Photographer Jana Romanova has sued VICE Media for willful copyright infringement and violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for publishing a photo from her “Waiting” series without permission. Romanova’s suit, filed in the Eastern District of New York on November 23, alleges that VICE violated her copyright when it published one of her photos of parents-to-be online with an article titled “What It’s Like to Be a Millennial in a Sexless Relationship” and on the VICE Facebook page. Romanova has recently registered the image with the US Copyright office, and is seeking both actual damages and statutory damages allowed under the DMCA.
Romanova’s “Waiting” series, which depicts pregnant women and their partners asleep in bed, has been published in several publications, including Stern, Fast Company, Daily Mail and China Daily. The series was also exhibited in several international photo festivals, and images from “Waiting” were included in a group show at the Andrea Meislin Gallery in New York in 2013.
The image was also published, along with an interview with Romanova about her “Waiting” project, in a 2012 article in the website of VICE UK.
According to her lawyer, Richard Liebowitz of Valley Stream, New York, Romanova granted VICE permission to use her photos only in the context of an interview about her work. Regarding the use of one of her images in a 2016 article about millennial sex, her lawsuit states, “Vice did not license the Photograph from the Plaintiff for its article, nor did Vice have Plaintiff’s permission or consent to publish the Photograph on the Websites.”
Liebowitz says the image was first published in 2010 in an article in Russian Reporter, along with Romanova’s photo credit, in print and then online. The lawsuit alleges that Vice copied the image from the Russian Reporter and removed the copyright information, a violation of the DMCA.
Creators are eligible for statutory damages for copyright infringement only if they register their copyrights in a timely manner, usually before infringement occurs. According to Liebowitz, Romanova registered the copyright to her image only after she saw a copy in the 2016 VICE article. As a result, she’s eligible only for actual damages, which she must prove in court.
If Romanova can also prove DMCA violations, she may be eligible to receive between $2,500 and $25,000 in statutory damages for those claims.
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