Photographer Wins Big in Copyright Case, $1.6M Big


It’s always nice when we stumble across a copyright case that doesn’t lead to wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth, rare as that might be. So when we ran across the news that a photographer pulled in $1.6 million in a copyright lawsuit, we just had to share it.

The photographer in question is Andrew Paul Leonard, and he specializes in photographing tiny things. No, not macro photography… think tinier. Leonard captures images using a scanning electron microscope (SEM), and he wasn’t too happy when he discovered that Stemtech Health Services, a supplement sales company, was “using, copying, and displaying” his work on its website and in publications.

Fungal spores photographed with a scanning electron microscope.

Fungal spores photographed with a scanning electron microscope.

That was back in 2008, which might seem like a long time ago unless you’re familiar with how long these lawsuits can go for. Regardless, the story has a happy ending for Leonard who was awarded $1.6M in actual damages on October 11th after five years of taking Stemtech to task in court.

And the kicker here? As we said, $1.6M was actual damages. Unfortunately, Leonard didn’t register his copyright until after the infringement took place, so he wasn’t eligible for any statutory damages at all. Can you imagine how much he would have made if he had registered ahead of time?

(via Photo Attorney)

Image credits: gavel by SalFalko and Fungal Spores by Philippa Uwins

  • JH

    Typically it’s treble damages = 3X damages = $4.8 million.

  • Jeffrey Friedl

    One company using his photos leads to _actual_ damage of $1.6 million? Wow, time to pick myself up a scanning electron microscope or two.

  • Lazarus

    well you must be able to use it too…. stay with photographing japanese gardens… :-)

  • Ann Roach

    Well now, this is really something, infringement, can apply to life too

  • Laura

    It’ll cost you that much to buy and maintain one.

  • Andrew Iverson

    I’m just curious why he didn’t copyright the photos. I can’t imagine getting access to an electron microscope, finding what to capture, and doing all that work isn’t easy. Not like they are one of a million shots lots of people do.

  • well now,

    Well now, check this out, nonsense, can apply to your comments too

  • aaronchuck

    One does not “copyright” an image. One registers an image with the federal copyright office. USC: Title 17 provides that at the moment of capture, a photographer owns the copyright to an image, with exceptions, such as “work made for hire”. The vast majority of photographers do not register their images either out of ignorance, or complacency.

  • aaronchuck

    What exactly do you mean?

  • Mescalamba

    While all these “photographer wins copyright case” are nic, I wonder how many loose such cases..

  • Andrew Iverson

    That’s what i meant, it’s been a long day. That with all it takes to get an image like this, the extra step seems worth it.

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    I’ve never understood the whole register copyright system in the USA. In Sweden you are the owner of your work, period. It is de facto copyrighted as soon as it can be claimed to hold an artistic value (and that bar is not high).

  • TylerIngram

    Same here in Canada. You took a photo.. you own the copyright on it without having to register it.

  • eatkin

    Every photo that you take that is yours is copyright. That is nonsense about registering copyright. That is just another attempt to pile all the odds against the little guy. Now the guy has to go after the illegitimacy of that BS and get his money..

  • bkrudy

    The same photo you used in this article, uncredited?

  • beaver

    the photo is credited if you actually read the article

  • bkrudy

    Andrew Paul Leonard is actually NOT photo credited, if YOU actually read the article – thanks for playing. And of that isn’t his photo, then it has no relevancy to the article. Also, just putting a photo credit doesn’t mean it is authorized. Otherwise, you could use other people’s photos all the time, and just credit them, but that ain’t legal either, fella.

  • aaronchuck

    I sure do hate repeating myself. But I guess you need it. I just said that USC: Title 17″ provides that at the moment of capture, a photographer owns the copyright to an image, with exceptions, such as “work made for hire”.”
    Copyright has NOTHING to do with a works perceived artistic value. This last is a subjective quality that has no place in intellectual property ownership rights and the laws created to provide for that ownership. It has to do with allowing for the creator to hold ownership over their works in order to capitalize on it. In a word, pay their friggin rent from the work they create for a client.
    All registration does is create a more robust means of proving your ownership of a work in the case of a dispute. While also helping supply a database of the creative work that we Americans make.

  • aaronchuck

    You are ill informed as to copyright law and the usefulness of registering images with the federal copyright office. I invite you to use google to learn about why we register creative works, be they music, design, drawings, paintings, video or photos.

  • aaronchuck

    Under The Fair use doctrine, it is lawful to use an image when the use is a story on the image in question. It obviously needs no credit as the article is about the person who took the photo. The photographers name is IN the story.

  • frank

    so he took the photo of the gavel also ? Cause thats not credited either..

  • figtreefarm

    Actually, both photos used in the article are credited – at the very bottom of the article is this: Image credits: gavel by SalFalko and Fungal Spores by Philippa Uwins

  • aaronchuck

    You sure you want to roll with that question before you actually carefully read the ENTIRE article?

  • daveinmaine22

    If you paid attention instead of trolled I think you would see that the spores photo is a creative commons licensed photo from Wikipedia and the gavel is from a Flickr account that appears to be stock photos. So uh, thanks for playing yourself.

  • Tim

    So what did he win BIG time?

  • ron

    ‘Registering’ copyright is almost purely an American concept nowdays as the Berne Convention has made it unnecessary internationally. So only US-based photographers are likely to consider that such registration is necessary.

    However recent changes in the UK that facilitate users appropriating so-called ‘orphan works’ more easily may make registration more popular in the UK again.

  • ron

    You’re thinking ethno-centrically. Only the US requires registration for the purposes of a domestic lawsuit (i.e. within the US). Most countries don’t have a registration system at all. A few have a limited voluntary one.

    Probably an important factor in asserting your rights to state under which country’s laws you are asserting them (typically your country of residence but there may be variations to that for practical reasons). Internationally the Berne Convention applies, to which the US is a signatory

  • Vin Weathermon

    A judgement doesn’t mean cash in the photographer’s pocket. They can go bankrupt and pay nothing as they could be judgement proof at that point. It is symbolic I suppose…

  • dbur

    I’ve seen them on ebay….

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    Yes, I already understood that, no need to get so hostile. But the fact is that in Sweden, you’ll be able to earn your living without registering your work anywhere.

    And it’s ridiculous to say that it creates a more robust system in the case of a dispute. All you’ve done is registered something, it doesn’t prove anything. Need I mention the patent system? It can be abused.

    I don’t understand why you’d think the Swedish system doesn’t allow a person to capitalize on it. On the contrary, if a person who has NO IDEA how to capitalize on his or her work gets the work stolen, that person still has the same rights as the professional photographer in court.

  • facepalm

    Understood and greatly understood worldwide — USA is still the king of sueing people and lawsuits.

  • beaver

    thank you guys.

    bkrudy. maybe you need some sleep.

  • Chillywilson

    here is a DIY way to make one. It’s not all that hard.

  • vegrav amygrav

    taken by surprise that a mom can make $9805 in four weeks on the computer. important lin……….


  • kevin

    Well I will just be frank with you Copyright Infringement Is blatant theft And unless you have had it happen to you then you will never understand the absolute devastation it does to the life of the creator . These big corp… are taking and taking and when brought to court they motion for Summary Judgment which in turn puts the power directly in the judges hands ..denying the creator of their 7th amendment right to jury trial. we all need to open our eyes an see that Hollywood and the big corporations are stealing in the name of the law…………..Want to know more ? check this out