BuzzFeed Sued for $1.3M After Publishing 9 Celebrity Photos Without Permission

Copyright infringement of photographs is anything but uncommon in this Internet age, as countless images are published all across the web every day without the owners’ consent. The problem is so widespread that virtually everyone gets away with it. The ones that don’t, however, are occasionally in for a good deal of pain.

Case in point: the viral-content aggregation site BuzzFeed is currently being sued for $1.3 million by a photo agency after publishing nine — that’s right, nine — of the agency’s photographs of celebrities.

The agency, Florida-based Mavrix Photo, claims that BuzzFeed intentionally misused the photos in an effort to drive more traffic to its website. Knowing how BuzzFeed works, this is more than likely true.

What’s crazy, though, are the figures being tossed around. Copyright law gives owners the right to damages of up to $150,000 per infringement. For 9 images, this total comes out to $1.35 million buckeroos.

GigaOM writes that this aspect of copyright law puts a dangerous weapon in the hands of people looking to make a quick buck:

[…] Mavrix appears to be in the business of copyright trolling [see here] — scouring the internet for unauthorized use of its images and threatening anyone who uses them with million dollar lawsuits. This practice has recently degenerated into lawyers recruiting other lawyers to hunt down a hit list of alleged infringers and then share the bounty.

[The $150K penalty] penalty has its place as a nuclear option of sorts to stop or deter serial infringers. Unfortunately, some image owners are brandishing the nuclear option against everyone — from small blogs to careless interns (who may have been responsible for the BuzzFeed shots) – without taking any account of the actual harm done by the copyright infringement. Instead of a simple request to take the image down (which most people would comply with), we get a legal train wreck.

They suggest that copyright law should be rewritten to include some kind of “small claims court for copyright”, with the punishments only going “nuclear” when the accused are repeat offenders.

  • Rob Dickinson

    “For 9 images, this total comes out to $1.35 billion buckeroos”
    I think you meant million?

  • JF Machado

    Maybe 150K is a bit too much… But on the brightside, helps creating the awareness that digital doesn’t mean free-for-all.

  • Benicio

    Copyright has been broken for a long time with no changes in sight it seems.

  • Roman Krajewski

    Copyright law is there to protect the artist. In order to be eligible for the $150K per image, the photos have to be registered with the copyright office, which takes time and a small fee. Just because everyone steals, doesn’t mean the punishment should be any less.

    The plaintiff also has the option, instead of the $150K per infringement, to take all the profits made by the company that used the pictures during the duration of use, which could be much, much more.

  • Imjustsaying

    Billion? Or Million?

  • Michael Zhang

    Thanks for pointing out the typo rob :)

  • Happy_Tinfoil_Cat

    It’s about time a bunch of unemployable lawyers started going after businesses that blatantly rip off photographers’ work for its own gain. These types of lawyers are the ones filing nuisance lawsuits against innocent people day in and day out. Finally, they’re doing something worthwhile. Yes, I’m bitter.

  • Steve Leach

    Maybe if more “trolls” would attack these people, then someone who is stealing might actually think twice before scraping the images for their own use and profit. Many news agencies hide under the foggy FAIR USE concept to grab any photo without even a photo credit to the known photographer and ZERO compensation. So I would say a small blogger should not get the nuclear attack, but large sites that are getting serious money from the web traffic the photos and searches bring in, should be held accountable. Maybe they should start,,, oh,, PAYING for the use up front? What a novel idea.

  • fuzzywuzzy

    If we’re going to have absurdly high infringement penalties, it needs to cut both ways…

    There needs to be a serious deterrent to copyright trolls and over-enforcement: upon a defendant being found not guilty or falsely accused of copyright infringement, the accuser should be fully liable for the penalties they are seeking, the defendant’s legal fees and punitive damages.

    That ought to balance things out.

  • John Kantor

    The only real answer is to kill all the lawyers.

  • Peter

    Exactly. The claimed sum seems to be high, and it is, but when considering all the photos buzzfeed stole and how much money it took to produce them, it’s not that outrageous.

  • Joe

    I’m glad to see this. I used to visit that site from time to time. One day I clicked on a link with photos of dogs shaking off water after getting wet. I noticed one of my photos there with no credit or link given. I’m not even sure where they got it (either Flickr or Facebook.) I sent them a few emails, never getting a reply, but the page was eventually removed. If only they’d given a link…

  • bob cooley

    the 150k per infringement is meant to be punitive. it is awarded at the discretion of the judge after actual damages are awarded. The tricky think about copyright litigation is that you need to prove loss of income before the punitive award can come into play.

  • Antonio Carrasco

    The way these lawsuits work is they always start out by asking for some crazy high sum in damages, all the while knowing that they are going to bargain down and quietly settle for much less. Never ever go by the initial statement of damages as it’s always ridiculously high.

  • Neil

    Then who will defend you once you’re charged with murder?

  • Mandar

    This is nothing but rich people demanding more money for some violation of their rules. It is not as if the pictures were defaming the celebs, were they ? What are they gonna do with the money? Buy a Porsche probably .

  • James

    Ehh.. i think the key on both sides is that people shouldn’t be making a living at it.