In Legal Trouble, Photographer Appeals for Help

Hipple_dance-1 Seattle photographer Mike Hipple reports that he has run out of money to defend himself against a copyright infringement claim by a sculptor, and he's now trying to raise money by selling a self-published book.

"My lawyer recently [quit] on me because I cannot keep up with the legal costs," Hipple says. "I've found another lawyer to assist me, this time on a pro-bono basis thankfully, but I still have a lot of costs" for expert witnesses, depositions and other expenses.

Hipple is being sued for infringement over the stock image shown here. It depicts a dancer interacting with bronze footprints embedded in a Seattle sidewalk.  Jack Mackie, one of the sculptors who created the footprints to illustrate the "Mambo" dance, filed the claim against Hipple last year.

Hipple shot the photograph in 1997, and distributed through his stock agency, AGE Fotostock. Mackie discovered it in 2007.

Hipple says he has tried without success to settle the case with Mackie.

Hipple's first lawyer argued that the sculpture is a "derivative" representation (of dance step instructions) that lacks enough originality to qualify for copyright protection.

Hipple said he's also arguing that his use of Mackie's work is allowed in this case under the Fair Use doctrine. "If this doesn’t qualify as fair use of the sculpture, I don’t know what does," he said.

Fair Use is an exemption in the copyright law for certain uses, such as criticism, comment, and news reporting. It is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Hipple's fund-raising book, called Dailies, is a 40-page collection of personal images that Hipple is selling for $32.95 on Blurb.com. More information, including a preview of the book, is available at http://www.blurb.com/books/1386481.

Hipple also maintains a blog where he has set up a legal defense fund.

Update June 11, 2010: Mackie's original complaint is available here. Hipple's motion to have the case dismissed, which was denied, is here. A more complete file of the case documents can be accessed at www.pacer.gov.

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