©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


COMMENTS

MORE POSTS

Danny Clinch Sues for Copyright Infringement of Tupac Shakur Photos

Posted by on Monday June 5, 2017 | Copyright/Legal

Danny Clinch filed suit in federal court in New York June 2, alleging multiple copyright infringements of two of his photographs of late rap artist Tupac Shakur. The photographs were allegedly reprinted and distributed on T-shirts without permission. Clinch, a noted music photographer, names five defendants, including an agent for Shakur’s estate, two merchandise manufacturers,... More

Montana Photographer Sues Republican National Committee for Copyright Infringement

Posted by on Friday May 19, 2017 | Copyright/Legal

Missoula, Montana-based photographer Erika Peterman is suing The Republican National Committee (RNC) for willful copyright infringement. The suit, filed in Montana District Court earlier this week, alleges the RNC used without permission a Peterman photograph of Rob Quist, the Democratic candidate in a special election to fill Montana’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.... More

Jury Awards $900K in Marketing Photo Copyright Case

Posted by on Monday May 15, 2017 | Copyright/Legal

A federal jury in Maryland has awarded $900,000 in actual damages to an Oregon-based plant retailer for its claims against a competitor over unauthorized use of two dozen copyrighted images. The jury verdict, delivered last week, also included a $300,000 statutory damages award, but the plaintiff may elect one jury award or the other (not... More