Andy Ngô sued by two photojournalists for allegedly stealing copyrighted videos

Right-wing provocateur Andy Ngô was sued in federal court by two Portland-based photojournalists, alleging he had violated copyright law.

In the lawsuit, filed on Dec. 8 in Oregon U.S. District Court, Grace Morgan, 33, and Melissa Lewis, 31, allege Ngô profited from the tipping and reposting of the videos multiple times. original firsthand which they shot while covering leftist protests and civil unrest.

They are seeking an injunction to prevent it from any future infringement plus $ 300,000 in damages, a lawyer representing the couple said.

Morgan and Lewis are far from the only independent reporters and videographers to challenge Ngô’s social media aggregation tactics. According to a list compiled by independent researchers, Ngô has been hit dozens of times by Digital Media Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices, with most of the claims being made in the past 18 months. Morgan alone has seen the footage she has shot during protests distributed without her permission by Ngô 38 times since 2020, she said, and blocking it has done her or Lewis no good. It also did not end the deluge of harassment they suffered when Ngô reuse their work.

While Ngô has become the preferred right-wing columnist of left-wing activists – and, according to his fiercest critics, a far-right propagandist – reporting on the ground has become a near-impossibility in view of the threats he has received. ‘he received. In order to maintain the constant flow of content, Morgan and Lewis told The Daily Beast, it necessarily relies on footage shot not only by other reporters, but activists and passers-by as well. As a media figure, Ngô has the right to comment on or share the works of others. But from Morgan and Lewis’ perspective, Ngo has overstepped those limits. By capturing videos wherever he finds them on Twitter, he positions himself as a unique source of information on urban conflicts, whether on the ground or not.

“[Ngô] steals videos from everyone, ”Lewis said. Morgan echoed these claims. “[Ngô] has stolen content from many independent reporters in Portland and beyond, ”she said.

Often these videos are presented with the stripped-back context or the truth obscured by Ngô, they argued, all in the service of a singular goal: to produce virus-ready content describing the left as inherently violent and dangerous, a product that the conservative public needs. So filing a complaint isn’t just about ending his alleged theft and subsequent misrepresentation of their work, Morgan and Lewis said. They think they are taking a stand on behalf of those who do not have the means and the time to engage in litigation or do not have the means to put themselves in Ngô’s sights. Not when “his audience is so violent,” as Lewis described the most rabid admirers of Ngô.

“Andy [Ngô] is a pest that lives off the hard work of independent journalists, “Alan Kessler, a Portland copyright lawyer representing Morgan and Lewis, told The Daily Beast. Despite frequent allegations of intellectual property theft, Ngô was able to continue “using copyright law in an extremely cynical manner to silence his critics … He is capable of arming the law.”

Kessler continued, “In this case, Andy is the Goliath,” and Morgan and Lewis are David. Ngô has personal wealth, the support of prominent figures on the right, and a warm seat for him on Fox News, which makes litigation a daunting task, even before considering the sometimes anonymous online trolls ready to undertake his. cause. Larry Zerner, a Los Angeles copyright and entertainment lawyer also representing Morgan and Lewis, put it more succinctly: “It’s about getting him arrested.

In response to a request for comment sent to Ngô, Harmeet Dhillon, a Republican Party official and lawyer who served as legal counsel for Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, expressed confidence that his client Ngô would win. . “This lawsuit is an antifa agitprop disguised as a copyright claim, disconnected from reality both in fact and in law,” she said in an emailed statement. “In short, this lawsuit is frivolous. These claims are doomed – again – and we look forward to that day. “

The lawsuit cites two videos Morgan and Lewis posted to Twitter on October 1, 2021 from protests in Portland and were rebroadcast with its own version by Ngô a day later.

Twitter’s features and terms of service allow for the sharing or even embedding of videos posted by other users, which Dhillon noted in its statement. “If US copyright law depended on whether the creator liked or wanted critics to review his work, we might as well tear up the First Amendment because no journalist like Mr. Ngo would ever be able to criticize what whatever the author would not do. want them to do it, ”she added.

