Judge Refuses to Let Book Publisher Weasel Out of Copyright Lawsuit
A federal court judge in Chicago has refused a textbook publisher’s request to dismiss a photographer’s claim of massive copyright infringement, saying Robert Frerck’s allegations that Pearson Education infringed about 4,000 of his photographs “are sufficient to put Pearson on notice.” The decision is likely to force the company to do what it has been trying to avoid: divulge its records so Frerck is able to identify all unauthorized uses of his images.
Frerck filed suit last August, and said he licensed the publisher usage rights to various photos between 1992 and 2010. He says the licenses were limited by the number of copies, distribution are, language, duration, and media (print or electronic.)
Frerck alleges that the uses often exceeded the license terms, and that the unauthorized uses weren’t an innocent administrative oversight. “Pearson often knew, from its pre-publication plans and its experience with prior editions, that its actual uses under the licenses would exceed the permission it was requesting and paying for,” Frerck asserts in his claim.
In addition, he claims, the publisher used some photographs with no license at all. Frerck says he doesn’t know the extent of those unauthorized uses, but asserts that “Pearson has created, or easily could create, a list of its wholly unlicensed uses” during the discovery process of the case.
He alleges that two Pearson Curriculum Group employees–Julie Orr, Image Manager, Rights and Permissions and Maureen Griffin, Photo Commissions Editor– have already testified that the company has printed textbooks in excess of photo license limits, and used images in some instances without permission.
“Pearson’s business model, built on a foundation of pervasive and willful copyright infringement, deprived Plaintiff and thousands of other visual art licensors of their rightful compensation and unjustly enriched Pearson with outlandish profits in the process,” Pearson alleged in his complaint.
Frerck’s claim is one of many filed against textbook publishers in recent years for unauthorized use of images, and uses far beyond the limits of usage licenses. Frerck cites claims by ten other photographers and stock agencies–including Norbert Wu, Louis Psihoyos, Grant Heilman Photography, DRK Photo, Pacific Stock and others–that are currently pending against Pearson.
Anticipating Pearson’s response, Frerck alleged in his own claim that the publisher’s strategy for getting claims dismissed is to argue that copyright owners can sue only for infringements for which they can provide evidence at the time they file their claims. And that’s exactly how Pearson sought to have Frerck’s claim dismissed. But Pearson hides its infringements from copyright owners, Frerck argues, so copyright owners can’t produce evidence unless a claim is allowed to go forward, forcing Pearson to divulge its records of image use. Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr. agreed, saying Frerck provided enough evidence of specific infringement to make all of his claims “plausible.” (Civil Action No. 1:11-cv-5319)