Puff Daddy's Bad Boy Records, LLC, the record label for hip-hop artist Sean "Diddy" Combs, was sued May 15, 2017 for posting a photo on Instagram. Bad Boy Records allegedly operates Puff Daddy's Instagram Page, which is the source of the alleged copyright infringement.
The Photographer, Matthew McDermott, filed action for copyright infringement for reproducing and publicly displaying a registered photograph, removing copyright management information from the reproduced photograph, and allowing others to embed the Instagram photograph on other websites.
McDermott is an award-winning photographer that regularly licenses his photographs to online, print, and television stations for a fee. McDermott's notable photographs focuses on many humanitarian, charitable events and newsworthy events including Haiti's earthquake, Dafur's genocide survivors, wide-spread famine in Niger, detainees at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay, Pakistan's earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill and the 9/11 Word Trade Center attacks. McDermott's website contains many other works which can be found at http://www.mcdermottphotos.com.
McDermott photographed the hip-hop star surrounded by a group of students at an opening event for Diddy's new charter school in Harlem. McDermott registered the photograph with the United States Copyright Office and had licensed the photograph to the New York Post for an article entitled Diddy delivers inspiring message at his new charter school. McDermott's name was featured in a gutter credit identifying him as the photographer of the photograph.
On August 30, 2016 Bad Boy Records prominently posted the Photograph on its Instagram Page but did not license the photograph from McDermott. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Bad Boy Records removed the gutter credit and did not attribute the photograph to anyone. With approximately 8.1 million Instagram followers, McDermott's photograph received 42,426 likes. McDermott's lawsuit alleges a violation of 17 U.S.C. §§ 106, 501 whereine Bad Boy willfully, intentionally, and purposefully infringed McDermott's photograph by reproducing and publicly displaying the photograph on the Instagram Page in disregard of McDermott's ownership and rights. For the unauthorized reproduction and public display violation, McDermott is seeking statutory damages of up to $150,000 plus attorney's fees.
McDermott's second claim for relief is for violation of 17 U.S.C. § 1202 in the lawsuit is for the removal of copyright management information that was originally included in the New York Post's article. The complaint alleges that Bad Boy Records intentionally and knowingly removed and/or altered copyright management information identifying McDermott and without McDermott's knowledge or consent. For the violation of removing or altering identifying information McDermott's lawsuit is seekings a sum of at least $2,500 up to $25,000 in damages.
McDermott's third claim for relief is for violation of 17 U.S.C. § 501 for Contributory Infringement. Instagram features allows photographs to be embedded into other websites to easier access and wide public display. By allowing the photograph to be embedded into a posting on Madamenoire.com, McDermott is alleging that Bad Boy Records has contributed and permitted additional infringement of his registered photograph without license or authorizations.
This suit follows a New York sanction filed by a group of photographers against the NFL and Associated Press over royalties and license fee requests in the amount of $1.3 million. The group of photographers argued that the purpose the NFL and AP used bullying and nefarious tactics in fee requests and that the Copyright Act is to strike a balance between rewarding author's creations and enabling others to build on that work.
With the increasing use of social media and digital content, increased attention has been given to what constitutes and infringement of copyrights or undisclosed endorsement by private parties, companies and government agencies. As print decreases and digital content continues to open ways for revenue, Artists, record labels, photographers, musicians, producers and companies engaged in entertainment or business promotions will likely see an increase in cases or complaints for the unauthorized use of intellectual properties.
If you have any questions regarding any copyright, trademarks or business activity you should first consult an attorney.
Author Leighton G. Linning is an Entertainment attorney in Nashville, TN. His practice includes copyright, trademark, business and family law. He can be reached at Leighton@covenantlawgroup.net.