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Bear in CU-Boulder photo killed on Highway 36

Big photo below.
Big photo below.

Over the past week or so, we've covered the brouhaha over a photo of a bear falling from a tree on the CU-Boulder campus; see our original coverage below. The shot became an international sensation, as well as the basis for plenty of memes and GIFs included in this post. Now, however, there's infinitely less amusing news related to the story: The bear was killed in a traffic accident yesterday on Highway 36.

Here's the original photo of the bear, which was tranquilized by state wildlife personnel after climbing into a tree near the Williams Village dorms on the CU-Boulder campus:

Bear in CU-Boulder photo killed on Highway 36
Andy Duann/CU Independent

As you'll recall, Duann, an engineering student from Taiwan, took the photo on the morning of April 26. Shortly thereafter, he provided the image to the CU Independent, the university's student news website, which distributed it far and wide under the presumption that the publication owned the copyright. This turned out to be untrue, since Duann never signed a release with the Independent -- a fact confirmed by the university earlier this week.

Now, however, the smile-inducing shot will likely produce another reaction in viewers due to an incident spelled out by the Boulder Daily Camera. According to the paper, the bear, which had been relocated to the wilderness after Duann captured its tumble, was hit and killed in an accident involving two cars at about 5:40 a.m. yesterday morning on U.S. 36 Jennifer Churchill, a spokeswoman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, has confirmed that the bear was indeed the one taken from the tree.

"It's a bummer," Churchill told the Camera." It's so hard to go through this and not be able to give these bears a good place to live. The community sees relocating bears as a kind of perfect solution, and unfortunately it's a really difficult proposition."

Particularly in this case. Look below to see our earlier coverage, including memes and GIFs based on Duann's photograph.

Update below: A photo of a bear falling from a tree on CU-Boulder's campus last week became both a viral sensation and a subject of media controversy when a copyright dispute erupted between the CU Independent, the university's news website, and student photographer Andy Duann. The school has now acknowledged that Duann owns that copyright, but not in a way that satisfies him yet.

Duann took the photo on Thursday morning. It features a bear that climbed into a tree near the Williams Village dorms and had to be tranquilized.

Before long, media outlets across the country and the world -- approximately 500 of them -- had picked up the shot, which was distributed by the CU Independent with the understanding that Duann and the website would be credited. According to Independent adviser Gil Asakawa (disclosure: a former Westword staffer and longtime acquaintance of yours truly), this was done with the understanding that the site owned the copyright of the photo, since Duann was a staff photographer.

Not so. Duann never signed an agreement with the Independent and shot the photo on his own rather than as part of an assignment for the website. Moreover, he emphasized in earlier interviews that he never intended to surrender his copyright when he allowed the Independent to publish the photo.

The latest? Duann, reached very early this morning (he was already studying), was told yesterday afternoon in a meeting with Christopher Braider, overseer of CU-Boulder's in-transition journalism department, that he does indeed own the copyright.

This development, reported last night on the Poynter MediaWire page, would seem to resolve the situation. But Duann still wants to have public acknowledgment from the university that he owns the copyright in order to prevent continuing confusion over the issue. For instance, he notes that a Mashable.com piece published after the meeting still contained Asakawa's assertions that the Independent owned the copyright.

In addition, Duann wants a personal apology from Asakawa, who he says failed to return numerous messages over the weekend and wasn't at the Braider sit-down. We've left a message for Asakawa and will update this post after he gets back to us.

Money isn't the issue for Duann. During the Braider meeting, he says he was offered $250, the sum the Colorado Daily/Boulder Daily Camera had originally agreed to pay him for the photo before the copyright kerfuffle arose. However, he turned down the cash and did likewise after being contacted by representatives from some of the news agencies that had previously published the shot. Instead, he's more interested in a policy change at the Independent establishing that the site retains the ability to use the materials submitted by students but they keep the copyright.

He sees this as a matter of respect -- and while such an action won't affect him (he graduates in ten days or so), he'd like to see it enacted so future members of the Independent won't go through the same kind of situation he just experienced.

One more thing: Duann says his sister e-mailed a publication in his native Taiwan that ran his photo to inform people there about the copyright matter. In reply, she received a form asking Duann to pay the agency if he wanted to publish his own photo. Welcome to journalism, 21st century style.

