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April 3rd, 2014

In Fight Over Anti-Gay Ad, Misappropriation Claims Are Dismissed

©Kristina Hill

©Kristina Hill

A federal court in Colorado has ruled that the unauthorized use of a gay couple’s engagement photo in a political attack ad was protected by the First Amendment. But the judge in the case rejected a request by defendants to throw out the photographer’s copyright infringement claims on fair use grounds.

Photographer Kristina Hill and her wedding photography clients, Brian Edwards and Thomas Privitere, sued conservative advocacy group Public Advocate of the United States (PAUS) in 2012 for unauthorized use of an engagement photo of Edwards and Privitere in political attack ads.

The ads, showing an image by Hill of Edwards and Privitere kissing each other, were part of a PAUS campaign to defeat two Colorado lawmakers who supported same-sex marriage.

Hill sued for copyright infringement because PAUS used the photo without her permission. Edwards and Priviter claimed misappropriation of their likeness for commercial purposes, in violation of their privacy and Colorado’s right-of-publicity laws.

gay-attack-adBut the court has thrown out the couple’s misappropriation claims on the grounds that the political ads were “primarily non-commercial,” and that they “reasonably relate to a legitimate matter of public concern”–same-sex marriage. Therefore, free speech rights of the First Amendment barred the couple’s misappropriation claim, federal judge Wiley Y. Daniel wrote in the decision.

However, Judge Daniel rejected a motion by PAUS to dismiss Hill’s copyright infringement on fair use grounds, ruling that the ads didn’t pass the standard four-pronged test for fair use.

The first factor, relating to the character and purpose of the unauthorized use,  went against the defendants for two reasons. Language of the copyright law protecting unauthorized use for educational purposes “suggests that the educational purposes contemplated by the statute’s drafters relates to schooling, not mailers circulated during an election,” the judge wrote.

Furthermore, he explained in his decision, “while the defendants placed the lifted portion [of the image] in a different background and placed a caption on the mailer, such actions cannot be characterized as ‘highly
transformative.’”

Other prongs of the fair use test also went against the defendants. For instance, the image is a creative work, not merely informational, which mitigated against a fair use finding, Judge Daniel said. And he rejected the defendants’ argument that they used only used a small part of Hill’s image, countering that they used the qualitatively most significant part, which shows the subjects kissing.

“I find that the plaintiffs have stated a plausible copyright infringement claim under the Copyright Act,” the judge concluded.

The ruling allows Hill to proceed with her copyright infringement claims, and was not a final decision on those claims.

A trial date has been set for January 26, 2015.

Related:
Anti-Gay Group Sued for Unauthorized Use of Photo in Attack Ads

Anti-Gay Group Pleads Fair Use, Free Speech in Infringement Case

April 2nd, 2014

In Copyright Infringement Case, A Defendant Ends Up Owning Disputed Photo

Desmond Howard's iconic Heisman Trophy pose. Shot by Brian Masck. Now owned by Desmond Howard

Desmond Howard’s iconic Heisman Trophy pose. Previously ©Brian Masck. Now ©Desmond Howard.

Former football star Desmond Howard, the subject of a well-known photograph and a defendant in a copyright claim over the use of that same image, will end up owning the copyright to the image as part of a settlement with the photographer who shot it.

That photographer, Brian Masck of Linden, Michigan, is still pursuing infringement claims against Getty Images, Sports Illustrated, Nissan, Amazon.com, Wal-Mart and others.

Masck confirms that he agreed yesterday to settle his infringement claim against Howard by transferring copyrights to the image over to Howard. In exchange, Masck got “a very generous royalty agreement on [Howard's] uses of the picture, including at [public] appearances by Howard,” according to his attorney, Tom Blaske.

“This allows [Howard] to use his favorite photo of himself and make money on it,” Masck told PDN. Blaske adds that Howard “has more resources to best use this historic photo” and thereby ensure that it “remain[s] part of the cultural currency.”

The photo in question shows Howard striking an iconic Heisman Trophy pose after scoring a touchdown against Ohio State University, when he was playing for the University of Michigan. Masck shot the image in 1991 as a freelancer, and licensed it to Sports Illustrated for publication.

