Copyright Suit Helps British Photographer Win $32,000, He Was Initially Offered $250


British photographer Jason Sheldon has won a settlement of £20,000 (about $32,300 US) over a stolen image of his (seen above), after initially being offered less than one percent of that.

The dispute centered around a backstage photo Sheldon captured in July of 2011 of pop star Ke$sha partying with rap duo LMFAO. Daybrook House Promotions grabbed the image and used it in an ad last year for a Nottingham nightclub, reasoning that since the picture had been posted on Tumblr, it must be free to reuse at will.

Sheldon tried to explain that copyright doesn’t work that way and sent the company an invoice for £1,351 ($2,200). In response, Daybrook said they never would have used the image if they had realized it was not free to use, and therefore would pay him only £150 ($242).


Instead of accepting that paltry offer, Sheldon decided to take the case to court, and after several rounds of preliminary judgments that went the photographer’s way, Daybrook agreed to an out-of-court settlement of £20,000.

UK media lawyer Charles Swan told Amateur Photographer he hopes the hefty settlement sends a message to media outlets ignorant or dismissive of copyright law.

“The case shows how persistence can pay off for photographers when it comes to enforcing copyright,” said Swan, “and how expensive it can be for infringers if they don’t quickly settle out of court for a reasonable amount.”

(via Amateur Photographer)

Image credits: Header photo by Jason Sheldon/Junction10 Photography and Keep Calm and Report Art Theft by cypher-neo

  • Peter Acker

    Score one for the little guy!!! Sweet!

  • Fadil Mazrekaj

    WUNDASCHEN Gutespiela Lustik

  • Óran Desmond

    and that’s why you never watermark your images!

  • Pryere Coleman

    Good on ‘im. I’m glad that I have never heard of the subjects.

  • Murray Rothbard

    What an atrocious thing for the photographer to do. Copying is not theft. He should be ashamed of himself.

  • Cuthishandsoff

    I’m looking for the sarcastic tone in your comment but I can’t find any. “Copying is not theft”, says who? You?

  • afakeplasticman

    i hope you’re kidding.

  • Alexander Lupascu

    i have a similar problem with a french clothing company who sells thirts with one of my the hell can i manage to sue their asses? :)

  • bob cooley

    Quickly register your image with the copyright office (it’s not too late, but you should do this before taking it to court) – then find yourself a lawyer that specializes in Intellectual Property law.

  • Tzctplus -

    He is right, copying isn’t theft, it’s copyright infringement.

    If it was the same we wouldn’t need two completely different bodies of law.

    If photographers want to be taken seriously they should use the appropriate terms that pertain to the field without the hysteria.

  • Tzctplus -

    You don’t need to register anything. Copyright is automatically assigned to the creator, you would need to prove its yours of course.

  • olafs_osh

    another reason to have RAW files. of course, jpg’s are good as well, but raw just gives that extra weight and clear away all doubts.

  • bbear

    You are of course talking about the United States Copyright office, which of course probably won’t help with an infringement by a French company.

  • niccaa

    Why? he is spot on. Theft is to imply that someone has taken something from you with out concent and you are therefore no longer in possession of that object.
    That was NEVER the case here, the photog always had the object still. It was breaking copyright laws, which is why it’s not called theftright because you are still in possession.

  • niccaa

    Got the original RAW? should be easy to prove the image is yours then. Go to court

  • afakeplasticman

    haha okay sure. it’s copyright infringement, not “theft”. whatever makes you feel better. you still have to pay for infringing. murray seems to be outraged by the photographer suing over that, and that’s what i was referring to in my post.

  • afakeplasticman

    If you want to be taken seriously you should not split hairs so hysterically.

  • afakeplasticman

    registering the copyright can many times entitle the creator to significantly more damages. it’s not a required step, but it certainly has benefits.

  • Daniel Rutter

    It’s particularly confusing because there’s another meaning for the term “copyright theft”: It’s taking someone else’s work and pretending that YOU hold the copyright. You’re again not really depriving anybody of ownership of anything, so the term “theft” is still confusing, but it’s perhaps a bit closer to classical theft. This kind of “copyright theft” is also almost certain to be a clear intentional bad act, as opposed to the usual kind of infringement that happens because the offender is a doofus who thinks everything on Google is in the public domain.

    I concur that you should not say “theft” when you mean “infringement”. I do not agree with probable-troll Murray that the photographer was wrong to sue.

  • Rob S

    So my neighbor has a really nice car and I have to take a long trip next week. Ill bring it back and it will only have some extra miles. He wont even notice since he will be out of town on vacation. If I infringe on his car that will be ok right? You know, just like in the video game “Grand Infringement Auto.”

