Here’s another copyright lawsuit that supports the argument for a copyright small claims court.
The plaintiff is a New York-based professional photographer who owns the registered copyright in a photograph of Lauren Miranda, a New York teacher fired over a topless selfie. Mrs. Miranda was subsequently awarded $3 million in a gender discrimination lawsuit over the firing.
The defendant, Chicks on the Right, an Indianapolis-based politically conservative online news radio show and website, allegedly used the plaintiff’s photograph of Mrs. Miranda in an April 2019 blog post reporting on the teacher’s gender discrimination lawsuit (note: the plaintiff filed for registration of the photograph on June 30, 2019, almost 3 months after the blog post). While the defendant might be hoping to rely on a “news reporting” fair use defense, unfortunately there’s really no “fair use” reason to use the plaintiff’s specific photograph. Numerous images of Mrs. Miranda exist that could have been used (with proper authorization), and the Chicks on the Right blog post isn’t commenting, criticizing, or reporting on the plaintiff’s actual image. Having an online “news blog” isn’t a free pass to use any photograph you find on Google Images.
The reality is that professional photographers take lots of photos for a living, and sell only few. Perhaps political differences kept this dispute from reaching a simple non-litigious monetary resolution. Now, we can expect technicalities about the actual photograph’s ownership, registration or use to be explored in the defendant’s response or discovery.
On one hand, the Chicks on the Right, who likely use photographs for news articles on a daily basis, should be in the habit of verifying the source of every photograph they post on their blog. Presumably, in this specific instance two years ago, someone just got lazy or quick and grabbed the wrong photograph off the internet.
On the other hand, there’s simply no reason a U.S. Federal Court and esteemed judges like Jane Magnus-Stinson and Debra McVicker Lynch, already overloaded with significant legal disputes, should be dealing with a copyright lawsuit over one photograph (of a person most people have never heard of) used on a single “news” blog post. Statutory damages for a single non-willful infringement would be $750, almost certainly less than the plaintiff spent on preparing and filing this lawsuit, and definitely less than the Court has to expend in processing the dispute. You can’t blame the plaintiff though; currently, they have no other alternative legal option than federal court for a photography copyright dispute. Time will tell if there’s better way to handle such disputes.
Note that the allegedly infringing image no longer appears on the defendant’s website as of the posting of this blog (11/29/21).
By the way, go do a Google search for Lauren Miranda’s attorney. Sharp dresser. So much so, I’m giving this post a “Fashion” tag.
Stay tuned for updates.
Alcorn v. COTR, LLC
File Date: November 22, 2021
Plaintiff: Victor Alcorn
Plaintiff Counsel: Craig B. Sanders, Esq.
Defendant: COTR, LLC
Cause: Direct Copyright Infringement
Court: Southern District of Indiana
Judge: Jane Magnus-Stinson
Referred To: Debra McVicker Lynch