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, and retailers Urban Outfitters and Forever 21, which allegedly sold the T-shirts in stores and online. Clinch is seeking statutory as well as actual damages, which he alleges to be in excess of $600,000, according to the lawsuit.

Clinch alleges a complex chain of liability in the production and distribution of the T-shirts. According to his lawsuit, California-based merchandiser Planet Productions granted a license to New York-based Bioworld Merchandising to produce, manufacture and distribute apparel featuring photographic images of Planet’s roster of music clients.

The Planet/Bioworld license included images of Shakur. Planet allegedly obtained its license to the Shakur images from Amaru/AWA Merchandising, a California-based agent for Shakur’s estate. “The Planet/Amaru agreement purported to grant such license on behalf of the copyright owner,” Clinch alleges in his claim.

But Amaru/AWA isn’t authorized to license Clinch’s copyrighted photographs of Shakur. And Planet knew the Shakur images were copyrighted, but “did not undertake any due diligence to determine who was the copyright owner,” according to Clinch’s lawsuit.

Clinch describes the infringement of his photographs as “deliberate and willful,” and says Planet earned revenue “in excess of $522,287″ from the sale of the infringing T-shirts. Planet also paid Amaru “in excess of $86,000” in fees, according to the lawsuit.

Clinch says the retail stores he named in the suit “earned substantial profits” from the sale of the T-shirts, but he doesn’t specify those profits.

In addition to damages, Clinch is seeking an injunction against the defendants to bar further use of his photographs, and the destruction of all infringing merchandise. If he prevails, he will be eligible for statutory damages as well as actual damages, because he registered his copyright prior to the alleged infringements.

The defendants have not yet responded to Clinch’s claims.

Related:
Danny Clinch: Documentary-Style Portraiture
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