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Monday, February 13, 2006

How did this happen?

So what does this have to do with 9/11
Shameful abuse of 9/11 footage

He's paid $300,000, but keeps 30,000 pix


Gregg Brown documentary 'Words' links discussion of exposed breasts and sweat lodge ceremony with 'never before seen aerial footage' of still-smoldering Ground Zero.

A budding filmmaker that FEMA found in the yellow pages used his taxpayer-funded video of the smoldering World Trade Center ruins in a documentary featuring topless women chatting about their breasts, a Daily News investigation has found.

Provided with unique access in an NYPD helicopter, Gregg Brown was flown by cops over the restricted air space of Ground Zero daily for eight months beginning on Sept. 15, 2001, capturing countless hours of grim video while snapping 30,000 photographs.

Red-faced officials at the city Department of Design & Construction, which oversaw the cleanup of Ground Zero, concede that the stunning, gut-wrenching material was supposed to belong to the people who paid for it — the citizens of New York and the nation. But Brown, who was ultimately paid up to $302,000 in federal 9/11 disaster recovery funds, refused to sign a prepared agreement ceding "title and ownership" to the city.

With the legal paperwork unsigned in late 2001, Brown was inexplicably allowed to keep shooting — and keep collecting big paychecks.

Finally, on May 10, 2002, Brown's access to the police chopper was revoked.

Just 20 days later, he copyrighted all 30,000 photos for himself.

One of the pictures — dated March 12, 2002 — carries the caption: "A victim is discovered at the base of the south tower." Records indicate that the remains of 15 victims were discovered that day, 13 of them were firefighters.

On Aug. 30, 2002, one of Brown's attorneys sent the city a letter warning that none of the photos could be used without Brown's "prior written approval," according to documents obtained by The News.

Just four days later, Brown registered "Ground Zero aerial video" with the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington.

He then included part of the footage in a wacky documentary, "Words," surrounding scenes of Trade Center death and destruction with interviews of topless women talking about society's obsession with breasts and a group of New Yorkers traipsing around nude as part of a simulated Native American ceremony.

In a Website promo for his film, Brown, 34, links the disparate images: "'Words' explores the connections between such seemingly unrelated events as a Native American sweat lodge ceremony, a gathering of topless women and the devastation of the World Trade Center through a combination of documentary filmmaking and reality-based entertainment."

Although the Department of Design & Construction was directly responsible for the screwup, agency spokesman Matthew Monahan expressed outrage.

"Personal gain or commercial use is disgraceful. This is not what the aftermath of 9/11 was about," said Monahan. "There is no room for personal gain here. There was unique access afforded for someone for a service we had every reason to believe was to be material for the City of New York."

The News discovered the payments to Brown as part of its ongoing investigation into what happened to the $21.4 billion the federal government gave New York to recover and rebuild from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.


As a result of Brown's actions, New Yorkers are being denied unfettered access to what is undoubtedly the most exhaustive collection of Ground Zero photos — unless they are willing to buy them.

At least 76 of his photos are for sale through Getty Images, a major photo agency.

Brown's photos were used in "The American Spirit," a LIFE Books hardcover published in 2002. A spokeswoman said 36 Brown color shots were purchased at the "standard industry rate."

Photos on Brown's Web site warn: "All images are copyright 2001/2002 by Gregg Brown. All Rights Reserved."

Contrast Brown's mercenary behavior with his words, broadcast on the "NBC Nightly News" on Aug. 20, 2002, to promote the LIFE book:

"I have a responsibility to these photographs. If I don't see it through, I don't think anyone else will. It's my responsibility to make sure as many people see these photographs as possible because this event affected me as deeply as anybody else."

The News has been trying to locate Brown for more than a month, leaving messages on his home, business and cell phones and with his business partner and lawyers. He recently moved from his Chelsea residence/business; vigorous attempts to locate him were unsuccessful.

His lawyer, John Hadlock, said Brown declined to be interviewed because he "saw no upside" to answering questions about his use of the photos.

Hadlock told The News that Brown had good reason for refusing to sign the city's ownership agreement — even after officials offered to let him keep 1,000 of the photos for himself.

"He was hired, he didn't sign anything," Hadlock said last week. "He's the photographer; the photographer has ownership unless he's an employee. He's not an employee."

For its part, the DDC says it cannot find its copies of the videos, for which Brown billed the city tens of thousands of dollars. The agency also cannot find its copy of a "special video presentation" requested by then-DDC Commissioner Kenneth Holden for use Nov. 21, 2001, at Columbia University's School of Engineering, at an additional cost of $2,306.

DDC says it also cannot find the extra prints of "digital photos taken by site workers," which Brown was paid an additional $2,867 to duplicate.

Monahan said the DDC does have copies of the 30,000 photos, but acknowledged it does not have the negatives. In response to questions from The News, Monahan said DDC also cannot find the "900 custom reprints of previous WTC aerial shots" for which Brown charged an additional $4,384.

Trying unsuccessfully to distribute his documentary commercially, Brown presented "Words" at three film festivals in the past two years. It won a staff prize at the 2004 San Francisco Documentary Film Festival.

A March 2004 review of "Words" notes the power of the Ground Zero footage: "It's this part of the documentary that really delivers the emotional punch."

Only playing in D.C.

The camera slowly circles the ruins below as smoke pours from the collapsed 7 World Trade Center and workers dismantle the skeletal remains of the twin towers.

If you want to view that gripping scene, and the rest of a 34-minute, 22-second video of Ground Zero copyrighted by Gregg Brown, you have to travel 230 miles to the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington.

To view the video that the City of New York failed to secure ownership of, a Daily News reporter had to call ahead and make an appointment.

It helped to know the videocassette's official title and registration number — "Ground Zero aerial Video, PAu-2-721-348."

Upon arrival at the Library of Congress' Madison Building, one's coat and bags had to be checked; such items are not allowed inside the viewing room.

The application for a special Library of Congress admission card required the submission of detailed personal information, including most of one's Social Security number.

Numerous forms had to be signed, a photo was taken and the new cardholder was assigned an ID number.

Then it was off to a darkened cubicle inside the Motion Picture Viewing Room.

No food or drink. Under no circumstances was the fast forward button to be pressed. And gloves were preferred for visitors handling copyrighted material.

No copies could be made without written permission of the copyright holder, in this case filmmaker Brown.

The City needs to sue him for either his fee or to recover the video and photos. Why he hasn't been dragged through the courts is a mystery. This is not only a waste of money, it's like he basically abused the rights the city gave him and because the city didn't go to court fast enough, they could give him a treasury, which should belong to the people of New York.

The city needs to get this guy before a judge, because he's little better than a thief.

posted by Steve @ 12:14:00 AM

12:14:00 AM

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