When 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 Fund.

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 statue.

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.

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