mailer in a Rogers Park Facebook group. She called it the most “egregious violation of professional courtesy” she’s experienced as a photographer.

“Being the incompetent scoundrels that they are, they actually mailed me a copy,” she wrote in the Facebook post.

Demanding a public apology from Moore, Rhee says she will be sending the alderman an invoice for using her photo. As an artist who supports Moore’s challenger, Maria Hadden, Rhee said she never would have granted Moore permission to use the photo.

Photographer Rhee said the photo in question was uploaded to Flickr, an online photo-sharing site, with an “attribution non-commercial” Creative Commons license, which would allow a third-party to use the photo for a non-commercial use with credit to the photographer. But she was never credited in the mailer.

Moore’s campaign insist the photo was fair game — and they are standing by the use of the photo in the mailer.

“We stand by the use of the photo. It’s widely available in the public domain without accreditation,” said Moore’s campaign manager, Ben Donovan. Donavan said their camp found the photo through a Google search.

And on Wednesday, a second photographer, Emile Wamsteker, based in Los Angeles, also accused Moore’s campaign of using his photo of cops interacting with children without permission. A professional photojournalist for more than 25 years, Wamsteker said he retains the exclusive rights to the image and no one from the campaign asked him to use the photo.

“At no time did I authorize Mr. Moore to use the image, nor was I ever contacted by him or anyone on his campaign staff about using it in his campaign materials,” he said.

Erik Wamsteker’s photo of two Los Angeles police officers used in Ald. Moore’s campaign mailer. [Facebook]

Wamsteker shot the image of the police officers for Govering Magazine — a trade publication. Both officers in the photo used on the campaign mailer are cops with the Los Angeles Police Department — not the Chicago Police.

Moore’s campaign reprinted the photo next to the words: “Alderman Joe Moore gets it done.” In response to Wamsteker’s claim, Moore spokesman Donovan said the campaign would not be commenting further.

“We are ready to move on to other more important stories involving this race,” Donavan previously said.

Photo attribution in question

According to licensing rules on Flickr, where Rhee’s photo was posted, the party using the photo is free to share the photo for a non-commercial use, which Flickr describes as the ability for non-commercial users to “copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format” and adapt the photo, which Flickr describes as the ability to “remix, transform, and build upon the material.”

But the license rules also specify that the photographer must be credited by name with a link to the license. “You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use,” the website explains.

Rhee’s photo wasn’t credited or “attributed” to her on the flyer, in accordance to the license rules.

“If [Moore’s] people had gone through the proper channels and messaged me to ask how I wanted to be attributed, I would have flat out refused to allow them to use my photo,” she said.

After seeing her photo in Moore’s campaign flyer, Rhee changed the licensing of the photo to “all rights reserved.”

Daliah Saper, an attorney who specializes in intellectual property and social media law, said the case is “an interesting one.” She does not represent either party.

Whether Moore could use the photo comes down to the meaning of the legal term “Fair Use,” she said. Essentially, there is no black-and-white definition of fair use. If the case went to court, a judge would look at all the mitigating factors to decide if using a photo without permission is acceptable.

The alderman’s campaign could argue that the political flyer uses part of the original photograph to comment on a politician’s platform and political priorities, Saper said.

Meanwhile, the photographer would likely argue that the purpose of the original photograph was to capture the public’s demand for accountability and that the flyer doesn’t change the photo’s intended purpose.

“I think the photographer may have a slightly better position, if you are in a position where you have to argue Fair Use, you have the bigger hurdle to overcome,” Saper said.

Saper also said Rhee could argue that Moore’s campaign would have to ask for permission to use the photo for any non-commercial use. But whether a campaign mailer counts as a commercial use could be disputed, the attorney said.

Moore’s opponent in the February election, Hadden, said using the image is “particularly offensive” as artists are an integral part of the community.

“Sarah-Ji Rhee is a prominent movement photographer and typically offers her photographic talents in support of those efforts,” she said.

Rhee operates a professional photography website called “Love + Struggle Photos” and has been documenting grassroots organizing for almost a decade in Chicago.

Although Rhee has never worked for Hadden’s campaign in any official capacity, she volunteered her photography services for a fundraiser, Hadden said.

Photographer Wamsteker said he does not plan to pursue legal action at this time, but he is planning on reaching out to Moore directly.

Rhee said that she hopes to avoid pursuing legal action but aims to weigh her options with an attorney.

“I feel like I should receive payment though, because they already sent out the mailer. It’s not like they can take it back,” she said. “Any professional photographer would say the same thing.”

Rhee said the subject of the photo is her friend, who also opposes Moore.

“She would be horrified to know she appeared on a Joe Moore mailing,” she said.