Page down to continue reading about the bear, featured in a series of memes and GIFs.   Update, 8:02 a.m. May 1: Just heard from CU Independent adviser Gil Asakawa, who tells me he'll be reaching out to photographer Andy Duann later today. And while he doesn't know if CU-Boulder plans to issue a press release or public statement reaffirming that Duann owns the copyright to the bear photo, he notes that he's done everything in his power to spread the word, including conducting interviews on the subject with Poynter, the Boulder Daily Camera and yours truly. He suspects Mashable will soon publish an update, too.

Asakawa confirms that when Duann joined the Independent, he "slipped through the cracks" as far as signing a release; he promises that his staff will be more diligent in that respect down the line. Meanwhile, he's open to the idea of changing policies in regard to students retaining the copyright for work published by the Independent.

"Even if we consider somebody a staff reporter or photographer, if they're not being paid -- and those positions are voluntary because of our tiny budget -- it's hard to say we own that stuff," he acknowledges. "And if it makes sense to change the actual copyright policy to a one-time use policy and treat people like freelancers, I'm certainly open to that. We may see what other college publications do, and we'll also speak to our legal counsel to see what the options are."

Continue reading to see our earlier coverage, as well as memes and GIFs inspired by Duann's photo.

Update, 12:31 p.m. May 1: Here's a followup e-mail note from CU Independent adviser Gil Asakawa:

I've personally apologized to Andy Duann for the mistaken assumption that the CU Independent owned the copyright to the falling bear photo, and the resulting controversy that ensued. At Andy's suggestion, we're working on a new policy that will assign use of content to the CU Independent but allow content producers to retain the copyrights to their material.

Update, 12:10 p.m. April 30: Last week, CU-Boulder student Andy Duann's photo of a tranquilized bear falling out of a tree went viral, as we explain in our original coverage below. But even as the shot became a meme and GIF favorite (we've included examples), reports broke that Duann was exploring legal action against CU over its handling of the image. Today, he says he isn't planning to sue, but he does want his copyright back.

"I don't want any money," says Duann, an engineering student who notes that he's not pursuing photography as a career. "I just want my school to at least respect me and respect all the CU Independent students who work for them for free, as volunteers. None of us get anything, not even a penny. So how come the copyright goes to them? And how come they get to distribute the photos? That doesn't make any sense at all."

The original shot, which features a bear that had climbed into a tree near the Williams Village dormitories on the CU-Boulder campus, was an immediate smash, with news agencies across Colorado, the country and the world picking it up within hours. Its popularity caused the CU Independent website to crash not once but twice en route to setting a new pageview record. Adviser Gil Asakawa (disclosure: a former Westword staffer and longtime acquaintance of yours truly) had earlier provided us with a preliminary figure just north of 10,000 pageviews -- much more than the site's 4/20 coverage. The updated total exceeds 16,000.

Soon, web surfers began using the image as raw material for Internet humor. Here's an example from the University of Colorado memes page:

Bear in CU-Boulder photo killed on Highway 36

And here's an out-of-this-world animation of the ursine celebrity:

Bear in CU-Boulder photo killed on Highway 36

But amid the excitement over this PR coup for the Independent, Duann spoke out to the Poynter Institute's MediaWire site, expressing frustration that Asakawa had allowed publications across the globe to run the photo without charge as long as they credited Duann and the Independent. Not that they always did so: Duann says he's seen versions of the photo from as far away as his homeland of Taiwan with generic labels like "online sources" or references to the Associated Press, which has now pulled the photo in the wake of the reported litigation prospect.

Duann says that while he considers himself a member of the CU Independent staff, he has never signed any kind of contract or agreement with the organization and was not assigned to take the photo of the bear. Rather, he did so on his own, then sent a copy of the pic to the Independent for posting, but with no intention of ceding his copyright to the site.

