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Skyline photo copyright infringement claim crashes in court

News and Notes Focused on the 3 Public Faces of IP Law

  • Brand Image Protection - Trademark Law
  • Visual Image Protection - Copyright Law
  • Personal Image Protection - Right of Publicity Law

The Image Protection Law blog has been created in order to share stories and information on the legal aspects of: 1) the marketplace reputation of a company or product captured in its trademark, 2) published or publicly-displayed artwork, photography, and any created visual design, and 3) use of a person's photograph or likeness for product promotion or other commercial purposes.

The "IP3" share at least one thing in common: Image is everything. In these posts let's look at what that means in the realm of intellectual property in the news, but let's also be prepared to explore if there's something more beyond "everything." Don't forget, the intellectual in "intellectual property" doesn't mean smart or brainy, although by nature true creators often are. The word is used to refer to any creation, i.e., a "product of the mind." While this blog will be regularly updated, you are encouraged to share your thoughts on these posts.

When you look at San Francisco’s skyline, you can immediately pick out the iconic Transamerica Pyramid, Salesforce Tower, 181 Fremont, California Center and other architectural landmarks. While the skyline of Indianapolis is not as well-known as ours, it is undoubtedly just as cherished to those who live there.

A photograph of the Indianapolis skyline was recent at the center of a copyright infringement lawsuit heard by a federal jury in Indiana’s largest city. The jury decided that the man who claimed his photo of the skyline was used illegally countless times does not actually own the photograph.

He has apparently netted more than $300,000 in past copyright infringement judgments, the Indianapolis Star reported.

An intellectual property attorney told the newspaper that the jury’s unanimous verdict makes it “seem impossible for him to bring any additional lawsuits.”

The jury’s decision resolved a 2016 lawsuit in which Richard Bell, the man who claimed the photo was his, had sued a real estate agency for unlawful use of the image on its company website. Bell said he took the photo in March 2000 and registered it with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2001.

The jury concluded that there was no evidence that the image was ever registered, however. The photograph shows a fountain in the foreground and the skyline in the background.

The attorney for the real estate company cast doubt on Bell’s credibility when he produced an affidavit from the city that stated that the fountain wasn’t turned on until a month after Bell claimed he took the photo. The attorney also pointed out that trees in the photograph have leaves, but a photo Bell claimed was taken just hours later showed trees bare of leaves.

A San Francisco IP attorney who understands copyright law and how to apply it can help you protect your intellectual property.

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