Photographer Awarded $6.3 Million in Copyright Infringement Trial

Copyright case

An architecture photographer in California has been awarded $6.3 million after a jury found that a retirement community provider used 43 of his pictures without a license.

According to a report in Architectural Photographer Almanac, Scott Hargis has won a case that has gone on for years and has been awarded one of the highest amount of damages ever in a photo copyright case.

Pacifica Senior Living refused to settle with Scott Hargis Photo with the case being escalated to a trial by a jury who found every image to be a willful infringement and awarded Hargis the maximum $150,000 per image that copyright law allows.

“We feel very good about the award,” Hargis tells PetaPixel. “And hope it sends a strong message to infringers that this sort of thing carries a serious consequence.”

Actual versus Statutory, Willful versus Un-willful

The case highlights the benefit of registering photographs with the United States Copyright Office (USCO). Photographers who do so can sue for statutory damages; which is what Hargis did.

If Hargis hadn’t registered his works with the USCO then he would only have been able to sue for actual damages which is equivalent to the market value of the image’s license.

Once a photographer has their works registered and an infringement has been found they must decide whether to sue for willful or non-willful. Non-willful carries a maximum of $30,000 in damages and willful has a maximum of $150,000.

Hargis’ case shows the value of registering works with the USCO. According to Architectural Photographer Almanac, the defendants claimed that there was no infringement but the jury disagreed.

Hargis tells Architectural Photographer Almanac that he is “thrilled” with the result adding that he “hadn’t quite processed it yet.”

Hargis is an experienced architecture photographer who, according to his website, lives in Oakland, California.

This time last year, a photographer was awarded $1.2 million after a company used his photo of a pigeon for over a decade without compensating him for it.

It has been a year of positive outcomes for photographers embattled in copyright infringement cases: In May, the United States Supreme Court released its opinion on The Andy Warhol Foundation v. Goldsmith case, finding in favor of Lynn Goldsmith and stating that Warhol’s use of her photo was not fair use.

Update 12/12: Updated with Hargis’ quote.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.