Photographer Sues Fan Site for $600,000 Over Four Member-Uploaded Photos


Les Irvin, the man behind the biggest Joni Mitchell fan site on the internet, is being sued by celebrity photographer Charlyn Zlotnik over four photos that were uploaded anonymously in the comments section of his website.

Although Irvin immediately removed the photos once he was notified of the infringement, Zlotnik and her lawyers have not backed down, leaving him little in way of options. In a cry for help, Irvin — who cannot afford to pay out the $25,000-$600,000 Zlotnik is suing him for — has now reached out to the internet through his website and Facebook, asking for support:

Here’s an excerpt from that page, which has since been taken down and replaced by the message “to be continued…”:

Until now. Charlyn [Zlotnik] has refused to drop the case … A $25,000-$600,000 payment out of my pocket spells the end of a lot of things for me personally – including, obviously, the end of

I’m not asking for your money, but I am asking for your help. If you have been enriched at any point by the treasure that is, if you choose to see this resource as a benefit and a service rather than as an attempt to defraud and infringe, and if you feel this situation is unfair… please help me by sending an email to the attorneys and the photographer Charlyn, Leslie, and Carolyn – asking them to drop the lawsuit. Or if you agree with them, give them a thumbs up instead!

Copyright law seems to be clear that, by removing the photos in an “expeditious” manner, Irvin is not liable for the infringement. However, assuming Zlotnik’s lawyers don’t see fit to drop the case, Irvin will have no choice but to either pay up, or incur thousands in legal fees to make this point.

Thanks for sending in the tip, Kevin!

  • David Ewers

    I see this as nothing but a money grab by a over zelous attorney and client. I would love to hear them trying to show any losses of income by these four photographs.

  • jay

    Greedy photographer.

  • Paul Puiia

    Seems rather heartless.

  • Anonymous

    Seems like you can bisit the site upload your photos anonymously and then turn around and sue them for copyright infringement. Wow, what a loophole.

  • Mansgame

    What’s so hard to understand about not stealing other people’s work? If you didn’t make it, and you didn’t ask permission, it’s not yours. And this is why you should register your pictures with the copyright office.

  • Mansgame

    A. Nothing is anonymous on the internet. I can hide behind my screen name while making wise cracks about instagram and film users, but the minute I do something that’s against the law, I am easily found out.

    B. Why would this guy allow strangers to post things to his website that could potentially make him liable?

  • Chris

    I’m a full-time, professional photographer. My images are how I make my living (and yes, I’ve had my images stolen and infringed before)… and this is outrageous. Suing is the LAST option, not the first one. If someone refuses to take your images down, uses other people’s copyrighted work repeatedly, or directly profited from the infringement, then certainly… sue them. But the behavior of this client and attorney is reprehensible (and, for what it’s worth, it is contrary to the official guidance and policy of the American Society of Media Photographers).

  • Anon

    Infringement noted. Images removed. End of case. Next.

  • prometheus1010

    Perhaps you don’t understand how the internet works.

    If I posted one of your photos right here in this comments section and the mods shortly after removed it once notified, would you feel entitled to sue petapixel?

  • Leonardo Abreu

    What a jerk photographer

  • Mansgame

    If it was one of my signature pictures that was registered with the copyright office, yes.

  • Higgs Singlet

    Charlyn Zlotnik are nothing more than greedy and just wants money

  • Sarah

    Carolyn Wright is a greedy attorney and she’s the reason this case isn’t getting dropped. She’s the equivalent of an ambulance chaser in the photo world.

  • jay

    You are a reasonable man :)

  • Zos Xavius

    Why? they removed it immediately in this hypothetical situation as well as in the real story. it would take a real asshole to sue someone after they did everything they could to remove the picture, especially when they weren’t aware of the infringement to begin with. in fact, according to this article, you cannot sue after the fact if someone complies.

  • Zos Xavius

    also, lets face it. the reality of the internet is that if you put a jpeg out there, it will be copied. as soon as someone views your flickr page or whatever, they can copy anything. and they will. they are automatically creating copies on their hard drive without even knowing it in the cache. if you value pictures so much that you would sue over a low res jpeg that is unattributed after the offending site removed it. an image that someone could have found in google images (much of my work appears for instance…) then you are a real douchebag.

  • dee

    “Irvin immediately removed the photos once he was notified of the infringement”

    So the website owner did not steal the photos, someone uploaded them to his website and he removed them, for me this is the end of the story, but no, they still want to sue him, it’s like they’re asking him to prevent any infringement even before it will happen.

  • bob cooley

    No one is arguing about someone stealing someone else’s images. That’s not the issue here – its taking the hit for a third party’s wrongdoing. And the resulting lawsuit isn’t nearly proportional to the crime, which as noted many times here, WASN’T by the site host.

  • bob cooley

    You’ve hit it on the head. In copyright litigation, the photographer needs to show actual loss of income before punitive damages (the expensive part) can be levied.

    it’s a lot harder to win a copyright case than people think (unless you have very deep pockets, and can afford to stick it out). Hopefully Zlotnik will drop this, its pretty frivolous.

