Firooz Zahedi, the photographer behind the iconic Pulp Fiction movie poster, filed a lawsuit against Miramax. He claims that the company broke the contract by using his image on a bunch of consumer products, but he was too late. The court rejected the suit alleging that he was too late to file it.
I believe you all know the poster in question: it shows Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace smoking a cigarette on a bed. Zahedi was reportedly paid $10,000 to take the photo, but according to him, Miramax broke the contract about using it. The company was only supposed to use the image to promote the film. However, it appeared on “untold thousands of consumer products.”
Zahedi says that he was once gifted an action figure of Wallace in 2015, and the packaging had the picture on it along with the Miramax copyright mark. There are even socks with the photo, and someone gifted them to Zahedi in 2019. All of this eventually prompted him to file the lawsuit, but he was late to the party.
According to the court ruling, Zahedi’s stepson posted a photo on Instagram with his stepdad holding the action figure. The caption read: “Happy Birthday to my stepdad @fitzphoto. Turns out he didn’t get the royalties for his famous photo of UmaTM… But at least he has the toy now…” Zahedi commented to thank his stepson, adding that “sometimes it’s best to settle for the little things in life.” As it turns out, this photo was the key to the court’s decision. In short, he wasn’t supposed to wait five years before suing:
“Zahedi’s receipt in 2015 of an action figure prominently featuring the iconic photo, bearing Miramax’s copyright notice, and failing to credit Zahedi is uncontroverted evidence of his actual knowledge of Miramax’s plain and express repudiation of his ownership. While it may be true that Miramax changed its position on its copyright claim over the decades since 1994—Zahedi is correct that Miramax credited Zahedi as the owner of the photograph on the cover of its 1994 script, and the record is not clear at what point Miramax stopped crediting Zahedi—it is clear that Zahedi understood in 2015 that Miramax claimed more rights in the photograph than Zahedi believed it had.”
From a photographer’s standpoint, I think this is outrageous. Put simply, copyright infringement is copyright infringement, equally in 2015 and 2020. However, I hardly have any legal background so I can’t tell how logical and justifiable this is from the legal standpoint. If you’d like to read the full court ruling, you can do it here, and let me know what you think: did the judge make the right decision?