And for the most part, Twitter users, reporters or not, don’t dispute that others promote their work or even offer harsh comments. But those same terms imposed by Twitter also do not exempt Ngô (or anyone) from applicable copyright law or revoke ownership of the original material, according to the lawsuit. (Shortly after The Daily Beast contacted Ngô, he quoted-tweeted a videographer’s two-minute clip for the first time in recent memory instead of embedding the URL, as he did with the videos produced by Morgan and Lewis. Quote-tweet would not ‘be considered a violation of copyright law. Friday morning he deleted it and reposted as an embedded video.)

Enforcing these laws does not require a small amount of work. Assuming the complainant spots the alleged theft, they can file a DMCA takedown notice with Twitter. The account in question then has time to respond with a counterclaim. If they do, and if the two sides remain at loggerheads, Twitter washes its hands of it and sends the dispute to court. Often, this puts the less wealthy party at a disadvantage. Ngô has also reportedly made use of this right recently. In October, left-wing accounts accused him of filing DMCA notices for posting a photo of himself sitting under graffiti bearing the name of a Polish far-right anti-Semitic group.

According to Lewis’ estimate, Ngô appropriated his videos “dozens” of times at the height of the protests in 2020 and 2021. At the time, Portland had become a fixture among the extremely right-wing and, to its turn, President Donald Trump, all of whom regularly paints the city as a hellish landscape besieged by the ominous left. Ngô was at the forefront of these efforts. Center-left movements ranging from Black Lives Matter to antifa have been lumped together as one or viewed as “national terrorists,” as Ngô said when called to testify before a Senate subcommittee. According to the lawsuit, blocking Ngô should have made him understand that neither Morgan nor Lewis had granted him permission to post the videos on his account. Additionally, the blocking prevented it from retrieving the URL without first signing out or using a burner. Filing DMCA notices and stop requests on Twitter also had no effect on Ngô’s behavior.

The first time Ng̫ mentioned Lewis by name on Twitter, on November 2, 2020, he posted a screenshot detailing another unrelated trial she was involved in Рa disability trial Рwhich revealed she was epileptic and photosensitive. Nearly two weeks later, several people she described as far-right chased her during a nighttime protest and exposed her to strobe lights until she had a seizure. She is convinced that there is a direct line between the events and her position.

Morgan has also been the victim of all kinds of harassment from people she believes are Ngô fans. She has received death threats, people have come to her place of work and home, and members of her immediate family living in other states have been contacted by people she believes to be extremists. ‘far right. The harassment, Morgan claims, always appears to directly correlate with Ngô’s mention on Twitter. When reporting from the field, she knows she can be recognized very well, in large part thanks to the fact that Ngô has posted pictures of her. Occasionally, she hears people shouting her name.

All the while, Ngô benefited from what Lewis and Morgan called “dangerous” work done by others. Lewis has been beaten by law enforcement, covered actions at an ice facility, and been exposed to chemicals that harm reproductive health. “Ngô didn’t have to do any of these things,” she said. “Ngô sat behind a computer and stole my work.”

Morgan and Lewis both stressed the lawsuit had little to do with money. Neither of them expects the funds they receive, if they win, to cover their legal fees. Barring litigation, Ngô has little incentive to stop republishing content that he did not participate in the creation. After all, it has seen him rack up nearly a million Twitter followers, frequent TV appearances, rave reviews from Republican politicians, and a bestselling book. The videos he keeps posting – or the photos of leftists, or the videos of people, often of color, accused of committing non-political crimes, or the stories he’s been accused of botching – are what have maintained Ngô in a position of prominence. His written production, either on the right-wing The Post Millennial, or in editorials written for the New York Post and other right-wing media companies, cannot compare.

They are well aware that taking him to court means putting a bigger target on their backs. “Exposing your identity to Ngô is extremely, extremely dangerous,” Lewis said.

There’s a reason no one has been willing to do this until now. “It’s because people are afraid,” she said.

John C. Dent