December 17, 2014


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In two recent jury trials, both Grant Heilman Photography Inc. (Grant Heilman) and Panoramic Images were awarded copyright damages against textbook publishers resulting from the publication of images outside of the scope of the license terms.

Grant Heilman brought a copyright infringement action in Federal Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the McGraw-Hill Companies. This trial was a bellwether trial, meaning that the trial was limited to a representative sample of the many images that were alleged to be used outside the scope of the license, to give the parties a feel of how a jury would decide the issues on the other images. The jury was asked to determine a number of issues and all were answered in Grant Heilman’s favor. One issued involved the validity of Grant Heilman’s copyright registrations in some of the images that were being contested by the publisher. The jury did not agree that the publisher had presented evidence that the copyright registrations were invalid, upholding Grant Heilman’s registration practices.

In this sample infringement case, the copyright registrations were not filed before the infringing use, consequently Grant Heilman was limited to seeking actual damages, including profits and could not elect statutory damages. Nonetheless Grant Heilman was awarded a total of $127, 087, which included profits and actual damages.

Importantly, the jury rejected the publisher’s theory that Grant Heilman should have known about “storm warnings” (general knowledge of excessive use of images by textbook publishers) or should have been on notice that the publisher was not complying with its license agreements prior to 2009. This is significant because if the publisher was successful in claiming that Graham Heilman should’ve known of “storm warnings”, then the statute of limitations may have reduced the number of years that damages could be awarded. Because the jury found in Grant Heilman’s favor, it was not precluded from bringing claims for infringements prior to April 18, 2009. Presumably, the parties will either have a trial or settle the remaining claims that were not tried in this bellwether trial.

Panoramic Images brought a similar action against John Wiley & Sons, Inc. in Federal District Court of the Northern District of Illinois. This trial involved damages for six images in excessive of license terms. As in the Grant Heilman case, there was an issue as to whether Panoramic should have known that the publisher was not complying with its license agreements before it filed its claim, which would have limited the amount of years Panoramic could recover damages. The jury did not find that Panoramic should have known that its licenses were not complied with and did not cut off damages before December 17, 2009. In this instance, 5 of the 6 pictures were registered before the infringement, permitting the jury to award statutory damages.

The jury found that Wiley’s infringement of the 5 photographs was willful and for 4 of the images the jury awarded damages of $62,500 each, for a total of $250,000.

For one cover image, the excess use was substantial, and the jury awarded the maximum statutory damages of $150,000. For another individual image that Panoramic Images had not registere3d before the use, the jury awarded actual damages of $500 and profits of $3000. In total the jury award for all six images was $403,500.

Both Grant Heilman and Panoramic Images were represented by the firm of Harmon & Seidman.