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April 04, 2019

The Fight for Copyright: Lisa’s Story

When you put your blood, sweat and tears into creating a masterpiece that showcases your uniqueness, the last thing you want is your work being improperly used or even stolen, especially if your art is your livelihood.  Unfortunately, many professional photographers of all backgrounds and fields deal with copyright infringement every day.

Granted, those who have high enough incomes predominantly benefit from today's current laws, but the same can't be said for the average professional, like Lisa. Check out Lisa's story on her battle for the rights to her own image:

Lisa copyright.bmp

Lisa is a scenic artist and display designer currently based in Framingham, Massachusetts. She is originally from New York City. Lisa creates scenery and props for theater, television and film productions, as well as displays, exhibits, environmental design and signage.

The artist had been hired by Hasbro, Inc. as an independent contractor for 3 consecutive years to create toy product display dioramas for their buyer's showroom in NYC in preparation for the Toy Fair annual toy industry trade show. In November 1990, Lisa was hired to create the Cabbage Patch Kids line showroom for Hasbro Toys. The artist was working on a 3-month contract as a vendor, with no statement of copyright or Work Made for Hire in the contract. The showroom was not open to the public; the displays were for retail store buyers only and photographed for limited run of printed product catalogs to give to buyers (photos never intended for any other commercial use). Just before the showroom opened for the 1991 Toy Fair, Lisa discovered that Hasbro had used photos of her 3D displays on the product packaging of at least one of their Cabbage Patch doll products, instead of using the product packaging imagery that had been designed by their marketing department.

Lisa had not registered any of the display designs because they were never intended for any use other than the showroom display, and in past years were always destroyed when the showroom closed after a few months. Lisa contacted the graphic design department and then the legal department to ask for a usage fee. They refused.

Cabbage Patch Dolls earned approximately $100 million in retail sales for Hasbro, Inc. in 1991.

The recourse Lisa would have sought had she been able to sue the infringer would have been actual damages of a licensing fee for usage, depending upon the number of units made. The creator estimates the licensing fee to be valued between $3,500 and $6,000.

This story and many others are the reason that a Small Claims process can be a game-changer for photographers and creative artists. It will help them enforce their copyright in cost-effective and efficient ways. We need everyone to support Small Claims at