September 8th, 2014

Robert Frerck on How to Track Down Copyright Infringements in Textbooks

After publishing our story about the dozens of lawsuits filed against textbook publishers for reproductions of photos that far exceed the limits of usage licenses, we heard from travel photographer Robert Frerck. He won a summary judgment in August on his copyright infringement claim against Pearson Education, and a settlement last May from McGraw-Hill on a separate infringement claim.

“It seems that once a publisher used your image with a valid license, you were fair game for any additional products that they might fancy to produce,” he told PDN via e-mail. In the following excerpt of our exchange with Frerck, he touches on the risk of suing clients, then shares his advice and strategies for tracking down infringements by textbook publishers.

PDN: Was it difficult to bring suit against a client?
Robert Frerck: I had been doing substantial business with all of these publishers for decades, so it was a very difficult decision. I was aware that if I proceeded with this action I might be be putting an end to several profitable client relationships. However I was also very disturbed that these companies had not been truthful in their actions with me. Over [many] years I had met many of their picture editors personally and we had developed a relationship based on trust and I considered many of them to be personal friends. So I felt betrayed when I learned that these companies were knowingly cheating me as a standard business practice. I think that in the end that was the deciding factor in persuading me to pursue legal action.

PDN: What has the process been like for you? Have you ever questioned whether it was worth the headache?
RF:  It has been very frustrating at times. However, it has also been rewarding to see that this information has come out and that my position has been vindicated. The bottom line is that it has been well worth the effort, from both a “securing justice” and a financial perspective.

PDN Are there any particular lessons you’ve learned from your experience pursuing these claims? Any advice you’d give other photographers who might be considering in a similar position?
RF: Fortunately, I still had almost two decades of past invoices and these were coupled with their respective purchase orders and related communications. Most importantly the language of these invoices very clearly stated: what reproduction rights I was licensing and what I was not licensing. So this was sufficient to make a case. However I then decided to expand my data collection in a somewhat different way from other photographers in similar cases. Rather than simply looking at past invoices and making those invoices the substance of my claims, I decided to purchase almost all of the textbooks that were indicated by my invoice record[s].

By actually having the textbooks in my hands, I discovered many things that were not revealed simply by looking at the invoices. For example there were numerous uses of my images that were not mentioned on the purchase orders and consequently never invoiced or licensed. Where only one use was indicated on the purchase order, I might find a second or third use of an image in the actual text (for example, a second use in the table of contents). I also found images that were indicated for use as a 1/4 page on the purchase order but in the text were used as a double page chapter opener, a mistake with a huge impact on the bottom line.

Another interesting thing I discovered – and for this I bless Google and the internet and companies like Amazon: I would find the title of the text that was listed on my purchase order/invoice but then I would also find that there was an “International Edition” of that same title; or a “Spanish Language Edition” or a newer “expanded edition” or a “CD or internet website use” that I had never licensed. Many of my claims against publishers are for uses in products that were never licensed in the first place. It seems that once a publisher used your image with a valid license, you were fair game for any additional products that they might fancy to produce. Unless you were actively spending countless hours researching these titles on the internet you would never have been aware that this was occurring. I guess that is what the publishers were counting on.

In the final analysis, pursuing this type of litigation is not for everyone; first it helps to have reliable records and a lot of patience and perseverance. However, in a way it is like the unraveling of a good mystery and you are trying to discover all of the wrinkles in the plot. You must also be prepared to put up with a lot of BS from the defense lawyers, but my lawyers have been great in countering them. And most importantly, remember that the truth will be found out in the end.

Related:
Has a Textbook Publisher Trampled Your Copyrights? There’s a Solution for That.

August 21st, 2014

Has a Textbook Publisher Trampled Your Copyrights? There’s a Solution for That.

Photographers and stock photo agencies have filed dozens of lawsuits against textbook publishers in recent years, alleging reproductions of photos the far exceed the limits of usage licenses. Courts have ruled in favor of photographers in many of the cases. Robert Frerck, for instance, won summary judgment this month on his copyright claims against Pearson Education, and won a settlement from McGraw-Hill last May on another claim. Despite all the claims and settlements, new claims continue to surface.

