Seven photographer are suing the National Football League and two image distributors–Getty Images and Associated Press (AP)–for copyright infringement over widespread use of their images in NFL ads, products and promotions without fair compensation, according to an October 21 report from Courthouse News Service.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in New York, is a legal tangle because Getty and AP represented the photographers, and were authorized to license their work at the time of the alleged infringements. But the case boils down to allegations that Getty and AP breached their fiduciary duty to the photographers because of conflicts of interest.

Both distributors had incentive to curry favor with the NFL in order to gain and hang onto an exclusive contract to license images of NFL events to third parties for commercial use. Getty won the contract in 2007, then lost the contract to AP in 2009.

According to the lawsuit, the photographers “recently discovered that both Getty Images and AP granted the NFL nearly unfettered access to plaintiffs’ photo collections and, either expressly or by inaction, allowed the NFL to make free or ‘complimentary’ use of plaintiffs’ copyrighted photos.”

According to the Courthouse News Service report, the photographers are also accusing Getty of using bare-knuckle tactics to keep them from moving their images to AP, after AP won the exclusive NFL contract in 2009. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that Getty threatened to stop marketing all of their sports images–including Major League Baseball photos–for commercial use, if the photographers moved their NFL images to AP.

Photographer Paul Spinelli is the lead plaintiff in the case. The other photographer plaintiffs are Paul Jasienski, David Stluka, Thomas E. Witte, David Drapkin, George Newman Lowrance and Scott Boehm.

AP and Getty both declined PDN’s request to comment about the lawsuit.


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