A case in which photographer Richard Reinsdorf files a federal lawsuit against Skechers to the tune of 250 millon dollars seems to be flying under radar as it crawls through the courts. A reader alerted me to it months ago and I recently went back to see whats developed.
The suit started when Reinsdorf discovered that images he took for Skechers from 2006-2009 and licensed to them for very specific terms–six months use in North America for point of sale, magazines and certain outdoor advertisements–were being used for several years and included in ads overseas and on packaging and other unauthorized media. The suit states that Skechers “completely and utterly ignored the terms of the license.” (source)
First reported by TMZ back in September of 2009 it took an unusual turn in 2010 when Skechers filed a motion to dismiss claiming ownership of copyright because of “alterations they performed on the images from slight modifications in models’ skin tone to the substitution of models’ body parts and the addition of substantial graphic effects.” They asked the judge to dismiss because they couldn’t possibly have infringed on their own copyright.
If you want to read the motion to dismiss you can download it (here). It certainly would set a disturbing precedent in the photography world if something like this were to be allowed. In the discussion the judge states that “Skechers is correct that a co-author in a joint work cannot be liable to another co-owner for infringement of the copyright” but that’s not what’s at issue here because “Contrary to Skechers’ assertions, the evidence in the record does not indisputably establish that Reinsdorf intended that his photographsbe incorporated into a joint work.” He simply gave them a limited license to their use. The motion to dismiss was denied.
The latest I could find was an order granting Reinsdorf an extended discovery cutoff of May 15, 2012 (here). This will certainly be a case worth watching. I’ll be interested to see what the judge thinks of the $250,000,000 price tag, the limited license terms and Skechers sketchy defense that advertisements are a joint work and can be used where ever and how ever they want.