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.
Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.
Really…..30 million!? Why not 30 Billion? Where is the limit? It appears that lawyers are constantly on the prowl for the big payday. Is there a case? We’ll see. But the dollars involved are outrageous. You don’t believe that this picture was worth 30 million, do you? Consider this statistic, 66% of all the lawyers on this planet reside in the USA. Over 90% of our “representation” in Washington DC has passed the BAR. Ugh!
Our government is run on laws, regulations, rules and the interpretations thereof. All based on a Constitution written primarily by lawyers (34 out of 55 delegates) who designed a purposely ambiguous document. That being the case, doesn’t it make sense that lawyers should dominate our federal government?
Sounds like business as usual at Gannett. For example we have this other recent class action against the company:
“A proposed class action alleges print and online media publisher Gannett has unlawfully disclosed certain personal information about its subscribers to Facebook without consent or adequate disclosure.
The 22-page case claims that when individuals watch video content offered on Gannett-owned websites, their personal information and viewing activity are secretly captured and sent to Facebook. The suit contends that Gannett, the largest newspaper publisher in the United States, has violated the federal Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) by failing to obtain consumers’ express written consent before disseminating their personally identifiable information to a third party.”
Buechler et al v. Gannett Company, Inc.
FILED: NOVEMBER 7, 2022
And let’s not forget the Gannett’s 2017 settlement of a class-action suit which, “alleged that the media and marketing company failed to get prior consent before inundating consumers with unwanted advertising calls. The plaintiffs claimed that the company violated federal consumer protection laws, specifically, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The class action lawsuit contended that the company made unsolicited telemarketing calls to consumers’ cell phones. The plaintiffs claimed that the unwanted communications affected thousands of consumers. Further, Gannett allegedly failed to honor consumer requests to stop calling. In addition, the Gannett telemarketing calls class action lawsuit states that the company also used an automatic dialing system to make sales calls.
In the end, Gannett agreed to pay $13.8 million to settle the class action lawsuit.”