SI allegedly never returned the original 35mm transparency to Masck; it ended up in the Allsport archive, and finally in digital format on Getty’s web site around 2005. From there, it “traveled through sports memorabilia channels” onto merchandise sold through retailers, Masck says, and it also appeared in Nissan ads published in Sports Illustrated.

Masck sued in January, 2013, claiming infringement against Howard for unauthorized use of the photo on Howard’s website. Masck claimed unauthorized use by other defendants for distributing the photo and using it in ads without permission.

But Howard counter-sued Masck for unauthorized commercial use of Howard’s name and likeness on a website called TheTrophyPose.com. Masck used that site to sell products featuring the image, including framed prints and life-size, cut-out stand up. He splashed Howard’s name all over the site, confusing visitors into thinking Desmond Howard was behind the site and its products, according to Howard’s counter-claim.

Masck says he’s prohibited by the settlement agreement with Howard from disclosing the financial details. But he says Howard, a TV football commentator who uses photos for publicity and marking, wanted to buy all rights to Masck’s photo several years ago. “At the right price and right terms I was ready to entertain that,” Masck says.

They couldn’t reach an agreement, however.

“What spurred the lawsuit was, after I had sent Howard a print [during their early negotiations] as an example of what the picture could look like, and he took that picture and put it up on his web site,” Masck explains. “That picture had some tells in it. I digitally altered it so I could track it.”

With a trial date approaching, they resumed negotiations and finally reached an agreement.

Meanwhile, Masck is trying to negotiate settlements with Nissan, Sports Illustrated and the other defendants before the case goes to trial. They tried unsuccessfully to have Masck’s claims thrown out on the grounds that he hasn’t done enough over the years to assert his copyrights to the image.

(Editor’s note: This story has been altered from its original version, which included two quotes from Brian Masck that he has asked PDN to remove.)

March 28th, 2014

Court Reminds Michael Kenna: Copyright Protects Expression, Not Ideas

A ruling in a copyright infringement case involving photographer Michael Kenna has affirmed the principle that copyright does not protect ideas (or choice of subject matter). It protects only the expression of an idea.

That’s true under copyright law in the US, as well as in Korea, where a gallery representing Kenna sued Korea Air on Kenna’s behalf, according to a report in The Korea Times. The claim was that a photograph of South Korea’s Seok Island that appeared in ads around 2010 for Korea Air copied an image that Kenna shot of that island in 2007.

The Korea Times says that in rejecting the copyright claim, the court said: “When the subject is identical, it is the matter of preference of a photographer in deciding when, where and how to shoot. They are just two different ideas which can’t be protected by copyright law.”

The newspaper noted that the Korea Air photo was in color, while Kenna’s image was in black and white. Regarding the similarities in composition in both photos, a photographer quoted in the Korean Times article notes that there are few vantage points from which the islands can be photographed.

Related:
Infringement Claim Fails Because Law Protects Expression, Not Ideas
In Court, Copycats Prove Elusive (subscription required)

March 20th, 2014

Former Hallmark Institute Owner Pleads Guilty of Fraud, Tax Evasion

George J. Rosa III, the former owner of the Hallmark Institute of Photography, the photography school in Turners Falls, Massachusetts, pled guilty March 11 to charges of bank fraud and tax evasion, according to a report by Springfield, Massachusetts, TV station WWLP.

Rosa stood accused of diverting $2.6 million in school funds for his own personal use, and then covering up the theft by recording the outlays as business expenses on the school’s books. Tax fraud charges arose from tax returns that Rosa filed on the basis of the false financial records.

Federal prosecutors said Rosa used the stolen money to build a house for himself, gamble, and buy “clothing, footwear and accessories,” according to the WWLP report.

Sentencing is scheduled for May 29. Rosa could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison for bank fraud, and five years for tax fraud. He also faces restitution fines.

