A photographer has won a staggeringly high amount in a recent copyright dispute. The Los Angeles Federal courts awarded photographer Dennis Fugnetti $1.2 million for the use of a pigeon photo without permission.
Three years ago, Fugnetti filed the claim against anti-bird pest company Bird B Gone for using his image of a pigeon in flight for 12 years. The company sells spikes that are used to deter roosting pigeons and other birds from rooftops and balconies.
Fugnetti had allegedly shot the image for the company in 1999. The image was commissioned by Fugnetti’s photography and design brand to create the image and subsequent promotional designs using the photograph.
In 2003, however, Bird B Gone chose to stop working with outside contractors and moved their advertising and marketing work in-house. This effectively severed the working relationship between the company and Fugnetti.
The image usage license was also supposed to end at this point. However, Fugnatti’s lawyers claimed that the image was still being used to promote the anti-pigeon products on the company’s website and retail packaging, in plain breach of copyright.
To add insult to injury, the brand even attempted to apply for a trademark of the flying pigeon image, unbeknownst to Fugnetti or his design company.
Fugnetti was only alerted to the out-of-copyright use when an employee at Bird B Gone asked him what year the photograph was taken so that they could apply for the trademark.
Sadly Fugnetti died in 2019 and so wasn’t around to see the eventual triumph of the court case. The lawyers were instead acting on behalf of his surviving daughter.
It’s certainly a sobering story. Sure, the photographer was correct to pursue this image infringement. But at what cost ultimately to his health? We don’t know the details around his death, however, any legal proceedings are always going to be costly, lengthy, and incredibly stressful.
There have been a lot of high-profile court cases recently, where photographers and artists have won damages (or not in this case), however, the amount awarded in this particular case is possibly one of the highest.
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