Photographer Joel Gordon recently filed his third copyright infringement lawsuit this year against a textbook publisher. The first two claims were against McGraw-Hill and Pearson Eduction; both cases are still pending. Gordon alleges in his newest claim, against Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), that between 1990 and 2008, he granted photo usage licenses that “were expressly limited by number of copies, distribution area, language, duration, and/or media.”

HMH ultimately violated those limitations, according to Gordon’s claim. He does not specify the extent of the alleged infringement, explaining that only HMH has that information. But he cites a previous claim against HMH by photographer Ted Wood, who had limited use of his photographs to 40,000 copies, only to discover that HMH had published more than 1 million copies. Wood won his case on summary judgment.

Gordon goes on to cite another 25 claims of copyright infringement against HMH, and he accuses the publisher of having a business model “built on a foundation of pervasive and willful copyright infringement [that] deprived Gordon and hundreds of other photographers and visual art licensors of their rightful compensation and unjustly enriched HMH.”

He is seeking unspecified monetary damages, and an injunction to bar the publisher from further use of his photographs.

Attorney Maurice Harmon of Harmon & Seidman LLC, the lawfirm that represents Gordon, Frerck and many other photographers for claims against textbook publishers, explained via e-mail why these types of claims persist, and how photographers who believe their copyrights have been violated by textbook publishers can protect themselves.

PDN: Why do these claims by photographers against textbook publishers continue to trickle out?
Maurice Harmon: Photographers have only gradually come to realize their photographs have been infringed. Once they know of the individual infringements, the photographers have three years to file a case.

PDN: Do any publishers make good-faith efforts to settle the claims before photographers sue, or before claims go to trial?
MH: That varies greatly—but we always try to negotiate a fair settlement at every stage and 98% settle before trial.

PDN: What must a photographer be prepared to endure, in terms of an investment of time and money, and/or mental anguish—to take on a textbook publisher with one of these claims?
MH: That also varies greatly. Some cases are resolved quickly without anything more than sending us the invoices. Other cases require more documents and a deposition. We advance all expenses, so there is no out-of-pocket cost to the photographer.

PDN: What is required for a photographer to make a strong claim?
MH: Invoices/licenses with terms that identify the specific licensed photographs that limit the uses a publisher can make of those images. Each photograph must also have been registered or can be registered with the Copyright Office.

PDN: What can photographers expect to recover if they win in court?
MH: That depends on the extent of the unauthorized uses, the license terms and conditions, the registration status of the photographs, etc., but it has proven to be well worth our —and the photographers—time.

PDN: If a photographer never registered his or her image copyright, or registered after a textbook publisher misused them, does that make an infringement claim more difficult than it’s worth? [editor's note: Filing registration before a proven infringement makes copyright holders eligible for statutory damages, which are often much higher than actual damages.]
MH: Sometimes, but not always—it depends on the number of infringements after registration and the license terms and conditions.

PDN: Aren’t these claims subject to a statute of limitations? When is it too late to make a claim?
MH: The photographer has three years from the date he or she knew, or reasonably should have known, about the specifics of the infringement to file a case.

PDN: What percentage of these claims are successful? What are the most common reasons they fail—ie, they’re dismissed by a court, or a photographer recovers little or nothing in the end?
MH: The cases we bring have all been successful unless the plaintiff is determined by the Court to lack standing; that is, to lack ownership of the photographs.

PDN: How have textbook publishers changed their license agreements to avoid these claims in the future?
MH: The textbook publishers are now demanding rights so broad it is almost impossible to overrun the license.

PDN: What’s your parting advice to photographers who license images to textbooks?
MH: Act immediately to find out and protect your rights.

Related:
Appeals Court Upholds Copyright Infringement Damages Award to Louis Psihoyos
Judge Refused to Let Book Publisher Weasel Out of Copyright Lawsuit
 After Flouting Print Run Limits, Publishers Face Dozens of Lawsuits

April 26th, 2012

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)

Related:
After Flouting Print Run Limits, Publishers Face Dozens of Lawsuits