  • Rob S

    @ Murray – Good on you. In fact, why dont you really show him how you feel and use the image. Im sure you will win in court. Come on big man, show us all who is boss.

  • bob cooley

    Yes, copyright is automatically assigned, but with a very few exceptions, before you can sue someone in court for infringement of a work created in the U.S. the work has to be registered with the U.S. copyright office.

    Additionally, when this is done, you can receive punitive damages (un-registered works in those rare cases that can litigate can only be awarded actual material damages, which is much much less)

    Also, with a foreign company, the person infringed can then take a successful copyright litigation to U.S. Customs, who will stop import of the infringing item (so say if the T-Shirts in this case are being sold by target or Urban Outfitters, etc).

    C’mon, this is copyright 101 – if you are going to comment, please at least know the very basics of copyright, otherwise you are spreading incorrect and bad information.

  • bob cooley

    While there is no such thing as “International Copyright”, you can sue under the conditions of U.S. Copyright law through the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) treaty, which both France and the U.S. adhere to.

  • bob cooley

    Guest, if the work was created in the U.S., then it needs to be registered (or at very least the application needs to be in) before you can sue.

  • disqus_5i5WzX8ROq

    “…taking someone else’s work and pretending that YOU hold the copyright.” is PLAGIARISM.
    Displaying someone else’s art without permission, that is COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT.

  • Christopher Evans

    It’s not even the copying that is the issue, it’s the usage. They used his commercial image (he makes a living taking photographs) to make money, and chose not to pay. That’s theft.

  • Burnin Biomass

    Bob, I thought you can sue even if the copyright isn’t registered, cant you? The difference being that if registered you can sue for statutory damages (above and beyond) , where unregistered images can only receive only actual damage (lost profits).

    I may be misunderstanding something.

  • bob cooley

    Unfortunately no – but this only applies to works created in the United States – so if you the work was created in Canada (by a Canadian), or by someone from another country in that country, its protected automatically under Berne, but in the U.S. it has to be registered (though there is some disagreement in the lower courts to whether full registration or merely application for registration fulfills the requirement).

    It can be a little confusing, because you often hear about the statutory damages being awarded for registered works, but that’s actually a reference to the conditions of the Berne convention, not U.S. title 17.

    For the most part, the two laws coexist and compliment each other, and Berne supersedes the U.S. law in some cases, but not that of registration (since its not a requirement in other countries)

    That particular bit can be a little confusing, unfortunately because there is a lot of bad info being repeated about copyright out there – but if you’ve never read through Title 17 completely, it’s definitely the read .

    Looking at how its structured also dispels a lot of the myths of those who say copyright is outdated, because you can quickly see how constructs like CC (Creative Commons) actually work within the structure of protecting an author, and if applied as intended don’t actually conflict with the idea of good copyright protect.

  • bob cooley

    But is is theft of income.

  • Wordsmith

    The law sees it as theft, the theft of intellectual property.
    It does not need to be physical.
    Copying copyrighted material is theft of property.
    To repeat- it does not have to be physical property.
    Theft is theft. Stealing is stealing. It is the appropriate word. Saying infringement is not theft here is wordplay. A rose by any other name is still a rose.
    Google and read Mark Halpern’s great article in the Wall Street Journal on “Copyright Thieves”.

  • trevorcoultart

    Rob, don’t know where you are, but in UK law that would be “taking without consent” rather than “theft”. To be convicted of theft the prosecution have to prove that you took something belonging to something else with the *intention* to *permanently* deprive them of it. (Just a technicality!)

  • Jakob Berr

    LMFAO says it all… Kudos to the judges and well-deserved for the f***ing thieves. I’m a photographer myself and have to deal with a**holes stealing my work all the time. It’s candy when they have to bleed like this.

  • Daniel Rutter

    Sorry, I wasn’t clear enough about that.

    Plagiarism is when you pretend you hold the copyright to something because you created it, when actually you did not.

    The putative “copyright theft” is when you pretend – and may convince courts – that you hold the copyright to something which you did NOT create, when actually you do not. The classic example would be a record company that takes royalties for albums which, per the actual contract, they do not own any more.

    (Usually they do this in a more straightforward and traditional way, by getting the artists good and drunk and then having them sign a hugely inequitable contract.)

    In that case it actually does line up quite well with the traditional meaning of “theft”, because the artists who should hold the copyright really have had it, and not just some fraction of their earnings, stolen from them. If they try to sell their own albums, they’ll be sued for infringement of a copyright which they actually hold.

