Seeking as much as $34 million in damages, a Missouri photographer has filed a copyright infringement suit against Gannett Media Corp. and more than 220 Gannett news outlets including the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle and Canandaigua’s Daily Messenger.
In a lawsuit filed Friday in the federal Western District of Missouri, Stephanie Campbell claims the Gannett papers published a photo she took of former National Football League coach Katie Sowers without seeking Campbell’s permission to reproduce the image.
Sowers’ position as San Francisco 49ers offensive assistant was widely publicized when she became the first female and openly gay coach in a Super Bowl.
Herself a former Women’s Football League player familiar with Sowers as a colleague, Campbell “was afforded unparalleled access to photograph Sowers at the moment she learned about her groundbreaking hire (and was) able to capture high quality, close-up photographs of Sowers’ reaction to the news and subsequent action shots of Sowers coaching,” Campbell’s court complaint states.
Though she had registered the photograph of Sowers that Gannett Media distributed to its papers with the U.S. Patent and Trademarks office, Gannett, which obtained the image through a screen shot, never sought her permission to reproduce photo, Campbell claims.
Gannett credited Campbell, stating in captions that it published the photograph “courtesy of Stephanie Campbell.” The appearance of Campbell’s name accompanying the allegedly unsanctioned image in itself constitutes an infringement, the complaint contends.
Gannett officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
If Campbell’s claims are accurately stated in her brief, the photographer has a good case, believes Rochester lawyer Paul Nunes.
An experienced trademark and copyright litigator, Nunes is not connected to Campbell’s lawsuit.
In a similar case in which he represented a photographer whose photo was used without consent on the cover of a major U.S. magazine, his client won a substantial royalty payment, Nunes says. That case centered on a onetime use by the magazine, which Nunes declined to name.
Campbell’s complaint, which totals more than 800 pages, levels similar charges against more than 220 individual regional Gannett papers in a number of U.S. cities.
In a charge it echoes against scores of Gannett papers it names as defendants, Campbell’s brief states that “the Democrat and Chronicle used the Sowers Photograph in association with advertisements placed on (its) website which (is) viewed by subscribers viewing the website along with the Sowers photograph (and) reproduced plaintiff’s image and distributed it to its subscribers.” The lawsuit similarly targets the Daily Messenger.
In charges leveled against the Rochester-area Gannett papers and the other Gannett regional publications, the complaint cites the appearance of the Sowers photo on the papers’ websites, stating that each regional paper is viewable online to subscribers across the country including subscribers in the state where the complaint is filed, Missouri.
Campbell seeks damages of up to $150,000 for each alleged infringement—a sum that, if each allegedly infringing publication used the Sowers photo only once, could see the photographer winning $34 million. Alternatively, the filing states, Campbell could agree to settle for profits Gannett made from use of the Sowers photo.
In 2019, Campbell sued the New York Times, claiming infringement over the same Sowers photo. Court records show that she agreed to settle the case in September of that year, some four months after filing the lawsuit. Terms of the settlement were not stated.