Shortly thereafter, Duann was contacted by a representative of the Colorado Daily, who offered to pay him $250 for use of the image. In response, Duann says he called the Independent to ask what to do. After some back and forth, he was left with the impression that he would be paid for the photo by the Denver Post, which is affiliated with the Daily and its sister paper in Boulder, the Daily Camera (creator of a GIF we're highlighting). But no such payment has reached him, and while Asakawa stresses that he and the Independent's editors decided he should get at least $250 several hours before the controversy erupted, Duann says the fee hardly matters now. "The photo is worth a lot more than $250," he says. Instead, what he wants is acknowledgment that the copyright to the image belongs to him.

Asakawa has a different point of view.

"We obviously would not have started sending the photo all over the place if we didn't think we had the right to do so -- unless we felt comfortable that we owned the content," he says. "I do understand Andy's frustration, and we're hopefully going to work everything out. But we were operating from a position of establishing the copyright and acting on those copyrights."

Furthermore, he continues, "in all cases, it was important for us to promote Andy as the photographer. We never said the credit should be 'CU Independent.' It was 'Andy Duann/CU Independent.' He was the photographer and we were operating as the copyright holders. Those were the assumptions we were working on."

Asakawa says that although he hasn't spoken to Duann since the student publicly expressed his displeasure, he's looking forward to doing so with an eye toward resolving the issue. When this message is relayed, however, Duann gets frustrated. He says he phoned Asakawa on numerous occasions over the weekend, "and I know he's got my number" -- but he hasn't received a reply as of this writing.

In the meantime, Duann is scheduled to meet with Christopher Braider, overseer of CU-Boulder's in-transition journalism department, at 1:30 p.m. this afternoon. During this conversation, he plans to not only ask that he be given the copyright of the bear photo, but also that new rules be put in place to prevent what happened this time around.

"They should have usage rights, but I think we should get to keep the copyright," he says. "They should change this policy to benefit students in the future."

Look below to see more bear-photo memes and GIFs, followed by our original coverage.  

Bear in CU-Boulder photo killed on Highway 36
Bear in CU-Boulder photo killed on Highway 36
Bear in CU-Boulder photo killed on Highway 36

Page down to see more bear memes and GIFs, plus our original coverage.  

Bear in CU-Boulder photo killed on Highway 36
Bear in CU-Boulder photo killed on Highway 36

Bear in CU-Boulder photo killed on Highway 36
Bear in CU-Boulder photo killed on Highway 36

Page down to read our original coverage.   Original item, 7:06 a.m. April 27: Yesterday morning, a bear that had clambered into a tree near the Williams Village dorms on the CU-Boulder campus was safely tranquilized and taken away by Colorado Parks and Wildlife personnel. An interesting story, sure, but not one that immediately seems of international interest. But a photo by Andy Duann, a staff photographer for the CU Independent, the campus news website, changed that equation in a huge way.

Here's the full-size shot:

Bear in CU-Boulder photo killed on Highway 36
Andy Duann/CU Independent

According to Gil Asakawa, a former Westword writer who's now the Independent's adviser, the photo began to take off online around midday, and within four hours or so, it had become a Facebook and Twitter smash, as well as winding up on Gawker, Reddit, Yahoo and more traditional news platforms such as CBS4, 7News, Fox 31, the Boulder Daily Camera and the Denver Post.

Here are some random stats Asakawa provided via e-mail just shy of five p.m.:

• 1,607 "likes" on the photo/article • 1,306 "shares" • 340 comments • Over 100 new Facebook followers • 1,579 "Karma" on Reddit • 10,069 current pageviews to the CU Independent

To provide some context for this last figure, Asakawa reveals that the Independent's 4/20 coverage generated 4,700 pageviews.

The surge of traffic eventually crashed the Independent's site; Asakawa speculates that the host company's servers were overloaded. But that didn't slow the speed with which the shot traveled across the web. As of 8:30 p.m. last night, Asakawa points out that the photo was being featured by the Toronto Star and NineMSN in Australia, not to mention the San Francisco Chronicle and other sites that didn't contact Independent but gave credit for the pic.

"We've smashed our previous traffic records, set last week leading up to 4/20, to little shiny bits and bytes," Asakawa notes -- and all because Duann "was in the proverbial right place and right time."

And that's all it takes to become an Internet sensation.

Follow and like the Michael Roberts/Westword Facebook page.

More from our Media archive: "Video: Kolbi Zerbest stars in hard-hitting Today investigation of CU-Boulder Obama yogurt spill."


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