[Photo © Karin Markert]

It’s a famous image of soldiers braving the elements that was mistakenly used by the world’s media to report on Hurricane Sandy in 2012 – sending it viral in the process.

Two-and-a-half-years on, photographer Karin Markert says her copyright in the image has been routinely abused online by organisations including a website run by Disney.

Karin’s photo of tomb guards in the rain – which reportedly attracted nearly a billion views inside a week – was taken at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

It was widely shared on Twitter after it was incorrectly labelled as a shot of three soldiers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the rain during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.

Many news organisations were quick to report that it had been captured during the hurricane, which had struck the East Coast of the USA.

But it turned out they were wrong.

The photo does show the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. But it was captured during a storm a month earlier and not during Hurricane Sandy.

The picture, which went viral after first surfacing on Facebook, is now caught in a fresh controversy.

Karin Markert has a list of around 20 websites she says have infringed her rights over the image.

Among them is a site called Babble, an online magazine and blog owned by Disney Enterprises Inc, based in Burbank, California (see below).

‘I never gave them [Disney] permission to use it at all,’ Karin told Amateur Photographer (AP) after discovering that the site is owned by Disney.

‘It would have been nice of them to ask…

‘You would think Disney, more than most commercial companies, would better understand copyright infringement.

‘I absolutely did not give them permission to use my photo in that manner, or to repost a copy of someone else’s modified version…

‘It’s my photo, and people are still misusing it for their own purposes.’

Karin added: ‘I contact people about using the photo. Only a handful ever respond, and fewer in a positive manner.

‘I usually contact them just to see how they respond, as I’ve actually lost faith that people care about the photographer’s rights.’

babble The Babble website, owned by Disney, published the image under the heading ‘Serving with honor in a Hurricane’

The Babble website removed the page containing the offending image after Amateur Photographer (AP) sought comment from Disney yesterday (see below).

disney.webKarin’s soldiers photo has now been replaced by a picture of Mickey Mouse.

The Walt Disney Company Ltd had yet to respond to emailed requests for comment at the time of writing.

The photographer says she does not plan to take action against Disney, telling AP she believes the potential cost would outweigh any possible benefit.

Karin explained that her husband, Colonel James C Markert, was a former commander of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment when she took the photo of his soldiers in September 2012.

‘What little I’ve made through sales of this photo have been donated back to the unit, and more recently to the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.’

Though the photographer is normally the legal copyright holder, Karin urges photographers, in the US at least, to register copyright at the US Copyright Office.

She also advises that photographers add a small ‘©’ symbol as a watermark, to direct viewers back to the original image and photographer, and to only post low-resolution images on the web.

Karin is also calling for children to be educated about photographers’ rights when using social media.

She particularly resents the image being used for ‘any political purposes’.

‘As long as the photo is appropriately displayed and shared, I don’t get upset. If it brings honour to the soldiers and their mission.

‘It’s when the image is modified or shared in a way that takes away from the true content that I get mad.’

Karin’s soldiers photo is today used as a case study for journalism training in the social media age, ensuring that news media verify what an image purports to be showing, before publishing it.

Prompted by the initial furore, the photographer launched a Facebook page, intended as a place to discuss the misuse of images on social media and commercial websites.