A picture might say more than a thousand words, but how do you convert that into money? If it is a photo of a pigeon that has been abused for years, a federal jury in Los Angeles decides on $ 1.2 million. That comes after a photographer sued a company for allegedly using his work without permission for more than a decade.
The company used the photographer’s work not only after breaking off an agreement with him. It even reportedly tried to label the photo as its own, apparently under the impression that it has perpetual rights to the image (if you’re a photographer, and if you check out our picks of the best cameras, you might want to see this one Copyright Guide for Creators).
The dove at the center of the lawsuit was photographed by photographer Dennis Fugnetti’s MIAD Photography and Design in 1999 on behalf of a company called Bird B Gone, which bills itself as “the world’s leading manufacturer of professional bird control products.” The company wanted an image of a pigeon in flight to promote its brand and products, including spikes to discourage birds from perching where they are undesirable.
In 2003, the supplier of anti-bird devices brought its advertising indoors and ended its relationship with MIAD. But, as alleged in the lawsuit by Bloomberg’s Law360 (opens in new tab)it continued to use the image captured by MIAD “on various retail product packaging to illustrate its products.”
Fugnetti only realized this in 2017, when a company employee emailed him asking when the photo was taken so that it could be trademarked. The company registered the image as its own. Fugnetti sued for copyright infringement in 2019. He died a year later, but his daughter took over representation in the case.
So what was Bird B Gone’s defense? They claimed they were granted an “implicit license” to use the photo for any length of time. A federal jury in Los Angeles dismissed the lawsuit and awarded $1.2 million. The company announced that it would appeal.
The case just shows how both sides need to know the details of the agreement they are entering into. Creators can come up short if they don’t know what they’re signing, but sometimes it’s the person commissioning the work who doesn’t know the law and assumes they’ll get perpetual rights to creative work if they don’t the case is the case.