JACKSON — Former Gov. Haley Barbour and the University Press of Mississippi, in responses last month to a lawsuit, deny that a book about Hurricane Katrina used a photographer’s work without permission.
Suzi Altman filed a federal lawsuit in November, demanding $350,000 in damages stemming from Barbour’s 2015 book, “American’s Great Storm: Leading Through Hurricane Katrina.”
Altman said the book uses at least two photos she took as a contract worker for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency after the storm struck in August 2005. Altman says she retained copyright on her post-Katrina photos. She also claims her pictures were used without permission in promotional slide shows.
University Press, in its response, said that MEMA owns or co-owns Altman’s work because she was under a $500-a-day contract to the agency, and says it got permission from MEMA.
“The University Press specifically denies that is had infringed or is liable for infringement of any copyright or copyright rights of the plaintiff,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Lawrence Schemmel.
University Press writes that Barbour and coauthor Jere Nash told press employees that the work had no copyright problems and that the authors pledged to shield the press from any copyright lawsuits. The press said it had a “good faith belief” that Barbour had permission to use the pictures.
The arm of the College Board also asserts that it’s immune from lawsuits because it’s a state agency.
Lawyer Barney Robinson writes in Barbour’s defense that Altman “knowingly acquiesced or consented to the publication of the images at issue by failing to bring suit until now.”
The lawyer wrote that based on what University Press and MEMA employees told him, “Barbour had a good faith belief that the use of said photographs in the book, in social media and in the slideshow referred in the complaint was lawful.”
Governor of Mississippi from 2004 to 2014, Barbour was Republican National Committee chairman in the mid-1990s.
Barbour’s book focuses on Mississippi’s first year after Katrina, when Barbour exerted his influence as a longtime Washington lobbyist to secure billions of federal dollars for recovery. It recounts a special session when state legislators changed laws to help schools and local governments get back on track and to let coastal casinos move a short distance inland rather than requiring them to rebuild on floating barges.
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