Ex-White House photographer sued for copyright over his own photo: ‘You can’t make this up’

·2 min read

Former White House photographer Pete Souza says he is being threatened with legal action for displaying a photo he took of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on his personal website.

Mr Souza, 67, took the photo aboard Air Force One in 2009 on Mr Obama’s first overseas trip as president and included it on a photo gallery on his site after leaving the White House in 2017.

In an Instagram post on Saturday, Mr Souza said he had been notified by a copyright enforcement company that he had infringed WENN Rights International’s ownership of the image.

Mr Souza added that the photo had been placed on an official gallery of Mr Obama’s first 100 days in office, and that there was no “copyright involved in official White House photos”.

“You can’t make this s*** up,” Mr Souza wrote.

Mr Souza said he had been told that he was “legally obligated to compensate (WENN) for the damage caused by this copyright infringement.”⁣

“So to recap: I made this photograph. It is in the public domain. WENN is licensing this image for publication. Copytrack is threatening to file legal action against me for displaying this photograph on my website, since their partner WENN claims they own the copyright to the image.⁣”

Former White House photographer Pete Souza says he’s being threatened with legal action over one of his own images (Pete Souza/Instagram)
Former White House photographer Pete Souza says he’s being threatened with legal action over one of his own images (Pete Souza/Instagram)
One of Mr Souza’s images taken during Barack Obama’s presidency (Pete Souza/The White House)
One of Mr Souza’s images taken during Barack Obama’s presidency (Pete Souza/The White House)
Mr Obama and his national security team watch the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011 (Pete Souza/The White House)
Mr Obama and his national security team watch the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011 (Pete Souza/The White House)

WENN did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Commenting on the Instagram post, photographer Danny Clinch wrote: “I’m always coming across use of my copyright images in a situation where they benefit financially. It’s lame.”

Mr Souza served as the official photographer during Mr Obama’s two terms in office, and under Ronald Reagan from 1983 to 1989.

He was given virtually unrestricted access to the 44th president at the White House, during official events and on overseas tours.

Mr Souza took many of the most famous images of Mr Obama’s presidency, including in the Situation Room during the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, and of a young boy rubbing the president’s head.

Mr Souza’s representatives did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.