Freelance sues over 'infected' images

A freelance photographer is suing his former publishing client in a bid to retrieve over 1400 celebrity images locked in quarantine after the deadly anthrax attacks hit the United States.

Washington-based, Greg Mathieson, is suing American Media Inc, the tabloid publisher, for $2m (£1.1m) in damages to cover a range of negatives, transparencies and prints reportedly contaminated with the bacterium.

AMI was forced to shut its offices in 2001, following the death of Sun Photo Editor Bob Stevens, who died from inhaling anthrax within the building.

Despite an agreement between the freelance and AMI stipulating cash every time an image was used, Mathieson alleges his images were not returned or protected, were not insured, and that AMI failed to compensate his losses.

In addition, the freelance says he was not told where his materials were, or what condition his 1400 images, including snaps of Princess Diana, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Willis and former President Ronald Regan, were in.

Local press reports claim that freelance photographers had previously raised the possibility of suing AMI, when the fumigated building was acquired by real estate developer David Rustine, who threatened to incinerate them.

It is understood that the headquarters of AMI contained up to 4.5 million images, with angry freelance photographers reminding Rustine at the time, that some could be worth thousands of US dollars.

Now lawyers for Mathieson are on-record pointing out that if the sought-after images cannot be returned, as their client wishes, then AMI must compensate “per the agreement.”

AMI has hit back at the claims, vowing to contest Mathieson’ legal suit, filed earlier this month.

“The introduction of anthrax into our offices was a horrible crime that impacted our employees and the entire Boca Raton community,” said spokesman Stu Zakim.

“We think it's unfortunate Mr. Mathieson has decided to exploit this crime into an economic windfall. We believe his claim is entirely without merit, and we will vigorously defend this action.”

Yet freelance photographer, Mark Reinstein, told local press he was not surprised at the law suit, citing adversely AMI’s decision to “basically walk away” from 4.5 million images under its control.

The next move is due to come from AMI, as a troubled clean-up operation of its former HQ is due to resume once federal agencies review new safety plans.


26th September 2005

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