Photographer Sues Apple Over the Use of Her Photo to Promote the Retina Display

Apple is constantly engaged in its fair share of courtroom battles, but its latest one hits a little closer to home for photographers. Swiss photographer Sabine Liewald has filed a lawsuit against Apple for using her “Eye Closeup” photograph to promote the 15-inch MacBook Pro’s Retina Display.

Liewald claims that when Apple approached her agency (Factory Downtown) to request a high-resolution version of the photo, the company had said the image would only be used for “layout purposes” (AKA “comping“) and not in any advertising campaign.

The photographer was then surprised when Apple did exactly what it said it wouldn’t do. When the company’s keynote address was held last year to introduce the new portable computer, the photograph was featured prominently in the promotional images.

In addition to statutory damages for copyright infringement, Liewald is also demanding “actual damages including defendant’s profits.” Apple is the most valuable company in the world, and its profit figures come with quite a few zeros; the photographer is going for serious money here.

Grab your popcorn, folks — this might be interesting.

(via Patently Apple via Cult of Mac)

  • kyleomalley

    Classic Steve!

  • DH

    Apple did this on purpose. Even the iphone name was used from a major us corporation knowing they had no permission.

  • Chas. Owens

    Not necessarily, we have one side of the story here. We don’t know what was signed, if this is the actual image (or just a similar one), what licenses the creator licensed it under, or if the image is even owned by Liewald. If the amount asked for is too large, then I would expect Apple to look into all of them.

  • matej.k

    Wrong. AAC files are not DRM protected, you can do whatever you want with them (even though giving them to someone else would likely violate the TOS).

  • Kloar

    The expendables 2 poster had a watermark from a stock photo gallery hidden behind the fires.

    Source: I worked with the original psd while doing promotion work

  • fluffypony

    I cannot agree with you. I think that in large companies with many, many chefs in the kitchen, things can go under the radar. A designer can take inspiration from a clock and never mention the inspiration to her peers or boss (and let’s face it, who knew that the clock design had anything to do with the Swiss railway clock until it was pointed out? Could you expect any less of the designer’s boss?) Similarly, an ad executive or creative picks this picture out of a lineup, and the poor person responsible with finding suitable pictures accidentally tags this as royalty free. With both instances, it’s a single person’s mistake that cascades upwards because people cannot possibly be expected to know better.

  • Zebelious

    Example, people, including teenagers (scientifically proven to have poor judgement), are being put in jail for making derogatory comments (by mistake or on purpose) online and the consequence of that could affect the whole family for a lifetime. No one likes to be insulted but this is a clear case where individuals are easier to target by judiciary systems around the world.

    A company like Apple that has a long history, very protective of its own IPs, and have many procedures in place in different departmental levels to ensure something like this doesn’t happen. Big corporates have the habits of not taking No for an answer hence, either they buy off the business when a company is not willing to deal with them or just simply get what they want and later on settle it in the court. For a simple scrolling bouncing effect Apple was awarded $1b for it so why can’t we all hope she gets three times the money from Apple “helping them” to launch their new product/technology? She didn’t infringed anything, Apple did. Samsung also, allegedly, didn’t know they were infringing Apple’s IP.

  • Kunvay

    It’s unfortunate Apple has made themselves the target of copyright suits by being so aggressive about copyright and intellectual property enforcement. There is now lifetime job security for those attorneys working in Apple’s in-hour general counsel’s office. Now everyone at Apple will have to be as aggressive about not violating copyright as they about enforcing the same on others.

  • Zenobius Jiricek

    That’s all roses, except Apple has done this too many times for this to be grouped with actions such as “mistakes”.

  • tastygroove

    Blessed with a kick-ass story though.

  • Manderbeek

    … Apple doesn’t steal things…. you dont say….
    note: this comment is rife with sarcasm if you couldnt pick it up.

  • KingPin

    they will settle.

  • Caca Steve

    Some asshole stole a photo of mine I posted on Reddit that made the #1 post on the front page. When I was notified about this with a link I clicked on it and noticed my photo was now copyrighted by some douche bag in the UK who was profiting off of my photo selling it to magazines and websites. How can I fix this? Also, it really lowers the bar of respect for copyrights in my opinion. Such a stupid concept if anyone can copyright anything whether it’s their own or not.

  • Nicolas Martin

    Then why has Apple not simply paid her already?

  • Agmilmoe

    I knew… The first thing I thought was, “Wow, that’s cool that Apple licensed the Swiss clock design.” But then I’m kind of a design geek.

  • jeesh

    yeah I wish apple would steal my stuff and make money from it… SUCH a cool story

  • runs with scissors

    Not an apple hater here, just a nonconformist that prefers oranges.

  • Tim

    i completely agree with you there. Once a company latch onto an image they are usually very reluctant to change it. I’m not sure how @d10ca8d11301c2f4993ac2279ce4b930:disqus can say it was “probably a mistake” on Apple’s part without knowing the facts, i wouldn’t be so quick to give them the benefit of the doubt. A company i know of hired a web designer to re-vamp their website and they contacted me to ask if i would sell them one of my images. I agreed, but when i asked them if they wanted the high-res they said there was no need as they’d already used the image and the website was ready to go. In other words they had designed the whole page around the image on the assumption that i would say yes.

    It’s got to stop. Hope she takes ‘em to the cleaners!

  • Mikko Rauhala

    As many have said, it’s probably a case of negligence rather than malice (though I wouldn’t put the latter past Apple as such). However, with Apple themselves having sued everybody and friends for daring to compete with them, I wish them the very worst time imaginable with any imaginary property suit.

