The damning video that showed black South Carolina man Walter Scott fatally shot by a white police officer led to a murder charge for 33-year-old Michael Slager. News outlets, however, will now have to pay up for that piece of citizen journalism, according to a representative of Feidin Santana, who filmed the Walter Scott shooting video. Cease-and-desist letters were sent to various news agencies on Thursday that requested they pay licensing fees to continue running the viral video. The New York Times reported the fees amounted to $10,000.
Max Markson, of Australian licensing and publicity firm Markson Sparks, tells Bustle he sent letters on behalf of Santana at the request of lawyer Todd Rutherford. Markson declined to disclose the number of letters sent or the specific terms of the license agreements but said fees would vary depending on the length of footage licensed, the period of time it's used, and in what countries the video will air. He confirmed letters were sent to news agencies such as the Times and BuzzFeed, both of which continued to host Santana's video on their sites as of early Friday morning. In its story, the Times said it did not receive a letter, because the video was used with the Scott family's permission. The Times has not responded to Bustle's request for comment as of Friday.
News outlets are legally allowed to use copyrighted material so long as the content is considered newsworthy and won't be for commercial use. What's tricky is there's no clear legal definition of when something is or isn't newsworthy. The shooting took place April 4, and Santana's video surfaced last Thursday. You could argue increased racial tensions with authorities and police violence protests have kept Scott and Santana's video very much in the national conversation. But to Markson, the time for fair use is over.
It was newsworthy when it was first out there. Now if you want to use it coming up, you need to pay for it. It doesn’t belong to anyone else. It belongs to Feidin Santana. He took the footage.
In its story, the Times said the fee announcement appeared to surprise Santana. According to the newspaper, Santana said he remembered Rutherford had mentioned possibly charging for the video, but the 23-year-old claimed he did not understand. Rutherford told the Times, "The search for justice is served by turning the video over to law enforcement," and his client deserved to be paid for something that benefited news companies, which he said appeared to be in the "search for revenue."
The video was first released by Scott's family, days after the shooting took place in North Charleston, South Carolina. The family kept Santana's identity a secret until he stepped out and confirmed he filmed the shooting with a cellphone camera. Despite concerns over his safety, Santana said in a NBC News interview he felt compelled to speak up and share his eyewitness account after he heard and disagreed with Slager's claims. Slager had reported he felt threatened after Scott allegedly reached for his Taser.
The Times story said Scott's family did not have a problem with him getting some financial gain. That graphic video, which showed Slager shooting multiple times at Scott as he ran away, was the lynchpin in the investigation that led to Slager's murder charge. Justin Bamberg, who represents the Scott family, told the Times:
Without the video, we would not be where we are right now.
Santana's lawyer launched an Indiegogo campaign last week that asked for donations so his client could purchase a car. As of Friday, the crowdfunded campaign has raised nearly half of its $15,000 goal.
Image: Support Feidin Santana/life.indiegogo.com