Infringement Nightmare – Morals to the Story

True Story:

A photographer recently settled for $275,000 with the Dallas Cowboys after the Cowboys used one of his pictures on clothing and other merchandise without permission. But after the settlement was reached, the Cowboys barred the photographer from ever working in Texas Stadium where the Cowboys play.

The photographer had given a digital file of a photograph to the Cowboys who considered it for use on season tickets. The Cowboys then bought only 250 copies to resell as prints to the public. Later, the Cowboys used the same image on clothing and other items, without getting permission from the photographer for the additional usage.

The photographer had not registered his photo with the U.S. Copyright Office.

When the photographer discovered the infringements and inquired about it, the Cowboys offered him $1,000 in merchandise gift certificates. After trying to negotiate a settlement on his own for about a year, he hired a lawyer. Three years later, a settlement was reached.

Morals of the story:

  • Many infringements come from uses beyond that agreed to. The infringements can come from uses on different products, for longer terms, in extra forms such as print or electronic, in other locations, etc. Watch your client’s use of your work closely.
  • Register your images with the U.S. Copyright Office before you give, or within three months of giving, them to a client.
  • Even if you haven’t registered your photographs with the U.S. Copyright Office, you are entitled to actual damages from infringements. They can be hard to prove, but sometimes they can add up to substantial sums.
  • While you may be a good negotiator, it can help to have a lawyer to give weight to your position.
  • If you have to sue a client, you probably won’t get work from that client again.
  • Legal matters can take time; be patient for your rewards.

Take my advice; get professional help.

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