Trayvon Martin CASE

Businesses cash in on Trayvon Inc.

 

A photographer seeking compensation for a picture she took of Trayvon Martin shows how in times of tragedy, many people and companies end up profiting.

frobles@MiamiHerald.com

An iconic photograph of a young Trayvon Martin in his Bulldogs football uniform, staring stone-faced into the camera, has been published in print and online around the world.

The Optimist Club team photographer, Lucricia Woodside of North Miami, owns the copyright to the picture and never authorized its use. Now she is a member of a growing number of entrepreneurs, artists and even some opportunists who have found ways to cash in on a new cottage industry.

Call it Trayvon Inc.

Woodside’s attorney sent letters earlier this month to news organizations and bloggers advising that after the teen’s death, her company, Photos “R” Us, registered the photo’s copyright, and anyone who published it owes her license fees. She seeks $500 from those who published the picture before she registered the copyright and $750 for those who ran it afterward. The lawyer identified at least 300 unauthorized uses of the photo, which was clearly marked as belonging to Photos “R” Us.

Woodside’s attempt to collect demonstrates how in times of tragedy, many people and companies often wind up profiting. From sales of T-shirts to books and controversial hoodie-themed gun-range targets, the killing of an unarmed Miami Gardens teenager stands to make some people, if not rich, at least better off.

Even Trayvon’s parents were criticized for collecting donations and registering trademarks on phrases such as “I am Trayvon.”

“I don’t think it’s exploitive,” said M.J. Bogatin, the photographer’s attorney. “She got, quote-unquote, lucky. What happened to Trayvon is outrageous. If the residuals belong to her as a photographer, I see no moral implications at all.”

‘FREE FOR ALL’

The latest to capitalize on the case was George Zimmerman’s best friend, Mark Osterman, who wrote a book about the case but said he said did not collect an advance.

And after Zimmerman raised more than $200,000 from strangers, his parents launched a website — robertandgladys.com — that seeks contributions from the public. Zimmerman’s attorney had already done the same so he could get paid.

In the height of the controversy, websites popped up selling everything from Trayvon hoodies to T-shirts, bracelets and Skittles — the candies Trayvon was carrying when Zimmerman shot him during a scuffle.

At least two websites are dedicated to selling Trayvon-related clothes. Dean Gonzalez, owner of one of them, trayvonmartinshirts.com, said that he sold 100 T-shirts and hoodies and donated most of the proceeds to the foundation created in the slain teen’s name.

“I’m not an opportunist. If I was an opportunist, I’d be playing both sides of the fence selling Zimmerman T-shirts too,” said Gonzalez, a Miami music producer. “My father was murdered, and the killer was never charged. For me, this is a really sad case that really strikes a nerve.”

Despite what he called the “free for all” he saw in T-shirt sales at rallies, Gonzalez says he was contacted by someone representing the Justice For Trayvon Martin Foundation, who asked him to stop using a particular copyrighted image. The warehouse that distributes Gonzalez’s shirts also called him and wondered whether they were stepping into murky legal territory.

“I went to the rally in Miami and brought a lot of people with me,” Gonzalez said. “This was something I felt really strongly about. I don’t have to defend myself. It wasn’t even lucrative.”

Hank Loyd of North Carolina registered several domain names hoping someone would fork over $25,000 for websites such as trayvonmartinfund.com.

“I saw a business opportunity that might take my family ahead, and that’s what I did,” said Loyd, who paid $5 each for three Trayvon domain names. “That’s probably a quarter-million-dollar website. It’s not now, but it was the day after it happened. I guess if the parents wanted it, I’d give it to them. If anyone else wants it, I’d sell it.

“I do have some scruples.”

He says he would settle for selling the domains for $10,000.

One of Loyd’s websites features Woodside’s now-famous photo.

Woodside, saying she did not want to detract from the importance of Trayvon’s story, referred calls for comment to her California-based attorney, Bogatin.

Bogatin stressed that photographers are artists who earn a living off of the sales of their work. Woodside, he said, is a member of the African-American business community in North Dade who is just trying to protect the rights to her intellectual property.

“If [Trayvon] had become a star, there would be no less or more moral obligation to treat it differently,” he said.

Bogatin said he sent cease-and-desist letters to publications such as the Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Mail of London and the Huffington Post. (The Miami Herald, which did not use the photo at the time but has purchased it for publication now, was not among them.)

Bogatin said he learned that the vast majority of newspapers and websites got the picture from Reuters, a British news agency. A spokeswoman for Reuters said that the agency is in negotiations with Woodside to pay her a freelance rate for the use of her picture.

Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Trayvon’s parents, stressed that the parents were in no way behind the photographer’s demands.

“We are not trying to stop anyone from publishing Trayvon’s picture,” Crump said. “On the contrary: The more coverage the case gets, the more it helps. We in no way take justice in this case for granted.”

The parents were the ones who provided the pictures to the media, Crump said, and he suggested that they were unpleasantly surprised at the photographer’s ownership claim. Trayvon’s parents “have not tried to make money off this, and don’t want to see anyone else do it either,” he said.

‘PREDATORS’

“It’s extremely disturbing,” Trayvon’s uncle, Ronald Fulton, said about the photo, the pro-Zimmerman book and other money-making enterprises. “There are predators out there trying to make money. They see Trayvon’s death as a way of making money. Instead of proceeds going to something positive, they’re doing it for themselves.”

Orlando attorney Kimra Major-Morris, who filed the family’s trademark paperwork, said she doubts the photographer will succeed, because news organizations can claim a right to use the photo under a “fair use” clause in copyright law.

She said the Justice for Trayvon Martin Foundation raised some funds by selling Trayvon shirts, but she was not sure how much. She sent out a batch of cease-and-desist letters on the foundation’s behalf to companies selling unauthorized merchandise, but she did not stay on top of it.

“This is not the parents’ first priority,” she said.

She admits she took a “lot of heat” for registering Trayvon’s trademark from critics who saw it as a money-making scheme by parents who sought to profit from the death of their son. But the lawyers said they did it to fend off entrepreneurs who were using the case to sell offensive shirts or to falsely claim that they were raising money for the family’s criminal justice and advocacy foundation.

“We didn’t have a problem with T-shirts that had social messages. We saw that like waving a sign,” said Orlando attorney Natalie Jackson, another attorney in the firm that handled the trademark registry. “Some of the shirts said things like, ‘Get Zimmerman!’ and that was not our message.

“That was never our message.”

Read more Zimmerman Case stories from the Miami Herald

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