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PPA Today: Copyright: May 2010 Archives

Copyright: May 2010 Archives

On Tuesday we passed along information about a legal ruling last week in New York, the case Muench Photography Inc. v. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company and R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company (09-CV-2669).

We know the decision handed down in this case is of great concern to you. Rest assured that our attorneys are actively monitoring the case, and we'll keep you informed of any updates as the appeals process unfolds. We have also been in touch with Corbis and gathered details about the steps they plan on taking. Below is an update on this case and its effect on bulk copyright registration.

Do you have images with Corbis?
Did you sign the Corbis Copyright Assignment Affirmation Declaration?
If so, you may have invalid copyright registrations.

The Advertising Photographers of America (APA) passed along the following important information that might just apply to you:

Last week, Judge Loretta A. Preska of the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, issued a summary judgment in the case Muench Photography Inc. v. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company and R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company (09-CV-2669). In the case, Muench Photography Inc. (MPI) claimed that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company (HMH) and R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company (Donnelley) "engaged in the unauthorized and impermissible use" of MPI images. The defendants, HMH and Donnelley, moved to dismiss the complaint arguing that the photographs at issue were not properly registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. The defendant's motion was granted in part and denied in part.

Summary of the Case
MPI licenses photographs for Marc and David Muench. Between March 2001 and December 2006, MPI--through its agent Corbis--sold limited licenses to HMH. MPI claims HMH exceeded the number of licenses granted, causing unauthorized reproductions of the images. This constituted copyright infringement in the eyes of MPI. By printing the textbooks wherein the images were used, MPI claims Donnelley is also guilty of violating MPI's copyright.

At question is the process of copyright registration for the majority of these images. MPI had a copyright registration agreement with Corbis granting legal title in selected images digitized by Corbis and included in the Corbis digital collection "solely for the purpose of copyright registration." After registration, Corbis agreed to "promptly reassign legal title to Marc and David Muench with respect to (their) registered original film images."

The Corbis procedure of acquiring from photographers the signed Copyright Assignment Affirmation Declaration documents that allowed them to make compilation registrations rested upon the questionable and legally unsubstantiated foundation of a single letter from the Copyright Office's Associate Register for Registration & Recordation, Nanette Petruzzelli. The Petruzzelli letter stated that the Copyright Office considers the procedure instituted by Corbis to be valid whereby Corbis is the author of the compilation by an acceptable transfer statement of the photographers and interpreted the claim to extend to the individual photographers. The letter also stated that the Copyright Office preferred, but did not require, the registration application to contain the names of all of the photographers on continuation sheets. The process was compared to the process to register magazines and other serial works, which do not require the listing of individual contributor names.

The unsupported written statements made by Petruzzelli seemed to legitimatize the questionable procedure of Corbis. If fact, it ineffectually "registered" an unknown large number of images that has resulted in a significant increase in vulnerability for photographers that have used this system through Corbis.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Copyright category from May 2010.

Copyright: April 2010 is the previous archive.

Copyright: July 2010 is the next archive.

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