Last month, former Hallmark Institute vice president Gregory Olchowski was sentenced to 6 months in federal prison for tax evasion, according to news site MassLive.com. Olchowski was charged with hiding from the IRS $200,000 in money transfers from the “former president” of Hallmark Institute to cover Olchowski’s personal expenses. Although that former president isn’t named in court papers, Olchowski worked at Hallmark when Rosa was president of the school.

Rosa’s financial and legal troubles began several years ago when he borrowed money to fund projects at Hallmark Institute from People’s United Bank  (PUB) in Springfield, Massachusetts. The bank, which was Hallmark’s largest creditor, ended up taking control of the school in 2009 when Rosa began defaulting on the loans. PUB then sold Hallmark Institute to Premier Education Group in Philadelphia.

Premier Education Group kept Rosa on as president of the school until 2012. According to a report from Daily Hampshire Gazette, Ed Martin, the school’s current president, said in a statement on March 12 that Rosa “separated from the company in August of 2012 in light of personal and business issues” that occurred before Premier took over the school.

Rosa filed for personal bankruptcy protection, also in 2009. In early 2010, PUB sued Rosa to prevent the bankruptcy court from discharging Rosa’s $2.2 million debt to the bank. In its lawsuit, the bank alleged that Rosa kept two sets of books at Hallmark Institute to hide assets from the bank and divert money for his personal use.

The bankruptcy court eventually declared Rosa in default of the loans for failure to respond to the bank’s fraud claims against him. The bank’s claims also attracted the attention of federal prosecutors, who ended up filing the criminal charges.

Related:
$3.6 Million in Debt, Photo School President Faces Fraud Charges

Photo School President Fails to Answer Fraud Charges

Bankruptcy Won’t Protect School President from $2.4 Million Debt

The Art Institutes: Legitimate Photo Schools or Accessories to Fraud?

March 20th, 2014

Appeals Court Says Streamlined Photo Copyright Registration Procedures Are Legal

A federal appeals court has re-instated stock photo agency Alaska Stock’s copyright infringement claim against textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin, reversing  a lower court decision to dismiss the case on the grounds that the stock agency had registered its images improperly.

The decision means that Alaska Stock now gets the opportunity to try its copyright claims in court.

The case is a also victory for photographers and other copyright owners because it upholds a streamlined process for registering images in bulk as a collected work. Specifically, the court affirmed the authority of the US Copyright Office “to grant registration to individual stock photographs within a collection where the names of each of the photographers, and titles for each of the photographs, were not provided on the registration forms.”

“The livelihoods of photographers and stock agencies have long been founded on their compliance with the Register’s reasonable interpretation of the [copyright] statue,” the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said in its decision. “Denying the fruits of reliance by citizens on a longstanding administrative practice reasonably construing a statute is unjust.”

The ruling came in the case of Alaska Stock v. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which began in 2009 when Alaska Stock sued the publisher for using Alaska Stock images well beyond the scope of the original usage license. In particular, the publisher “greatly exceeded” the print run limit of the license it had paid for.

Houghton Mifflin challenged the claim on the grounds that Alaska Stock had improperly registered the images in question. (Federal law requires valid registration of any copyrighted work that is the subject of a federal copyright claim.)

Alaska Stock had registered the images in bulk, as a catalogue, listing names of only three photographers, and describing the images in general, but not listing a title for each photograph.

The district court agreed with Houghton Mifflin that Alaska Stock’s registration was “defective” because the agency had not provided the names of each of the photographers and the titles of each of the photographs in its registration application, as required “unambiguously” by law, according to the district court decision.

But the appeals court overturned that decision because it conflicted with a long-standing practice by the Register of Copyrights, undercut the legal authority of the Register of Copyrights to establish procedures of copyright registration–and amounted to a misreading of copyright law by the district court.

The appeals court noted that for more than 30 years, owners of collected works–notably magazines and newspaper publishers–have been legally registering both the collected work and the individual underlying works with one application, without listing all the authors or titles of the individual works. To do otherwise would put an undue burden on applicants and the Register of Copyrights, the court noted

The one caveat to that practice is that applicants for registration must own copyright to the collected work and all the underlying works, the appeals court noted.

