(CN) – Media outlets can use copyrighted images to help find missing children, the European Union’s Court of Justice ruled Thursday, siding with newspapers that used portraits of a young girl to report on her disappearance.
Freelance photographer Eva-Maria Painer sought an order from Austrian courts to stop five German and Austrian newspapers from publishing a portrait she took of a child who later went missing in 1998. Natascha Kampusch was abducted from her home in Vienna at the age of 10 and spent eight years with her kidnapper before escaping in 2006.
Painer sought damages from the publications that used her photo of Kampusch without consent or attribution.
The Vienna Commercial Court asked the European Union’s Court of Justice if such photos could be used by the media without the photographer’s consent to aid in a criminal investigation, and if EU copyright law protects portrait photographs.
The court ruled Thursday that a portrait photograph is protected by EU law because it expresses the photographer’s creative ability to prepare the photo.
But, it continued, that copyrighted work such as a photographs can be used for the purposes of public security, particularly to help find a missing person.
“Only states – not newspaper publishers – can be regarded as appropriate and responsible for ensuring public security by appropriate measures including, for example, assistance with a search appeal,” the court noted in a statement. “However, it is conceivable that a newspaper publisher might, in specific cases, contribute to the fulfillment of an objective of public security by publishing, for example, a photograph of a person for whom a search has been launched.”
A copyrighted work should be credited to the author when possible, the court found, and in a situation where the author’s name cannot be found, a publication must indicate the source of the work.