Photographer Sues BuzzFeed for $3.6M for Using Photo Without Permission


A photographer is suing the popular viral content aggregation website BuzzFeed for a whopping $3.9 million after he discovered that BuzzFeed had used one of his Flickr photos without permission in a comedy “roundup” article.

The controversy started when Idaho photographer Kai Eiselein came across an article on BuzzFeed titled “The 30 Funniest Header Faces.” It was a collection of 30 photographs showing soccer players photographed with contorted faces as soccer balls collided with their noggins,

A screenshot of the BuzzFeed article at the center of this controversy

A screenshot of the BuzzFeed article at the center of this controversy

One of the photographs in the original article was an image that Eiselein had uploaded to his Flickr account. The image was marked as “All Rights Reserved.”

As you can see from the screenshot above, the title has since been changed to “The 29 Funniest Header Faces” after Eiselein’s photograph was removed (the photographer sent BuzzFeed a DMCA takedown notice).

Shortly after the original post was published, the photograph began to appear on websites across the web (many of which source, steal, or syndicate BuzzFeed’s content):

A Google Image Search result screenshot showing how the photo now appears across the Web

A Google Image Search result screenshot showing how the photo now appears across the Web

Unhappy about the fact that his photo was published without his permission, Eiselein filed a massive $3.6 million lawsuit against the publisher in New York earlier this month. Why the massive amount for a single photo? Eiselein argues that BuzzFeed is responsible not only for its own copyright infringement, but for the damages that resulted from the photo subsequently appearing on dozens of other websites:

Buzzfeed, Inc. actively encourages its users to share content, regardless of whether or not that content is owned by, or licensed to, Buzzfeed. The plaintiff asserts that Buzzfeed, Inc. is responsible for 61 contributory infringements upon his photograph.

Here’s a copy of the lawsuit:

This lawsuit is a major challenge to a business model that many websites are adopting these days: one that is based on finding photographs online, publishing them on a website (both with and without credit) next to advertising, and profiting from the resulting pageviews.

Jeff John Roberts over at paidContent writes that BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti defended the business model to The Atlantic last year:

[BuzzFeed] pays to license images from companies like Reuters and Getty, but that it also pulls from amateur sites like Tumblr and Flickr. In these cases, the provenance of the images can be unclear — in some cases, the photographer has made them available for public use while other times the author is simply unknown.

Peretti also claims that, in any event, BuzzFeed’s photo montages are fair use under copyright law because they are “transformative” (which is one factor in the first part of a complicated four-part fair use test).

This isn’t the first time BuzzFeed has been on the receiving end of a massive copyright infringement lawsuit. Last October, the website was sued for $1.3 million for publishing 9 celebrity photos without permission.

As with that case, this new lawsuit will be a big test for whether or not new media websites can grab photographs from across the Web and use them for profit without the photographers’ permission.

(via paidContent via Imaging Resource)

  • laura

    Ha 3.6million is a joke.

  • Aidan

    I wish someone would use one of my photos without permission so I could sue them for a couple of million dollars.

  • Edward Olive Fotografo de boda

    Dirty stealing thieves need to pay for their crimes.

  • SnapClick

    Exactly. I’m guessing the Russian site didn’t make enough money!

    Look, if you’re going to go after BF, then grow a pair and take down Pinterest and Tumblr as well. Have you been on those sites? Those images are NOT all downloaded by the actual user – people get their pins/posts from all over the web regardless of where or whether there is any kind of copyright infringement because most people have no idea (and most of them are under the age of 18) what the law means in terms of them using the images. I follow many fashion-type blogs that use images from websites and all they do is give credit, maybe link back, but no way are the millions of fashion blogs around the web emailing the original source for every single photo/image. Yet, some of them have been around for years and are now very large and very profitable!

    If you don’t want your creative work downloaded by the masses, then lock it up! Set up the image so it’s not downloadable or Pinable – I know this is possible because I have tried to use the “Pin It” button on sites before and I get the message that the images/pics are NOT pinnable. Why leave them wide open? Seriously, IMO putting your work on the internet is like leaving your oil paintings in a public park for display to as many people as possible and expecting them to be there months later.

  • John Kantor

    No normal person has ever sued anyone – only scumbag lawyers sniffing after a big payout do that.

  • Horst Wrabetz

    alright, so let’s sue some housewifes and teenagers over at pinterest for sharing beautiful stuff. that’s the attitude the world needs!

  • Alex

    Hope you got permission to use this image!

  • James

    It’s punitive, if you do something wrong intentionally and repetitively, you shouldn’t be allowed to just pay what you might have been able to buy it for, you should be required to pay so much you wont think about doing this again.

  • James

    I mean it’s still important to not that he wasn’t even given credit. Many photogs would have been happy with just getting credit, and they didn’t even give him that.

  • James

    If this was a song, they’d be buried by the law book.
    Not only did they take “Contact” by Kai Eiselein, and post it on their page (basically selling it for ad money) they also changed the name to “funny soccer moment” by buzz feed, and asked everyone to share it around.

  • carboncrank

    wake me up when the case is decided. thousands of suits a day that go nowhere and plenty of lawyers out there trying to intimidate people into “negotiating” a settlement to a case with no merit.