Jury finds lawyer doesn't own skyline photo after he sued for infringement in multiple cases
Image from Shutterstock.com.
An Indiana lawyer who has filed multiple infringement suits over use of a skyline photo wasn’t able to prove that he actually owned the picture, federal jurors in Indianapolis ruled last Tuesday.
The lawyer, Richard Bell, has been awarded at least $300,000 in various lawsuits alleging unauthorized use of the photo of the Indianapolis skyline, the Indianapolis Star reports.
Jurors ruled in Bell’s suit against Carmen Commercial Real Estate Services, which used the photo in a blog post. Jurors said on a verdict form that Bell had not proven that he took the skyline photo, that he owns a copyright on it, and that he registered it with the copyright office.
Carmen Commercial president Christopher Carmen told the Indiana Lawyer that he used the skyline photo after finding no indication of copyright. Bell demanded $5,000 after discovering that the photo had been used; Carmen said he offered $1,000. Bell then sued and demanded $150,000.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt denied the real estate company’s motion for summary judgment in a January 2018 opinion. (The case was later transferred to a different judge.) Pratt said there were disputed issues of fact that precluded summary judgment.
Pratt outlined the facts of the case. Bell contended that he took the photo in March 2000, published it on the internet in August 2000, and published it against in late 2010 or early 2011 on richbellphotos.com. He registered the copyright of the photo effective August 2011.
Bell sued in May 2016, and the next day Carmen paid $200 for a “perpetual” license of the photo. Carmen contended that the license was retroactive. Bell canceled the transaction and refunded the money. He also asserted that the perpetual license was not retroactive.
Bell has filed “a multiplicity” of copyright infringement suits over use of the photo, according to a federal judge in another case in which Bell sued a wrong defendant. In 2019 alone, he filed more than a dozen such suits, according to the Indianapolis Star.
Lawyer Paul Overhauser represented the real estate company. In a press release, he said other defendants sued by Bell should be able to use the jury finding to get cases decided in their favor.
Overhauser also said winning copyright defendants are entitled to attorney fees, which means that Bell could have to pay the defendants in losing cases.
Bell told the ABA Journal that he will move for a new trial. If the judge turns down his request, he will appeal to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Chicago.