Judge Dismisses Copyright Suit Against Ryan McGinley as “Wasteful”

© 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.

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7 Responses to “Judge Dismisses Copyright Suit Against Ryan McGinley as “Wasteful””

  1. Judge Dismisses Copyright Suit Against Ryan McGinley as “Wasteful” | Global Community of Photography Says:

    [...] TweetCONTINUE READING TO SOURCE Judge Dismisses Copyright Suit Against Ryan McGinley as “Wasteful” [...]

  2. Sometimes Copying Does Not Violate Copyright Law | Utah Corporate Law | BTJD Says:

    [...] TechDirt Article 2 [...]

  3. Judge Dismisses Copyright Suit Against Ryan McGinley as “Wasteful” Says:

    [...] via PDN Pulse. [...]

  4. Anthony Says:

    trust a lawyer to be upfront? HA!

  5. Hugh J. Says:

    “One might have hoped”

    Sure, one can hope. Unfortunately, given enough dollar signs an attorney will even argue that the Earth is flat and the Sun is square.

    However, what I still don’t understand is why any self-respecting photographer would have such a low opinion of their own work as to draw any comparison at all between it and McGinley’s, regardless of who allegedly copied whom.

  6. Paper chase Says:

    What a silly situation. If anything this is indicative of just how desperate the photog market really is.

  7. Lee Says:

    Are F’ing kidding me? those for sure copies but most all of you are too retarded to do anything special on your own so of course you would side with McGinley. You’re beyond helping… Ps. stop reading PDN and all those photo industry magazines, the shit just sucks!