Web content producer awarded hefty amount for unauthorized use of photographs

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has entered judgment in excess of $175,000 against a defendant accused of copyright infringement and unauthorized commercial use of photographs on the Internet.

Without authorization, defendant Adkins copied and posted over 100 of plaintiff IO Group’s copyrighted images. IO filed suit against Adkins in federal court, alleging violation of the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. §101 et seq.) and unauthorized commercial use of the photographs in violation of California Civil Code §3344. IO had registered the copyrights in each of the images. It had also obtained releases from each of the models appearing in the photographs, whereby IO became the “exclusive proprietor of the models’ rights of publicity in the photographs.”

Adkins never responded to the summons, and the court entered judgment by default. The court determined that IO had alleged sufficient facts to state claims for copyright infringement and unauthorized commercial use of the photographs.

In awarding damages, the court found that IO was entitled to $1,000 per image as statutory damages for copyright infringement. See, 17 U.S.C. 504(c)(1). The court determined that such an amount was proper given the fact that over 100 images were involved, and that IO had previously taken steps to maintain the value of the photographs by limiting their distribution.

The court awarded $750 per image as damages for violation of California Civil Code §3344(a). It noted that such an award was not duplicative of an award of damages under the Copyright Act, as this portion of the case related to the models’ rights of publicity, not the unauthorized copying of the images. Earlier in the opinion, the court had noted the holding of Downing v. Abercrombie & Fitch, 265 F.3d 994 (9th Cir. 2001), which states that “[a] person’s name or likeness is not a work of authorship within the meaning of [the Copyright Act].”

IO Group, Inc. v. Adkins, 2005 WL 1492381 (N.D. Cal., June 23, 2005).