Photog Sues Quincy Jones for Infringement, Says He Was “Strong-Armed”

Photographer Michael D. Jones alleges that after he refused to sign away his copyrights to this 1995 image for $6,500, Quincy Jones and AKG used it anyway without permission.

Los Angeles photographer Michael D. Jones has filed a lawsuit against Quincy Jones, claiming that the legendary music producer provided one of the photographer’s portraits without permission for use in ads, packaging and other materials to promote a line of audio headphones. The photographer, who does not claim any relation to Quincy Jones, is seeking statutory damages and an injunction for willful copyright infringement.

Operating under the name Mike Jones Photography, the photographer has also named the headphone manufacturer, AKG Harman, the music book publisher Hal Leonard Corporation, and Quincy Jones Productions as defendants.

Mike Jones alleges that he photographed Quincy Jones and other celebrated musicians at several recording sessions in 1995 at Qwest Records in West Hollywood. Besides Quincy Jones, others in attendance included Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Nancy Wilson, Herbie Hancock And Ronald Isley.

Mike Jones says he photographed the sessions at the invitation of Qwest’s president, JoAnn Tominaga, and ended up shooting about 100 rolls of film. He alleges that he was never asked to sign a contract or release stating that his photographs from those sessions were works made for hire. He also says that there were no restrictions on what he could photograph.

At an unspecified time, Mike Jones provided Quincy Jones with “select 8×10 prints” of some of the photographs, according to the lawsuit. The photographer alleges that he was not compensated for shooting the last two recording sessions, and he charges that “Qwest attempted to strong-arm” him into signing a release for his prints and negatives by informing him that he would only be paid for the last two sessions if he signed a release of his rights.

Because Mike Jones and Qwest allegedly could not agree on the terms of the release, he refused to sign, and was never paid for the last two sessions.

Years later, in September 2010, Tominaga allegedly showed Mike Jones a print of Quincy Jones, and asked whether he had taken it. The photographer “immediately recognized it as his own,” he says in his lawsuit, and confirmed that it was his by checking his files.

Tominaga allegedly offered him $5,000 for what amounted to a copyright transfer of the photograph. Mike Jones balked, and allegedly demanded $10,000. At that point, Tominaga allegedly told him that Quincy Jones wanted the photograph to help a “small company that manufactured and sold headphones.” Tominaga allegedly pressed the photographer to “act like a ‘team player’” and said she could offer no more than $6,500 because of the manufacturer’s limited budget.

Mike Jones said he didn’t agree to the terms, and never signed a contract Tominaga presented to him. About a month later, in October 2010, he allegedly received a letter from a law firm representing Quincy Jones and AKG Harman that “erroneously indicated that [Mike Jones] agreed to sell the photograph.” Mike Jones soon received a second letter with a check for $6,500. He says he never cashed or deposited the check, however.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit alleges, AKG Harman issued a press release featuring the photograph and announcing that the company had entered into a relationship with Quincy Jones to market and sell a line of signature headphones.

“Beginning in or about September 2010, Harman, Quincy Jones and Quincy Jones Productions violated [Mike Jones's] rights and used the photograph to create marketing materials to promote, advertise and sell several lines of headphones,” the lawsuit alleges. Media where the ads have allegedly appeared include “Facebook, Crutchfiled, YouTube, wangmedia, Listen Closer, and the [Web] sites of various retailers.”

The defendants also made a version of the photo available for free download and distribution as a 13″x17″ poster through AKG’s Web site and Facebook page, the suit alleges. In addition, it says, the image was reproduced in The Quincy Jones Legacy Series book titled Q on Producing.

Mike Jones says in his lawsuit that he has sustained actual damages “in an amount not less than $50 million”–an eye-popping amount for any infringement claim– because of the unauthorized reproduction and distribution of the image in advertising, packaging and promotions, and because of the unauthorized creation of a derivative work (the image appears flipped horizontally in the ads). The photographer also asserts he that he is entitled to recover the “profits, gains and advantages” that the defendants have obtained as a result of their acts of copyright infringement.

Alternatively, he is seeking the maximum allowable statutory damages for willful infringement. Statutory damages are available to copyright holders who register a disputed work prior to the alleged infringement, or within three months of the first publication of the work. Mike Jones registered the image in question this past September, a year after the alleged infringement began.

Mike Jones is also seeking damages for unfair competition under California state law, and an injunction barring the defendants from continuing to use the image.

Quincy Jones and the other defendants have not yet filed a response to the allegations, and no court date has been set.

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