In its decision, the appeals court also validated a 1995 letter from the Register of Copyright to the Picture Agency Council of America (PACA) prescribing a method for registering large catalogues of images. “The Register agreed that a stock agency could register both a catalog of images and the individual photographs in the catalog in one application if the photographers temporarily transferred their copyright to the stock agency for the purposes of registration,” the appeals court said in its ruling.

Alaska Stock did exactly that, asking its photographers to transfer copyrights to the agency for the purpose of registering the images in bulk, and then filing a registration application for a CD catalogue of images. (The agency arranged to transfer copyrights back to the photographers after the registration was completed.)

In reviewing the registration requirements spelled out under copyright law, the appeals court said the law requires only that copyright owners provide a title of the collected work and a description (not titles) of the underlying works. Alaska Stock met that requirement, the appeals court said, by registering the images as a collected work called “Alaska Stock CD catalog 4,” and by identifying the underlying works as “CD catalog of stock photos” on its registration form.

The appeals court said the statue requires the name of the author of “the work”–ie, the collected work, not every author of the the individual works. The stock agency met the requirement by listing itself [Alaska Stock] as the author of the collective work, the appeals court said.

The appeals court noted that Houghton Mifflin’s arguments have prevailed in several district court decisions in other similar cases, “but we do not agree with them,” the appeals court added.

In those cases, the courts threw out copyright claims because the registrations were “defective,” i.e., they did not list all the image authors and image titles.

Three of those cases were filed in the Ninth Circuit. One case was settled; two others are under appeal, and will probably be re-instated because of the Alaska Stock decision. “Judges in the Ninth Circuit have to follow the ruling of the court of appeals” in that circuit, says Maurice Harmon, who represents the plaintiffs in all the cases, including the Alaska Stock case.

A fourth case is on appeal in New York, which is in the Second Circuit. Judges there are not bound by the Ninth Circuit decision in the Alaska Stock case. But Harmon believes judges in other circuits “will take it into consideration.

“We think that at the court of appeals level, we’re starting to get momentum for all of these cases,” he adds.

Harmon also says, “It galls me that these [textbook] publishers, who use compilation registrations [to protect their own works], would turn their backs on the very thing they rely on to win a technical victory to take the courthouse keys away from photographers.

“But they know that once a photographer gets in the door of the courthouse, the publishers are not going to get away with this copyright infringement.”

Related:
After Flouting Print Run Limits, Publisher Faces Dozens of Lawsuits

March 19th, 2014

Richard Prince Settles with Photographer Patrick Cariou

One of Patrick Cariou's photographs, altered by Richard Prince

A fair use alteration of one of Patrick Cariou’s photographs, by Richard Prince.

Artist Richard Prince has paid an undisclosed sum of money to photographer Patrick Cariou to tie up the loose ends of their five-year copyright battle, The New York Times has reported.

Prince previously won an appeals court decision in 2013 dismissing most of Cariou’s copyright infringement claims. Cariou had alleged infringement of 30 images from his book Yes, Rasta that Prince had appropriated for a series of paintings. Most of the paintings sold through Prince’s gallery, fetching more than $10 million dollars.

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, located in New York City, ruled that 25 of Prince’s works qualified as fair use of Cariou’s photographs because Prince transformed them with “an entirely different esthetic.”

But the appeals court declined to rule on Prince’s fair use defense for the remaining five works, and sent the case back to a lower court for further consideration of Cariou’s claims surrounding those five works.

The settlement resolves Cariou’s claims related to those five works.

The lower court had originally ruled in Cariou’s favor on all of his claims, because Prince wasn’t commenting on Cariou’s photographs or otherwise referencing their original meaning in his paintings; he was simply using Cariou’s photographs as raw material.

The appeals court’s decision favoring Prince remains controversial. While many in the art community have applauded the decision, many photographers contend that it unfairly expanded the boundaries of fair use, and made their images more vulnerable to appropriation as raw material by other artists.

