CSX Transportation, which owns the tracks on which the “Midnight Rider” accident occurred on Feb. 20 in Georgia, is seeking a court order to ban any further dissemination of video of the tragedy recorded from one of its locomotives.
The video shows the crew of the film scrambling to get out of the way as the train approaches a trestle, and was included in an Oct. 31 “20/20” report on the accident, in which camera assistant Sarah Jones was killed and eight others were injured. Jones’ family filed a civil suit in the case, naming CSX among a list of more than a dozen defendants.
But the railroad contends that the video, submitted during discovery process, was proprietary, and that the plaintiffs and their legal team had a role in its release to “20/20.”
“CSXT had previously released this video only to plaintiffs, subject to the terms of 1) a limited use license required by the video software provider, and 2) the watermarked restrictions clearly depicted on the video itself,” the company said in a court filing in Chatham County. “By allowing or facilitating the dissemination and broadcast of an altered version of the video on national television, plaintiffs have demonstrably violated both.”
The railroad is asking that the court prohibit plaintiffs or any other party from further public dissemination of video or photo evidence in the case.
They also are seeking to prohibit the Jones family lawyer, Jeffrey Harris, from making “any further extrajudicial statement relating to the merits of the case or the evidence.” They cite press accounts they characterize as “highly prejudicial and misleading.”
A spokeswoman for Harris said that he had not seen the filing, but also found it “perplexing given that the videos are already public record.” ABC’s “20/20” aired the clips after they were filed with the court.
CSX contends that the video contained a watermark that stated that “any unauthorized copying, distribution, manipulation or other use is strictly prohibited.”
They say that the watermark is visible on the “20/20” segment. It said that during the broadcast, it was “manipulated in multiple ways,” as it was played in fast forward and slow motion, the color and lighting altered and graphics were embedded.
Although CSX contends that the video shown on “20/20” does not reflect adversely on the company, “the fact that plaintiffs are willing to manipulate potential evidence, and violate the terms of their access to said evidence, solely in furtherance of their media strategy, poses an unnecessary risk to the integrity of this litigation going forward.”
CSX claims that “within days” of receiving the video, Harris’ firm, “either on their own or in concert with others,” made a separate recording of the video as it was played with software licensed from GE. They contend that the firm either “substantially altered the video or permitted others to do so,” and then allowed it to be shown on “20/20.” The railroad contends that its release violates the terms of the GE software license and restrictions depicted in the video watermark.
The “20/20” segment is here.
CSX says that the “Midnight Rider” filmmakers did not have permission to be on the tracks when they were shooting a scene on Feb. 20. But the company was named in the Jones family suit, filed in May.
Director Randall Miller, producer Jody Savin, executive producer Jay Sedrish and first assistant director Hillary Schwartz also each face criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass. They each have plead not guilty, and a trial is scheduled to begin in March.
Update: ABC News released a statement denying that “20/20” altered the video.
“We did not alter the content of what took place in the video, which is public record. The bad quality video which we obtained was sharpened to make it clearer. We ran it twice in our report and a third time with graphics and in slow motion to give the viewer a better understanding of what happened.“