    Also speaking as a pro shooter, I don’t want to lose income from someone using my images commercially without my permission, but to sue a fan site that tried to do the right thing upon discovery is just frivolous.

  • Chris Pickrell

    Wait, he’s suing the site for anonymous content uploaded from a 3rd party? Isn’t there a lawsuit protecting him from that very thing? A site can’t be held accountable for anonymous content uploaded unless they are ACTIVELY trying to acquire the content themselves.

  • Brian

    Let’s see, pay “thousands” in attorney fees, or pay a minimum of $25,000 up to $600,000 to the photographer. No brainer, go with the court case. Now, as for “anonymous,” the web server should have logs of the site’s access. That means that the person who “anonymously” uploaded the pictures left fingerprints behind in the form of an IP address. I wonder if that IP address has anything to do with the photographer or the attorneys involved. I also wonder just how much the web site’s URL name is valued. This may actually be a grab for the site’s name.

  • Pod

    I give people the benefit of the doubt. If I catch a blatant profiteering rip of my images, I go to war. I have an attorney who will work on contingency so it’s not too hard to drum up a few nastygrams. I’ve never had to go the distance with regards to actually suing for monetary damages , though. I’m a firm believer in the ‘expeditious’ part.

  • Jeffrey Lee

    It hardly matters what the law says or doesn’t say. The whole thing sounds like a vicious scare tactic from the lawyer in an effort to get the website owner to fork over a substantial sum of cash for fear that he might have to pay even more if he loses the case. The lawyer probably knows there’s no actual case, but that doesn’t mean the intimidation factor can’t influence the legal novice.

  • eraserhead12

    if that was the way the internet worked, reddit and 4chan would owe trillions for anonymously uploaded images.

  • Mansgame

    So are you a pro shooter or a pro lawyer?

  • Mansgame

    every now and then you need to make an example of someone to get other people’s attention. Right now stealing pictures is a joke to many people because they know nothing will be done to them. Look at the other guy in the next story. Once the fear of god is put on someone, others will think twice about stealing pictures. How as a “pro” photographer you don’t see that is beyond me, but I bet you probably get mad if someone uses your picture in their facebook.

  • Mansgame

    Did they remove it on their own? No. Photographers shouldn’t have to reverse search every single image they have every day to catch people in the act. It takes too much effort. That’s why when you see someone do it, you come down on them with a truck full of bricks (figuratively)

  • Porter

    I’m a photographer, and this is pretty ridiculous. He was informed, he took the images down. That’s it, the end. Also, he didn’t post the pics. Done. Yet, she’s proceeding, so let’s ask why. Considering she was on the hook in NY 6 months ago for a significant “Craigslist drug circle” bust, I’d say that she’s desperate, and that attorney wants to get paid. All at the expense of this poor guy. This is less art protection, than money hunt.

  • derekdj

    Yet another example of why we need tort reform in this country, this photographer should have to prove that they suffered $600,000 in lost revenue before the case is even filed. This is straight up extortion tactics that bottom feeder IP lawyers resort to, they file for astronomical damages pressuring the litigant to offer what cash they have. Even if the defendant wanted to fight the legal fees alone would bankrupt them.

  • derekdj

    If someone is profiting from the use of your photos and/or misattributing the image thats one thing, but in the 21st century posting low res images to a blog or social network is unavoidable. It is the modern day equivalent of photocopying a photo from a magazine and pinning it up on your wall.

    Photographers like Charlyn don’t seem to understand the promotional value of having your images displayed, fan sites, social networks are the best way to turn an image the public might not be familiar with into an icon (especially in the crowded music photography space). Although looking at her work it seems like she’s more of a stringer photographer, none of the images are on the Annie Lebovitz or Mark Seliger level, so I guess she has to resort to extortion to make money.

  • Dee

    Making example of someone justify the unfairness? why not punish someone who actually stole something, in this case the website owner did not do anything wrong and he removed the photos, what else they need from him? treating him unfairly will not get other people attention except they will notice the greedy photographer and his lawyer, it will never stop others from copying photos, so what is the point?

    That is not “justice system” it’s just plain greed and abusing law to harm someone who did not harm anyone, in this case a website owner who you think should made an example for others, man i hope one day someone will try to make you an example for others … let’s see if you will like that.

  • Eziz

    If I’m not mistaken “Zlotnik” is a Slavic name and has something to do with gold. I guess, she likes Gold and $$$.

  • ietion

    I do not like the ethics of Charln Zlotnik. If artists act like that, what can you expect from the rest of the world?

  • bob cooley

    When you’ve shooting professionally for nearly 30 years, and running your own business, you get to know the laws around your profession pretty well. (“Also speaking as a pro shooter” was a reference to another posting just below mine which has since moved in the comment chain)

  • Allan Hangaard Rasmussen

    So as a photographer you can make a quick buck by anonymously posting some of your work on some website forum, and then sue the website owner afterwards?

