Court refuses to dismiss photographer’s copyright claims

On Behalf of | Jan 15, 2019 | Copyright Law |

At our law firm, we represent photographers and other creative artists in a variety of copyright matters, including negotiating, drafting and reviewing licenses for use of copyrighted materials. We also bring and defend copyright infringement suits.

On January 4, a U.S. District Court judge in the Northern District of California denied publisher Scholastic, Inc., request to dismiss some of the copyright infringement claims in a suit brought by Peter Menzel, a photographer who had previously licensed some of his work for use by Scholastic.

Menzel alleged that Scholastic’s use of his pictures exceeded the parameters and limits agreed to in the parties’ licensing agreement, thereby resulting in infringement of his copyrights in the photos. For example, he alleged:

  • Scholastic used some pictures in publications outside those approved in the licenses.
  • Scholastic used some photos after their licenses had expired.
  • Some photographs appeared digitally online when they had only been approved for reproduction on paper.
  • Some pictures were likely printed in more copies of books than were licensed.

Judge’s reasoning

The plaintiff argued that his explanations of infringement involving about one-third of the pictures out of about 40 was enough to “sustain claims of copyright infringement on all 40 or so photographs” because of a “pattern and practice” of infringement as shown in the judgment in and evidence found in another infringement case against Scholastic. In addition, Scholastic was sued in 13 other cases for infringement, even though those cases either settled or are still pending.

The judge agreed that the allegations involving the 14 pictures and the pattern of the other infringement cases having been filed or settled supported the plausibility of Menzel’s claims. Specifically, he said that the infringement allegations explained in the one-third of the pictures were “enough to imply a possible pattern of practice.”

Menzel also argued that while he had licensed certain pictures for use in 40,000 copies of particular books, because these books were annual publications and in 2006, 315,000 were published, it is likely that more than 40,000 copies were published in the years at issue. The court agreed, noting that this is “enough to make a plausible infringement claim,” so dismissal would not be proper.

On these bases, the court did not grant dismissal of the infringement claims Scholastic had requested and the case can proceed to trial.