    There are many lesser versions of this, too – independent artists being sued for selling their own music that never belonged to any record company, because some copyright enforcement outfit sends scattershot lawsuit threats at everyone in sight. If the enforcers actually go to court and win their case, they get to steal some copyright.

  • bbear

    Its “Copyright 101″ for anyone based in the United States. But we haven’t even determined is Alexander is based in the United States yet. Registering your images is important if you want to take action against a US based entity: but is entirely pointless if you are based in Italy and the infringing party is based in France. If you are going to comment, maybe you should get your facts right yourself first, otherwise you are spreading incorrect and bad information.

  • bbear

    But we haven’t established where Alexander lives yet. Registration is only relevant if the infringing party is based in the United States.

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  • bob cooley

    Fair enough, however the majority of readers of PetaPixel are located in the US. I’ll answer the rest in your other reply below…

  • bob cooley

    Protecting your rights should be Copyright 101 for ANYONE who does this for a living, regardless of what country you live in you should have a full understanding of how it works in your country and others to protect your works. There are 189 countries that are part of
    the WIPO treaty, many of those countries offer advantages (such as statutory damages ) if your work is registered, and it GREATLY helps your case in suing some who is also in another WIPO country if your work is registered locally – it’s far from pointless. Speaking with an attorney and registering your Copyright in your own country is good advice
    regardless of where you live. So where’s the bad advice I’ve given?

  • bbear

    Can you take a guess at how many of those 189 countries require you to register your work?

    Registering your work is pretty much a US only thing and anyone studying copyright 101 should know this.

    It is very good advice for US based photographers but confusing and wrong advice for almost everyone else. There are benefits for some non-US based people to register their work in the United States and many do and for good reason: but for most photographers paying money to the United States Government simply isn’t a prudent use of resources. And as the infringement we are talking about happened in France registering the images in the United States would be pointless. So talking to an attorney: good advice. Registering the images: well it depends on where you live and where the infringement took place.

  • bbear

    And how many countries require registration Bob?

  • Rob S

    In the US that is theft. If fact it even applies to ATTEMPTING to take a car.

  • Peter Acker

    SPAM you very much Ivy. Troll much?

  • trevorcoultart

    Do you not have a separate offence of “Attempted theft”?

    Oh, and now I think about it I’m not *completely* sure if “Taking without consent” would apply in such a case. That’s used when people have permission to use a vehicle but not on that occasion – like using a company van for private business, or using your parents’ car without asking.

    But even so people charged with theft might *try* a defence of “I was going to bring it back”. It would be up to the court to decide whether that was true. If not, it’s theft.

  • Rabi Abonour

    You’re chiding a bot, man.

  • bob cooley

    Some do, some don’t, the bottom line is in ALL cases it HELPS you in litigating your claim, either from a documentation standpoint (shortening the case) or from a monetary stance (statutory damages) so it’s worthwhile to do it.

  • bob cooley

    Actually my original statement was to register with your copyright office (which in the case of other countries would be the copyright office for that country) – if you check the WIPO site, it gives links to every one of those offices. So regardless of where you are, registering it with your national office will help in litigating the case, especially when dealing with an infringement in a foreign country that is also in the WIPO treaty. Again, agreed its not compulsory in all cases, but it HELPS in all cases, so why not make proving your case easier? I’d much rather spend less time and money on a case that’s easier to win, then more time and money on a case that is more difficult to win just because I didn’t want to take the small extra measure of registering my works before I start the lawsuit.

  • bbear

    Bob: the United States is the only country that requires registration. This is common knowledge: Copyright 101 if you will. Yes: other countries have copyright offices. But none of them require registration in order to proceed with a legal case.

    This is why your advice was wrong. Registration implies one thing only: registering your images with the United States Government. Can you provide a cite that registering images “helps in all cases.” Can you provide a cite that registering your images in the United States will help you spend less time and money chasing an infringement in France.

  • bbear

    Can you name the countries that do Bob? After all we are talking about Copyright 101 here.

  • Peter Acker

    Bot’s need chiding and love too. ;0)

  • bob cooley

    Again, agreed most don’t require it, but you can register your work in your country of origin, and it helps in litigating your case; so no, registration does NOT only imply registering in the US, and it does help in litigation to have your works registered in your home country – not required, but HELPS. – you seem to be missing the main point here, or selectively answering to parts of my reply.

    You also seem to be arguing just to argue at this point, and I’m done with that – you need not follow my advice, but if you ever find yourself in this situation, you’ll wish you had.