ICON AND THE STATUE
Thomas Franklin, a photographer for The Record, of Bergen, New Jersey,
framed a photograph of three fire fighters raising an American flag
over the rubble of what had been the World Trade Center several days
after the terrorist attacks of September 11, little did he realize
that he was about to set off a heated debate involving his paper,
the New York Fire Department, the press, students of the constitution,
and a lot of lawyers.
In the weeks following publication of the photograph it attained icon
status - compared often to the famous photograph by Associated Press
photographer Joe Rosenthal of U.S. Marines raising the flag on Iwo
Jima during World War II. The Record gave away 30,000 copies of the
photograph, free of charge to the public, and even paid shipping and
handling costs. They then worked with the firefighters in the photograph
to print a poster, and gave them the rights to distribute it, with
the profits going entirely to charity, including the Ground Zero Spirit
It was therefore with shock that Thomas Franklin saw in the paper,
last month, officials of the New York Fire Department proudly standing
next to a prototype of a statue that had been commissioned based on
his photograph - except it WASN'T his photograph. The fireman on the
left in the picture, had miraculously undergone a tummy tuck, and
the other two white firemen had become black and Hispanic.
Political correctness had claimed another victim. In a department
that was predominantly white, and largely of Irish descent, the decision
had been made by the brass to insure minority representation in the
Immediately, The Record called foul. According to attorney Jennifer
Borg, "We told the Fire Department they could commission a statue,
but it would have to be a literal likeness of the Franklin picture.
This was a historic event."
In short order, a battle broke out over the statue. Black leaders
hailed the decision to include a black in the statue. White firemen
expressed their resentment over the change. Eventually, the matter
was put on hold, while options could be considered.
So, what is the problem exactly?
The answer should be obvious. The statue is meant to be a revisionist
view of history. From a legal standpoint, it would be a "derivative
work." However, the bottom line is that the paper, for which
Thomas Franklin is a staff photographer, owns the copyright on the
original photograph. Copyright law is very clear on ownership of the
image - the owner must approve a derivative work.
More importantly, Thomas Franklin captured a moment in history, just
as Joe Rosenthal did. Imagine if the sculptor of the Iwo Jima memorial,
which overlooks the nation's capitol, had decided to depart from the
likenesses in the photograph. The result would have been to invalidate
the image. Perhaps it says something about America then and now. It
probably never would have occurred to the sculptor or the people who
commissioned that statue, over half a century ago, to change the images.
To a degree, it speaks of a respect for what the photographer captured
on film, and a base of respect for the truth.
"Flags of Our Fathers," a book published last year, written
by James Bradley, tells the story of those five marines who raised
the American flag on Iwo Jima. In telling the story of each of their
lives, he provides a cross-section of the Americans who fought and
died in World War II. If any one of those figures had been altered,
the truth would have been altered. Imagined heroes have no life stories.
It is not about whites, blacks, Hispanics or Native Americans. It
is about people and the human spirit, and what they actually did that
should be celebrated.