U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet ruled on August 13, 2015 that the photographers must amend their complaint prior to appealing the dismissal of their copyright claims to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The court declined to enter a final judgment in the matter, which it had dismissed last March, finding that the plaintiffs may replead their case and that a revised contract claim on the licensing agreements might avoid the need for a Second Circuit review.
“The plaintiffs indicate in their briefing that they intend to argue that the contracts ‘were invalid and unenforceable due to duress, coercion, unconscionability, and fraud’ and the court’s March 27 Order indicates that the argument may have significant merit,” Judge Sweet wrote. “A finding in the plaintiffs’ favor on their contract claims in the district court would thus significantly alter — or perhaps moot — their copyright claims in the Court of Appeals, rendering certification improper.”
In his ruling Judge Sweet noted that to preserve their copyright issue for appeal, the plaintiffs should “simply restate their copyright claims in their new complaint,” which could later be presented to the Second Circuit at the appropriate time. The court also granted a motion by Getty Images to compel arbitration of contract, copyright and antitrust claims which the plaintiffs are now pursuing.
In March the court granted the plaintiffs 20 days to file a new complaint and then approved a three-week extension for the amended pleadings to be filed. Then in May, the defendants claimed the photographers had missed that deadline and the case should finally be dismissed. But the judge disagreed, finding “the plaintiffs’ diligence in this case has been more than adequate, particularly as they have represented that they are prepared to file their second amended complaint within 48 hours of this motion’s resolution.
********* UPDATE ***************
U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet dismissed the lawsuit in a 129 page redacted Opinion finding that agreements between the NFL and AP along with Getty that allow the NFL to use photos royalty-free are not anticompetitive, writing “plaintiffs have failed to allege a plausible product market limited to NFL-related photographs at this juncture.” He also found that the photographers lacked standing and are barred from suing under antitrust laws “because their injuries are too secondary and indirect.” The judge also rejected the photographers’ claim that they “directly compete” with Getty and AP. “Plaintiffs are neither consumers nor competitors in the alleged market for commercial licensing of NFL-related photographs,” Judge Sweet wrote. “Indeed, the [amended complaint] clearly states that plaintiffs have always licensed the photos that they shot ‘on spec’ through third-party licensing agents . . . as such, Plaintiffs argument on this point must fail.”
The court also found that “while each Plaintiff retains copyright in his photos, he provides a broad copyright license to AP in all of his photos that are not rejected by AP.” Such a license allows the AP to “copy, disseminate and otherwise use” those photos. The judge noted that while their agreement requires AP to pay a royalty when it licenses the use of the photographers photos, it does not require that any royalty be paid where the AP receives no licensing fees itself. “the AP Contributor Agreements do not require AP to license the contributors’ photographs to third parties only through a ‘sale’ that would generate revenue and therefore royalties.” Judge Sweet wrote. “Nothing in the AP Contributor Agreements requires AP to issue only royalty-bearing sublicenses.”
The judge also dismissed the photographers’ copyright claims against the NFL because the agreement provided the AP with a valid license to use their images.
In October seven photographers filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the NFL, Getty Images and the Associated Press. This week the defendants responded with a motion to dismiss. The plaintiffs are Paul Spinelli, Scott Boehm, George Newman Lowrance, David Stluka, Paul Jasienski, David Drapkin and Thomas E. Witte. They claim, among other things, that if they wished to continue licensing their NFL images for commercial uses, “they were forced to transition their NFL content from Getty Images to AP who had the contract with the NFL.” In turn, the complaint alleged that “Getty Images threatened to remove Plaintiffs’ other sports content from its distribution networks and/or terminate its relationship with Plaintiffs entirely if they did not agree to continue licensing their NFL content through Getty Images even after the expiration of its commercial licensing deal with the NFL.” The complaint stated “Getty Images also made clear that it would not ‘welcome back’ any contributors who moved their NFL content to AP should Getty Images ever regain the exclusive rights to license NFL content in the future.”
The photographers also viewed Getty’s threats as “a blatant attempt to leverage its exclusive licensing agreement with MLB and other sports entities in order to force Plaintiffs to leave their NFL content with Getty Images” and “Because certain Plaintiffs had significant non-NFL content at Getty Images, including significant MLB photo collections, Getty Images’ position forced Plaintiffs to make an impossible choice between losing commercial licensing opportunities for their NFL content by not going to AP or giving up commercial licensing opportunities for their non-NFL content by leaving Getty Images.”
In its motion to dismiss the NFL claimed that the use of the photos “was fully within the scope of” its licensing agreements the AP and Getty. AP claims in its motion to dismiss the lawsuit that the contracts it made with the photographers “licensed AP to make the uses of plaintiffs’ photographs” and also “authorized AP to issue sublicenses” to the NFL and others. In its motion, Getty also sought to dismiss the case and to “compel arbitration or in the alternative to stay the action.” Getty claims that its agreement with the photographers requires that they “arbitrate their disputes” and that the case should be put on hold “pending final resolution of the arbitration” in the event that the court does not grant the motion to dismiss.
Read the filed complaint here.