Judge Dismisses Copyright Suit Against Ryan McGinley as “Wasteful”

Posted by on Monday August 22, 2011 | Copyright/Legal

© Levi's/photo by Ryan McGinley

A federal district court judge has dismissed photographer Janine Gordon’s suit against photographer Ryan McGinley, and also offered a useful refresher course on the basics of copyright law.

In June, Gordon sued McGinley and his galleries, alleging that the artist had copied both her style and her subject matter in his art shows and his advertising work for Levi’s Go Forth campaign. As evidence, she submitted 150 of her images and McGinley’s featuring the same subjects, including a man jumping with his arms outstretched, a black man and a white woman kissing, and a woman’s nude torso.

After reviewing the images,  Judge Richard Sullivan for the Southern District of New York ruled in a decision released Thursday that “there is no substantial similarity between Plaintiff’s works and the allegedly infringing compositions of McGinley.” While both artists photographed similar subjects, copyright law protects only the expression of an idea – not the idea itself. Gordon’s “apparent theory of infringement would assert copyright interests in virtually any figure with outstretched arms, any interracial kiss, or any nude torso,” the judge wrote. “Such a conception of copyright law has no basis in statute, case law, or common sense.”

PDN often hears from photographers complaining that their work has been ripped off by another photographer. Judge Sullivan’s opinion in Gordon v. McGinley highlights how difficult it is for copycat claims to meet the law’s standards for infringement. Quoting an earlier ruling by the Second Circuit, he notes, “Not all copying results in copyright infringement.”

The judge added a few scathing words for Gordon and her lawyers. “One might have hoped that [plaintiff’s] attorneys, presumably familiar with the basic tenets of copyright and intellectual property law, would have recognized the futility of this action before embarking on a long, costly, and ultimately wasteful course of litigation in a court of law.”

PDFs of the full opinion are available. Tech Dirt’s article on the case has a link.


COMMENTS

MORE POSTS

“Deliberate Attack” Killed Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik in Syria, Says Photographer Paul Conroy

Posted by on Tuesday July 12, 2016 | Copyright/Legal, Photojournalism

The sister of deceased American journalist Marie Colvin has filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. district court in Washington D.C. against the state of Syria, alleging that Colvin was deliberately targeted for extrajudicial killing by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The 2012 artillery attack on a media center in Homs killed Colvin, 56,... More

Unfair Editorial Photo Contracts: VICE Wants “All of Photographer’s Rights”

Posted by on Tuesday June 28, 2016 | Business, Copyright/Legal

When we published our story “What Lawyers See When They Look at Editorial Photography Contracts” in the June issue of PDN, we asked readers to tell us about editorial contracts they feel are unfair to photographers. We received a copy of a “Vice Media Photographer Agreement” that a Vice website sent to a photographer earlier... More

FAA Releases Rules for Commercial and Media Drone Operation

Posted by on Thursday June 23, 2016 | Business, Copyright/Legal, Photo Gear

Yesterday the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a new set of rules for the use of drones in the United States for “non-hobby and non-recreational purposes,” i.e. commercial production and journalism. The rules introduce a certification process for drone pilots, address drone operation when people are present, and spell out when drone operators must clear... More