  • Neutral President

    Yup. I just had an experience just like this. I mistakenly included in my (online) portfolio some process Creative work i did for a client, in which one comp layout used a tiny little rights-protected Getty image that was not licensed by my agency or the client in the final produced pieces. Getty found it on my site, and sent me a bill.

    Once i went back through my files and records and figured out what happened, i basically pleaded “no contest” and paid the bill. It was a complete oversight gaffe on my part. If i were the photographer, i would have expected to be compensated, and Getty was doing their job as the photographer’s representative to collect. It sucked, but these things do happen. In my case, it was a complete accident, and i’m sure that’s the case with Apple as well. They’ll pay up (perhaps with a bit of negotiation first).

  • Garrai

    Apple just settled with the Swiss railroad — the clock design is now fully licensed and I’m guessing some money changed hands. This photographer will get paid for the use of the photo in question. The amount will depend on the skill of his agency and attorney.

    How can stuff like this happen? When elephants are dancing, sometimes a mouse or two gets stepped on.

  • Neena

    It is odd – if Apple had just negotiated up front with the photographer it would cost them a lot less in the long run. I agree, it must have been an oversight.

  • SamIam

    Because they’ve learned they don’t have to.

  • SamIam

    It’s people like you who piss me off. You fail to stand up for your rights and set yet another precedent of a corporation pissing all over the little guy. I don’t care how good or bad your photography is, don’t let it go for free.

    Don’t let them have it for nothing.

    This sets a terrible precedent. Did you stop to think about the next photographer that Apple stomps all over? What if you could have prevented the theft of the eye photo in this story if you hadn’t stood back and fawned over Steve Jobs like some little fanboy in front of his favourite band.

    Remind me why I’m in this game when rank amateurs can spread their trash online and rich corporations think it’s good enough. You don’t deserve a camera.

  • bob cooley

    The problem is that being 100% right does not mean you will win. Or rather, that you will be able to afford the lawsuit.

    Speaking from experience, I can tell you that you can be 100% in the right, and if fighting a company with Millions (or in this case Billions) you can lose simply through attrition.

    Its naive to think that right always wins. Usually the side with the biggest pocketbook and legal team wins… Sad, but too often true.

    Hopefully Apple will be honorable about this situation.

  • Yuri Kondratyuk

    @Ahmed Karam: Zune was a much better MP3 player (both technically and functionally) but was swept away by the reality distortion field!

  • Dana Sibera

    I’ve thought on your comment for a couple of days now, wondering how best to respond – and I think it’s safe to say in all my years online that’s the most entitled direct response to anything I’ve ever posted.

    Your expectation of profit from your work restricts my right (yes, I can choose this if I like) to release my photography to be freely used as anyone likes?

    I *did* stand up for my rights. My rights, as a copyright holder, allow me to define how work under my copyright is used. I have the right to keep it to myself and reproduce none of it, I have the right to show it only under my control, I have the right to license others to show it exclusively, non-exclusively, or freely, and I have the right to allow anyone to do whatever the hell they want to with it.

    When I first noticed (and shared the fact) that Jobs used one of my photos in a keynote, I faced a little pressure to make Apple pay, to sue, to ask for compensation because the license terms I was able to use at the time on photo sharing sites didn’t allow me to tag all photos as “I retain ownership, but you can do what you like with these images”. I *did* stand up for my rights, the rights that I’d already exercised beforehand that allowed me to decide my photos can be used freely, by resisting that pressure.

    You, too, have a guaranteed right to define how your photography is used. What you don’t have a guaranteed right to is income from your photography, or a guaranteed right not to compete with other photographers “good or bad” as you put it, who offer their work under more favourable terms.

  • David Portass

    You’re not suggesting the big glorious, can do no wrong, Apple have taken something of someone else’s without paying for it are you? Oh they would never do that, they are the good guys all dressed in white, like the Empire

  • Johanc

    And what, may I ask, will the elephant be paid in? Straw?:-)

  • SoloEncore


  • Tish Hill

    Dana Sibera – you are a rock star. I also get tired of the entitlement people feel they have and their incessant boo-hoo-ing about copyright and exclusive rights, etc. Some of us take photos to share, not to keep hidden like a secret treasure on a hard drive.

  • Allen_Wentz

    No the copyright is yours, you do not have to “copyright” it, just prove the original pic was yours. Get legal counsel.

  • Allen_Wentz

    “Going rate” is often defined by a dollar amount per view. How many MILLION times do you think her image has been viewed?

  • Oldgo

    What a weird fight to pick for Apple, I really love their products but they owe this photographer money if this is exactly how it went down!

  • Oldgo

    Their “Trash”? What? Some people just love to take photos and share them, not everyone’s looking for a buck nor is anyone who isn’t a professional taking “trash” photography. How dare you tell anyone they don’t deserve a camera.

    I hope you do real well in your photography but I hope you’re not such a jerk in the real world.

  • WilliamHouser

    @1e4a796eeaed031bc4d32f205d0393d1:disqus It’s people like you who make pro photographers sound like snobs and arrogant jerks, tired of hearing talk like this from high ranking skill level photogs thinking you’re better than the rest simply because you are better behind a camera than someone else, everyone starts somewhere and has to learn from the ground up, just because someone doesnt take as good a photo as someone more skilled does not make their photos trash, and certainly doesnt give you the right to belittle them as you did, yes we are all entitled to our opinions, but in this case your opinion sounds like it stems from arrogance, get your head out of your ass sir.

  • JFK

    You obviously were working on a comp – and not the finished file where the licensing is actually present.

    Source: I work for the company that designed that poster. And the photo department doesn’t make mistakes.