Copywrong? Photog sues blogger for $385K
It was a tiny picture of a tiny music venue, and it was posted just twice on a local blogger's site, but the aggrieved photographer who snapped it says compensation needs to be made–- compensation to the tune of $385,000.
The federal lawsuit filed May 15 demands as much from gossip site cVillain.com and its owner, Kyle Redinger. The litigant, Charlottesville photographer Matthew Rosenberg, claims Redinger violated his copyright by hosting and showing the thumbnail image without permission.
"If filing a lawsuit over something so trivial is not overkill," says veteran intellectual property lawyer Sheldon Parker, "then I don't know what would constitute overkill."
Parker, who is not a party to the contretemps, wonders why this wasn't worked out with an apology and a hug– or something like that. So do Redinger's friends.
Before Redinger shut down his on-site discussion after 95 mostly anti-Rosenbergian jabs, commenters were wondering whether the irked lensman would ever work in this town again. One even called Rosenberg a heretofore little known part of the female anatomy, and Redinger seemed to be wondering what all the fuss was about.
But to former Daily Progress photojournalist Rosenberg, there's a six-figure score to be settled. And he's got the services of the law firm of Tremblay & Smith, as well as Atlanta-based Carolyn Wright of Buckley Brown, to make it happen.
"The infringement is clear," according to Wright, whose practice caters to photographers. "The only question is the extent of the damages to be paid."
Parker, however, contends that the suit offers plenty to question, besides the alleged overkill of it all. Showing how the use caused Rosenberg some verifiable harm is most important in determining damages– or whether it's actionable at all.
If the suit goes to trial, Parker thinks Rosenberg will have a hard time proving cVillain's use of the photos harmed his wallet, particularly because the small size and low resolution of the image render them commercially useless.
"Rosenberg could not have lost sales or royalty income as a result of the defendants' activities," says Parker, "since no one would use the thumbnails in lieu of the original artwork."
Redinger pals were also astounded by the suit's claim that Rosenberg warned Redinger after the first infringement with a fax. They wonder why such a tech-savvy paparazzo as Rosenberg, who recently began running newspaper websites for the Progress and other papers owned by parent company Media General, would rely on such 1980s technology. And Redinger claims online that he never received such a fax.
On the advice of counsel, Rosenberg declines comment. But when the piqued shutterbug began this quest by seeking a mere $2,500 back in November, Redinger offered up indignation on his own blog: "Matt, maybe you should sue Google, too, because they have your big pictures cached?" (And in fact, a check of this newspaper's records reveals that Rosenberg's photo of The Garage was also used at least twice last fall to illustrate the Hook's online art calendar listings for events at the venue.)
As for Redinger, he's no longer commenting (in part, he suggests, because the Hook and cVillain are such keen competitors).
Ironically, the person at the center of this storm has thus far gone unsued. She is Kate Daughdrill, the operator of the diminutive music venue operating out of a stand-alone garage across First Street NW from Lee Park and next door to Hill & Wood Funeral home.
She's the one who allegedly lifted Rosenberg's photo off his personal website in the first place– an act she says she initially didn't understand as infringing. After all, she's in the photo.
Here's where it gets curiouser. After Rosenberg got riled when his picture appeared on cVillain.com a second time in November 2008, Daughdrill contacted him to buy rights to the photo which she had already placed on the website for The Garage.
"He said I could use the photo in the common editorial ways unless it was something drastic like putting it on a billboard," Daughdrill says in an email. "I wish I had known more about internet copyright laws before all this, but I am glad to have learned more recently and am sincerely trying to respect everyone involved."
Another photographer says that frequent online copyright infringements are a frustration for professional picture takers.
"It happens a lot," says photographer Billy Hunt, who attempts to solve the problem by licensing his work under "creative commons," which means it can be reproduced without payment as long as he's credited.
"I tend to want my images to be seen," says Hunt, who explains that he makes his living more off paid photo shoots than the final product. But if, as Rosenberg claims, a warning was sent to cVillain, and the infringement continued, Hunt says, he can understand the suit.
"Somebody's gotta step up," says Hunt, "if people are acting the fool."
–Story last updated Friday, June 5, 2009 at 2:26pm.