One of the most intriguing photo-related copyright infringement lawsuits in recent years has been put on hold due to a bankruptcy protection request.
Rod Stewart and the other defendants have avoided an appearance in court, for the time being, following Caesars Palace filing for Chapter 11 earlier this month.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the case details, here’s the gist of it:
- 1981 – Photographer Bonnie Schiffman photographed Rod Stewart from behind, showing the back of his head (with his signature hair style) and shoulders.
- 1989 – A cropped version of the photo is licensed to Stewart, non-exclusively, to appear on the cover of his greatest hits album, “Storyteller”.
- 2010 – Stewart’s manager, Arnold Stiefel, contacted Schiffman stating the singer would like to use her photo in a billboard campaign called “Rod’s Back” – referring to his comeback as well as the photo itself.
- 2013 – A licensing fee of $1500 was offered for the billboard usage. Schiffman declined the offer for being too low. Stiefel refused to increase the offer and stated that another photograph will be obtained instead.
- 2013 – Schiffman learned that a photo extremely similar to hers was being used to promote Stewart’s residence show at Caesars Palace. The new image, claimed to be a replicate, was used at live performances, on print advertising, tickets and online marketing.
- March 2014 – Schiffman’s lawyers sent a cease and desist letter “requesting that they account for all of their usages and pay a fair license fee therfor”.
- September 2014 – Schiffman filed her lawsuit against Stewart, Stiefel, Caesars Palace and several other companies at a California District court.
According to MyNewLA.com, the District court is to be given an update regarding the Chapter 11 case every 120 days.
This is the second copyright infringement case we’ve covered this week where it seems that a replicate image was created in order tocut expenses. While Nike would have had to pay a larger amount of money to prevent the Air Jordan logo lawsuit, it seems that in this case paying just a few thousand Dollars more could potentially save millions.
I explained some of the benefits of registering your photos with the Copyright Office in the Nike/Air Jordan case, with a main benefit being the ability to file for statutory damages and attorney’s fees.
As Schiffman was smart enough to register her copyright, and due to the claims above, her demands include the following:
- Compensatory damages in a sum of not less than $2,500,000
- Punitive damages in a sum of not less than $2,500,000
- Actual damages and any profits attributable to the infringement of her copyright
- Statutory damages
- Attorney’s fees
- Further relief as the court may deem just and proper
Obviously the defendants will also have to stop using the replicate photo.
It is entirely possible that the defendants did not know that creating a similar photo could be a violation of the photographer’s copyright. That being said, I’m sure that a ruling sending a hefty sum of money Schiffman’s way will make a lot more people bother to learn a bit about copyright laws before they try to save a few bucks.