The Slatest

Bystander Who Filmed Walter Scott’s Death Seeks Payment from News Organizations

North Charleston police officer Michael Slager (R) is seen allegedly shooting 50-year-old Walter Scott.
North Charleston police officer Michael Slager (R) is seen shooting 50-year-old Walter Scott in the back as he runs away, in this still image from video in North Charleston, South Carolina taken April 4, 2015

Photo via Handout/Reuters

The now-infamous video of a South Carolina police officer shooting Walter Scott in the back this month has been viewed more than one million times on YouTube, and countless more around the Web and on television. But moving forward any news outlet that wants to run it may need to pay $10,000 to the man who recorded it—at least if his legal team has its way.

The New York Times reports that an Australia-based “publicity and celebrity management company” sent out cease-and-desist letters to news outlets around the world this week letting them know that the video remains the property of Feidin Santana, the bystander who recorded the film on his smartphone when North Charleston police officer Michael T. Slager shot and killed Scott on April 4. Here’s the Times with more on legal case, which appears to be a strong one for Santana:


Copyright experts agreed that although news agencies are allowed to use even copyrighted material under what is called “fair use” clauses in the law that time period has passed.

“At some point it’s not newsworthy anymore and you are using it for commercial benefit,” said Frederic Haber, a vice president and general counsel of the Copyright Clearance Center, a collective licensing organization that works on behalf of copyright holders such as The New York Times. The issue could change once the video is played in court during a trial, he said.

While it may seem opportunistic to try to make money off a video of someone’s death, Santana’s lawyer told the paper that it was only fair that his client get paid since the news outlets themselves were trying to capitalize on it. Perhaps more important to some will be the fact that Walter Scott’s family are said to have no problem with Santana’s efforts. “Without the video, we would not be where we are right now,” Justin Bamberg, one of the family’s lawyers, said.

Regardless of how you feel about Santana trying to cash in, if nothing else it provides another incentive—albeit a less noble one—for bystanders to whip out their phones and start filming when they see a police confrontation.

Elsewhere in Slate:

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the Walter Scott shooting.