November 20th, 2012 by Joan Blazich
Photographer David Strick, who sued the Los Angeles Times last year claiming infringement of his photographs, has been ordered by an arbitrator to pay the L.A. Times more than $266,000.
Strick had entered into a contract with the L.A. Times in 2007 to provide photographs to the newspaper. The L.A. Times declined to renew Strick’s contract in 2010, but continued to use some of Strick’s photographs. Strick alleged in his complaint that his agreement with the L.A. Times contained a “specifically negotiated” acknowledgement that “For the avoidance of doubt, LATIMES.COM acknowledges that the copyrights to the Photographs are owned by Strick.” To read Strick’s complaint, click here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/62136598/Strick-Suit-Part-1.
After the L.A. Times continued to use Strick’s photographers after declining to renew their contract with him, Strick challenged the newspaper’s use of the photographs, alleging that the use of these images was infringement. Despite a clause in the original Service Agreement calling for “quick and efficient” resolution to any disputes between the parties, Strick refused to engage in arbitration with the L.A. Times and instead filed in U.S. District Court. To read about Strick’s initial lawsuit, click here: http://www.thewrap.com/media/column-post/la-times-tries-force-arbitration-david-strick-copyright-suit-30043?page=0,0.
The arbitrator held in his decision that Strick’s refusal to abide by the Service Agreement, coupled with Strick’s “poor behavior” throughout the arbitration process, justified the dismissal of Strick’s case and the awarding of attorneys’ fees and court costs to the L.A. Times. The arbitrator, retired Judge Lichtman, noted in his opinion that “For reasons which remain inexplicable, claimant (Strick) chose to abandon and distance himself from the controlling licensing agreement as well as the agreed upon dispute resolution mechanisms contained therein.” The result is that while Strick arguably had valid infringement claims against the L.A. Times for violating the copyright provisions of their contract, Strick lost his case simply because he failed to abide by arbitration provisions that he had agreed to in signing the contract with the L.A. Times. To read more of Arbitrator Lichtman’s comments, click here: http://www.thewrap.com/media/column-post/la-times-wins-266k-photographer-david-strick-64816?page=0,0.
According to Photo District News, Strick issued a statement in wake of the arbitrator’s decision, stating that he was “devasted by today’s ruling,” Strick went on to say that this decision was “a technical ruling that allows a willful infringement to take place but bars me from redressing that infringement.” Strick has since announced that he will appeal the arbitrator’s decision. To read more on Strick’s reaction to this decision, click here: http://www.pdnonline.com/news/Photog-Claiming-LA-T-6067.shtml.
In copyright infringement claims, the terms of a contract between the involved parties can quickly determine whether a claim for infringement will be deemed meritless or not. A photographer must be careful to not only review what the terms of copyright for his or her works may be, but also to note any provisions in the contract requiring arbitration. As a contract, once signed, is a binding agreement upon both parties, a photographer who signs a contract and then refuses to follow its provisions could easily end up with problems.
For claims which arise from a party not following a binding provision of a contract, both copyright law and contract provisions can allow a court or arbitrator to award attorneys’ fees and court costs to the prevailing party. This awarding of fees and costs is granted to compensate the prevailing party for the expenses it occurred in defending itself against the claim. As copyright infringement claims can be quite costly to file and pursue, the awarding of fees and costs can be very high.
Photographers should be aware of the terms in their contracts with other parties, and proceed cautiously when entering into such agreements. Choosing to not follow the provisions of a contract regarding how disputes will be handled can result in a significant award of attorneys’ fees and court costs against the losing party. Even if a photographer feels he or she has a strong claim for infringement despite the contract, provisions in that contract for arbitration may remain binding. In general, photographers should always read contractual agreements carefully, making sure to have any ambiguous language clarified. In the event that a photographer does wish to pursue an infringement claim and such a claim seems to be permitted under the contract, the photographer should be prepared to follow any provisions the contract may set out regarding arbitration or litigation. Although Strick’s situation is regrettable, it serves as a cautionary tale. To read more about Strick’s case, click here: http://www.thewrap.com/media/column-post/la-times-wins-266k-photographer-david-strick-64816?page=0,0.