Related:
Supreme Court Declines to Hear Patrick Cariou’s Claim Against Richard Prince
Richard Prince Did Not Infringe Patrick Cariou’s Photos, Appeals Court Says
In Cariou v. Prince, An Appeal to Clarify a Crucial Fair Use Boundary
Appropriation Artist Richard Prince Liable for Infringement, Court Rules

March 17th, 2014

Photographers Could Get Royalties on Auction Sales Under Proposed Federal Bill

Few things are as frustrating to photographers as selling a print for a few thousand dollars–or less–then watching collectors reap huge profits by re-selling those same prints at auction years later for tens of thousands of dollars–or even more.

Two US Senators and a US Congressional representative have introduced a bill to cut visual artists in on that action with a 5 percent royalty on the price of visual works re-sold at auction. If it becomes law, the bill would apply only to works sold by auction houses–not by private individuals or dealers–and only when the auction price of a work exceeds $5,000, according to a report on the Art Law blog of Frankfurt, Kurnit, Klein & Selz (FKK&S), a New York law firm.

The auction royalty would be capped in 2014 at $35,000 for each sale. The cap would be subject to an inflation adjustment every year after that, according to the FKK&S report.  Auction houses would be obligated to collect the so-called auction royalty, and subject to civil claims from artists if they fail to collect and pay the royalty.

The bill, called the American Royalties Too Act (ART Act), was introduced last month in the Senate by Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Ed Markey (D-MA), and in the House by Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

“American artists are being treated unfairly,” said Nadler in a prepared statement. “The benefits derived from the appreciation in the price of a visual artists’ work typically accrues to collectors, auction houses, and galleries, not to the artist.”

He noted that visual artists in 70 other countries are compensated when their works are re-sold at auction.

Unable to collect royalties from the re-sale of existing prints that have increased significantly in value, US photographers sometimes respond by issuing new limited editions of their prints–in different sizes or using different printing processes from earlier editions.

That practice angers collectors. For instance, William Eggleston created limited-edition digital inkjet pigment prints of some of his most iconic images, and earned $5.9 million by selling them at a Christie’s auction in March, 2012. He was promptly sued by financier Jonathan Sobel, a long-time collector of Eggleston’s vintage dye-transfer prints. Sobel alleged that the new prints devalued Sobel’s dye transfer prints and amounted to a breach of contract on Eggleston’s part.

Sobel eventually lost the legal fight, although he had the sympathy of dealers and gallerists who worry that photographers could harm their reputations and the market for photographic prints if they anger collectors by issuing new editions.

The ART Act, if it becomes law, could help reduce incentive to issue new editions by giving photographers another way to profit from the dramatic rise in the value of their work.

But success of the bill is by no means assured.

Nadler introduced a similar bill in 2011 that died in committee. The US Copyright Office, which was opposed at the time to instituting resale royalties for visual artists, has since changed its position on the matter, according to the FKK&S report. But collectors and auction houses are certain to object to paying royalties to artists. And the ART Act seeks to change a long-entrenched principle of copyright law called the First Sale doctrine, which  allows buyers of copyrighted works to do with them as they please, with no obligation to the artists who made them.

Related:
Collector Sues Eggleston Over New Prints of Limited Edition Works

Q&A: Art Collector Jonathan Sobel Explains His Beef with William Eggleston

What Does Limited Edition Really Mean? (subscription required)

March 12th, 2014

Model Release Lawsuit Survives Getty’s Challenge

A New York state judge has cleared the way for a lawsuit by a model who is accusing Getty Images of commercial use of her likeness without a model release.

State supreme court judge Ancil C. Singh rejected last week a request from Getty to throw out model Avril Nolan’s claim on First Amendment and other grounds.

Nolan sued Getty last September after her picture appeared in a public service ad promoting services for HIV-positive people. The ad, published in a free daily called AM NY, showed a picture of Nolan with the headline “I am positive (+) and I have rights.”

The ad was placed by the New York State Division of Human Rights, which licensed the image of Nolan from Getty. The photograph was shot by Getty contributor Jena Cumbo, according to court documents.

Nolan alleges that she didn’t sign a model release for the image, so Getty was in violation of New York’s right of publicity law not only for licensing the image for use in the HIV ad, but also for displaying the image on its web site.