  • Andres Trujillo

    Then, why not go against the people who actually did it?

  • Zos Xavius

    he should just go with it and represent himself. chances are this will be laughed out of court anyways.

  • wilmark johnatty

    If the internet really operated this way with large boards (such as these) having to monitor everything faster than 1,000,000 readers and google crawlers could, – We would have NO damn internet. It is nonsensical opinions like the one you expressed has free speech under lock and key. You need to be living on Mars, Sir. People/companies that engage in this type of thoughtless abuse should be targeted and blacklisted so that their products offerings/services are ignored by the public.

  • Matt

    Maybe they should be held accountable. Just because it is done does not make it right.

  • common sense is gone

    Charlyn Zlotnik, meet the Streisand Effect.

  • Samcornwell

    Chris, I like you.

  • Ellis Vener

    Ms. Wright can only do what her clients tell her to do. She can give her clients advice which might be good or might be bad (and if they don’t take it, resign as their attorney) but at the end of the day Zlotnik is in the driver’s seat.

    And guess what?

    Zlotnik has ongoing legal problems from last summer as well from a Federal drug bust:

  • Richard Ford

    Why not spend all that searching time n, you know, actual real income generation? Practice, study, family even?

  • Pro Photographer

    I am a professional photographer and am going to court over a client violating copyright, repeatedly and blatantly. I have spoken to about 5 other photographers who have had the exact same problem, which is theft.

    Derek jds comment is ridiculous”but in the 21st century posting low res images to a blog or social network is unavoidable. …. Photographers like Charlyn don’t seem to understand the promotional value of having your images displayed, fan sites, social networks are the best way to turn an image the public might not be familiar with into
    an icon.

    Photographers make a living on usage rights amongst other fees. It is not okay to take someone’s image and just use it as if you own it. Allowing this type of theft is collectively dragging down all photographers livelihoods.

    He calls her suit “extortion” lmao what a joke.

    However, I do not agree with the amount the photographer is suing for in this case.
    Irvin, was unaware of the infringement as he himself did not post the images and he complied with the cease and desist.

    The judge will take that into account. The judge will also take into account “fair use” as Irvin was not using the images for profit.

    But the Irvin, is still liable, I do not agree with the amount the photographer is asking for in this situation, but she still needs to be compensated. People who use social media must be made aware that you cannot just take images as if they are free.

  • Halfrack

    I thought DMCA Safe Harbor for ISPs and websites is a take down and hold harmless?

  • DPL

    This sounds very much a grab for money or publicity from the lawyer/photographer rather than a legitimate case, certainly I would never have heard of Charlyn Zlotnik otherwise (though now would refuse to ever utilise her anyway).

    As a photographer myself I am completely for retaining copyright, but in this case the website has done everything required to prevent it – he has had anonymous images posted, which come with the assumption that they are posted with the allowance of the copyright owner (otherwise he would need to question every single upload). When informed they were under copyright he immediately removed them, and that should have been the end of it. The only occasion that legal proceedings should be pushed would be in the event he is informed of the problem, and chooses to specifically ignore it.

    Given the history of the photographer, it does seem to lead the cynical amongst us to question her true motives…

  • LorriM

    honestly, unless this photographer has her images registered with the United States Copyright office prior to them being posted on this website, she’s not entitled to much legally. And as Chris stated above … a lawsuit is the LAST plan of attack for any reputable and professional photographer. I had images stolen after actually being hired by a NYC record label management team to shoot a well known band during their final performance show of their tour. The shoot was quite the endeavor, all guidelines and agreements were followed on my part and yet, after being told the marketing campaign had been taken in a different direction and they wouldn’t be using my images afterall in their DVD release … that was that. Until a year later when I actually received the DVD to find my images making up the centerfold spread of the booklet that accompanied and also several images throughout and NO photo credit was listed . I consulted with very reputable entertainment attny’s and we handled it all (in a span of two years) very amicably and professionally. I was duly compensated and also kept in great standing as a professional in the music photography biz without being blackballed for suing unnecessarily.

  • kfreels

    If every site owner had to watch every image and then check it for copyright violation before allowing the image to be posted, there would be no message boards where you could upload photos. It’s an impossible task. Flikr alone has more than a million uploads per day. It could take several hours per image to verify copyright on every image and even then there is no guarantee that you made a correct decision. How many employees would flickr have to have just to verify images? At 10 per day per employee it would take over 100,000 employees to do that and that doesn’t even cover the supervisors, trainers, and other resources needed. Facebook has over 200 million per day. That would require well over 2 million employees.

  • DPL

    Thousands of dollars in attorney fee’s is certainly less than potentially hundreds of thousands in a fine, but the fact is that it is still thousands of dollars more than he should be having to pay to anyone for such a nonsensical case.

  • Walter Rowe

    The term “service provider” referenced in copyright law relates to ISP providers who respond in a reasonable time frame to DMCA takedown notices. That is how it has been explained to me by my attorney.