The plaintiff in this copyright lawsuit is a professional photographer who has taken several photographs of Indiana Pacers’ Lance Stephenson, including photographs of Stephenson winning the 2008 Public School Athletic League as a high-schooler with Abraham Lincoln High School in Coney Island, New York.
Stephenson allegedly posted several of the plaintiff’s photographs on his Instagram account, stephensonlance, without authorization from the plaintiff. Most of the postings were apparently posted in Stephenson’s “Instagram Stories,” which disappear after 24 hours.
Lance Stephenson isn’t the first public figure to be sued for posting unowned photos of themself on social media. Being the subject of a photograph does not grant you copyright ownership of that photograph. Copyright ownership is held by the photographer, who can thus control how the photograph is publicly displayed. These types of lawsuits are typically settled out-of-court, but obviously not in this instance, although the Complaint (below) makes no mention of attempted settlement negotiations. Nevertheless, settlement usually follows shortly after a complaint is filed, although usually at a higher settlement amount.
Stay tuned for updates.
Reid v. Stephenson
Case Number: 1:22-cv-00205-JRS-DLP File Date: January 27, 2022 Plaintiff: Damion Reid Plaintiff Counsel: Craig B. Sanders of Sanders Law Group Defendant: Lance Stephenson Cause: Direct Copyright Infringement Court: Southern District of Indiana Judge: James R. Sweeney II Referred To: Doris L. Pryor
Here’s yet another copyright lawsuit involving the unauthorized use of a photograph on a website.
The Defendant, Vive Exterior Design, is a landscape design company headquartered in Fishers, Indiana. Vive is alleged to have used the Plaintiff’s photograph of a bocce ball court in the portfolio section of its website, www.viveexterior.com. The Plaintiff first sought to recover a standard license fee for use of the photograph via an intellectual property management company called Image Rights. When Image Rights was unsuccessful, Plaintiff’s counsel became involved but apparently never received a response from Vive. As such, Vive now has a federal copyright lawsuit to defend.
Settlement is the most likely outcome, but perhaps Vive has a valid defense for using the Plaintiff’s photograph. Stay tuned for updates.
Corson v. Vive Exterior Design, LLC et al
Case Number: 1:22-cv-00127-RLY-MG File Date: January 17, 2022 Plaintiff: Lisa Corson Plaintiff Counsel: Mathew K. Higbee, Naomi M. Sarega of Higbee & Associates Defendant: Vive Exterior Design, LLC, Does 1-10 Cause: Copyright Infringement Court: Southern District of Indiana Judge: Richard L. Young Referred To: Mario Garcia
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
The plaintiff in this copyright infringement lawsuit is a professional photographer from Nashville, Tennessee. In March 2019, the plaintiff took a photograph of Ray Luzier, drummer for the band Korn. The photograph was immediately registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.
The Defendant, which sells acoustical products from Indianapolis, Indiana, allegedly used the plaintiff’s photograph on its website without authorization, on a page about “famous users” of the Defendant’s products. The photograph was also allegedly posted on the Defendant’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Stay tuned for updates.
Berman v. Auralex Acoustics, Inc.
Case Number: 1:21-cv-02090-JMS-TAB File Date: Thursday, July 22, 2021 Plaintiff: Sayre Berman Plaintiff Counsel: Craig B. Sanders, Esq. of Barshay Sanders, PLLC Defendant: Auralex Acoustics, Inc. Cause: Direct Copyright Infringement, Falsification, Removal and Alteration of Copyright Management Information Court: Southern District of Indiana Judge: Jane Magnus-Stinson Referred To: Tim A. Baker
The Plaintiff in this copyright lawsuit is an infant photographer who uses photo editing software to add teeth to her infant subjects. Depending on your aesthetic tastes, the resulting photographs range somewhere between cute and horrifying.
The Defendant sells teeth whitening and oral care products and allegedly used one of the Plaintiff’s photographs in a Facebook advertisement in August 2019. The photograph was altered to whiten the teeth and remove the Plaintiff’s watermark. The advertisement (below) included a link to the Defendant’s website and a “Shop Now” button.
It’s hard to see this lawsuit going very far; it’s slightly ridiculous it had to be filed at all. This situation seems like it would be a perfect fit for a small claims copyright court. Hopefully the parties can soon find an amicable resolution, like an appropriate license fee, for the (possibly) 4one-time use of Plaintiff’s photograph. If the Defendant somehow determines it would make more sense to litigate, we might see them challenge jurisdiction in Indiana.
Stay tuned for updates.
Haehl v. Dr. Brite, LLC
Case Number: 1:21-cv-02072-JPH-MJD File Date: Wednesday, July 21, 2021 Plaintiff: Amy Haehl Plaintiff Counsel: Bradley M. Stohry of Reichel Stohry Dean LLP Defendant: Dr. Brite, LLC Cause: Direct Copyright Infringement, Vicarious Copyright Infringement, Removal or Alteration of Copyright Management Information Court: Southern District of Indiana Judge: James Patrick Hanlon Referred To: Mark J. Dinsmore