New York state law prohibits use of a person’s likeness for advertising or trade purposes without written consent, i.e., a model release.

Getty countered in its motion for dismissal that displaying the images on its web site for licensing to third parties does not constitute advertising or trade use under the state’s right of publicity law. The agency also claimed a First Amendment right to display images for license to third parties. And it argued that Nolan should sue the State of New York, not Getty, since it was the state that used the image for advertising purposes, allegedly without consent.

But the judge concluded that Getty’s defenses are questions for a jury to decide.

The ruling was against Getty’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and not a ruling on the merits of Nolan’s claims.

March 10th, 2014

Commercial Drones Are Legal, Federal Court Says

A federal administrative court judge has determined that drones–aka unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs–can be used for commercial purposes because the Federal Aviation Administration has no regulations on the books that prohibit such uses.

Vice.com reported that the judge made the ruling last week in a case involving a photographer who had appealed a $10,000 fine for using a drone to shoot a video commercial, allegedly in violation of FAA rules.

The FAA immediately appealed, explaining in a statement that it “is concerned that this decision could impact the safe operation of the national airspace system and the safety of people and property on the ground.”

The FAA had fined photographer Raphael Pirker for unauthorized commercial use of a drone in 2011, after Pirker had used a remotely-controlled aircraft to produce a video commercial for the University of Virginia. Pirker had piloted the aircraft in the vicinity of the university, located in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Pirker, owner of UAV video production company Team Black Sheep, won his appeal of the fine on the grounds that a drone is in the same class of aircraft as model airplanes, which the FAA has never regulated. (The FAA has asked model airplane operators to fly the planes under 400 feet, and to stay away from airports, but those rules are strictly voluntary.)

The administrative court ruling means that photographers can use drones for commercial purposes, at least for now. But with the FAA opposed to unregulated use of drone aircraft in the US, it’s a safe bet that the agency will try to impose new administrative rules–or seek legislation–to restrict the use of drones in the near future.

Related:
Hartford Police Sued for Stopping Camera Drone, Chasing Photog Away

February 20th, 2014

Hartford Police Sued for Stopping Camera Drone, Chasing Photog Away

A news photographer has sued the Hartford, Connecticut police department and two of its officers for forcing him to stop flying a camera-equipped drone over the scene of a police investigation.

Photographer Pedro Rivera, who works for television station WFSB, was briefly detained for questioning and ordered to stop flying the remote-controlled drone over the scene of a fatal traffic accident on February 1.

Rivera was not on duty for WFSB television and was not gathering video for the station at the time, he told police at the scene. But he acknowledged to police that he sometimes provides video footage from his drone to the TV station.

After he was detained, police ordered him to leave the scene. Rivera alleges that police then called his employer, and told a supervisor that Rivera had interfered with a  police investigation. Police urged the station to discipline Rivera, he alleges in the lawsuit.

He was suspended from his job “for at least one week,” the lawsuit says.

Rivera says police violated his First Amendment rights to “monitor” the police response to a motor vehicle accident, and his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizure.

Rivera asserts in his lawsuit that “private citizens do not need local, state or federal approval to operate a remote-controlled aircraft” and that police had no cause to believe he was “in violation of any law or regulatory requirement.”

The Federal Aviation Administration has taken the position that commercial use of drones is illegal, and that journalism amounts to commercial use of the vehicles, according to an NPPA report. That report also notes that some critics say there is no legal basis for the FAA’s position.

Rivera is seeking compensatory damages for lost wages and emotional distress, as well as punitive damages. In addition, he is asking the court for a declaratory judgment that he wasn’t violating any laws by flying the drone, and for an injunction to prevent Hartford police from “interfering with the lawful operation of drones within city limits.”

Hartford police have yet to file a response to Rivera’s claims, and they did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Related:
PDN Video: A Photographer’s Guide to the First Amendment and Dealing with Police Intimidation
Police Intimidation Watch: New Haven Police Sued for Arresting Photographer, Erasing iPhone Video