Fairfax photos ‘safe’ as legal battle continues

The digitisation of Fairfax Media’s extensive photo collections by a US company now in receivership has ground to a halt, but the collections are safely and securely stored, the publisher has said.

An arrest warrant was issued this week for the owner of the Arkansas company contracted to carry out the work. Bail for John Rogers, whose business Rogers Photo Archive (RPA) went into receivership in January, has been put at $US1.5 million.

Fairfax signed a deal in March 2013 for Mr Rogers to digitise millions of images from its archives, including from The Sydney Morning Herald and a raft of New Zealand newspapers, dating as far back as the 1800s. Photos from The Age were shipped back to Fairfax in April.

Mr Rogers offered a service that would take the publisher’s vast and physical collection and return an easily searchable online version, leaving him to sell the original images which were shipped to him Little Rock.

However, the business went bust before he fulfilled the contract, and some images have been reported as being listed on eBay even after the business went into receivership. Fairfax filed a lawsuit to recover the images from RPA earlier this year.

Despite the reports of eBay sales, a Fairfax spokesperson said yesterday the image collections were secure. Contrary to some reports, only hard-copy photos were shipped to Arkansas, not negatives.

“The hard-copy photo images involved, of The Sydney Morning Herald and New Zealand publications, are being safely and securely stored. The materials remain rightfully owned assets of Fairfax,” the spokesperson said.

Numerous other parties are launching legal action against Mr Rogers, including Digital First Media, which owns newspapers including The Los Angeles Daily News and The Denver Post and is suing him for the return of its archive. First Arkansas Bank is separately suing Mr Rogers for unpaid debts of $US15 million.

Fairfax is currently working with the receiver appointed by Pulaski County Circuit, Michael McAfee, towards “reaching an agreement to complete the remaining work as planned”. The digitisation was “well progressed”, according to the spokesperson.

“We are obviously disappointed by the circumstances – and we are doing everything in our power to resolve this matter,” the spokesperson said.

“We are aware that a limited number of images may have been inappropriately dealt with and we are working with the receiver to pursue our recovery options.”

The agreement with Rogers did not include glass plate negatives, and Fairfax’s negatives collection is fully accounted for and in the publisher’s possession.

Fairfax continues to utilise a storage facility at Alexandria, among other locations.

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