Photographer Wins $1.2 Million After Company Used His Pigeon Photo

Stock photo of a pigeon.

A company has been told to pay a photographer $1.2 million after it used his photo of a pigeon for over a decade without compensating him for it.

On Wednesday, a federal jury in Los Angeles, California ruled that Bird B Gone owed photographer Dennis Fugnetti the eye-watering sum for using his pigeon photo for so long without payment.

In 2019, photographer Fugnetti filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Bird B Gone, a company that sells spikes meant to repel birds.

According to Law360, Fugnetti had claimed that Bird B Gone had continued to promote itself using a photograph of a pigeon in mid-flight that he had shot for the California-based company back in 1999.

The pigeon in the original photo by photographer Dennis Fugnetti. Image from court documents.

The company commissioned Fugnetti’s two-man company MIAD Photography and Design to take the picture of the flying pigeon and create designs with the image. But in 2003, Bird B Gone decided to bring its advertising work in-house.

This decision ended Bird B Gone’s relationship with Fugnetti and MIAD. However according to Fugnetti’s lawyers, Bird B Gone began using the photographer’s “flying pigeon image on various retail product packages to illustrate its products” in 2005.

Marketing materials featuring the pigeon photo. Image from court documents.
Marketing materials featuring the pigeon photo. Image from court documents.

The company even later applied “for a trademark over the flying pigeon image without the knowledge or consent of MIAD or Fugnetti.”

Law360 reports that in 2017, an employee at Bird B Gone emailed Fugnetti to ask him when exactly he took the photograph so that it could complete the trademark registration.

This prompted the photographer to file a lawsuit against the company two years later.

Fugnetti’s lawyers claim that “after receipt of the lawsuit, [Bird B Gone] destroyed all of the packaging featuring the flying pigeon image.”

However, Bird B Gone’s lawyers allege that the photographer had given the company an implied license to continue to use the image.

A product in a retail store featuring the pigeon photo. Image from court documents.

Fugnetti’s lawyers now represent Fugnetti’s daughter following the photographer’s “unexpected” death in 2019.

A federal jury took three days to decide to award $1.2 million to Fugnetti following a two-part civil trial in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Steve Kim.

In a lengthy statement celebrating the win, Fugnetti’s lawyers say that his “daughter “became visibly emotional, moving to tears once it became clear that [she] had prevailed.”

However, Bird B Gone’s lawyer John van Loben Sels of Thoits Law tells Law360 that it will fight Fugnetti’s win.

“We believe there was no evidence presented supporting the damages award in particular and will ask the court to set it aside,” van Loben Sels says.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.