Legal Question in Intellectual Property in New Hampshire

Photo copyright question

I maintain a website about lighthouses, and there are

hundreds of my original photos on the site. A company

is marketing mugs with line drawings that are clearly

based on my photos. They say they have the right to do

this. Are they within their rights, or do they need my


Asked on 5/17/02, 12:22 am

4 Answers from Attorneys

Bruce Burdick Burdick Law Firm

Re: Photo copyright question

Line drawings clearly based on your photographs are likely derivative works and thus copyright infringement. You should see a copyright lawyer and let him or her evaluate the particulars and, if confirmed, to assert your rights. Copyrights are federal law, so the lawyer can be in any state. See my website and click on the link to "Copyrights" to gain more information. If you want a referral to a NH copyright lawyer, let me know. As you would expect, there are also good ones in NYC and elsewhere around the country, particularly in LA.

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Answered on 5/17/02, 12:34 am
Todd Epp Abourezk & Epp Law Offices

Re: Photo copyright question

I would also add that before you can sue for copyright infringement, you will most likely have to have your copyright registrations in place or have at least applied for the registrations. You can get expedited service on your registrations by paying an additional $500/work and you'll get your certificates in a couple weeks as compared to 4-12 months. Also, when you have obtained your registrations can affect whether you can opt for statutory damages or obtain attorney fees.

Thank you for your posting. Good luck with your matter.

Best regards,

Todd D. Epp, Esq.

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Answered on 5/17/02, 1:08 am
Lawrence Graves Coolidge & Graves PLLC

Re: Photo copyright question

Yes, such use of your work would constitute copyright infringement. I'm guessing that you have not registered your photographs already with the US Copyright Office, but the following addresses your situation in the alternative.

Under the 1976 copyright law, you have copyright from the moment that you put your creation into a tangible medium; registration is NOT required for copyright to exist. [Under prior law, this was not the case, but I am assuming that your photographs were all taken after 1/1/1978, when the 1976 law became effective.]

The 1976 law also gives an incentive to register one's copyright, in that it provides much better remedies to the owner when an infringement occurs AFTER registration. Here's the difference: for pre-registration infringements, you can sue the infringer for injunctive relief (i.e., an order of the court to stop the infringement) and actual damages (i.e., lost sales or royalties); for post-registration infringements, you can elect to recover "statutory" damages from $25-100,000.00, and you also get your attorneys' fees. An infringement that begins before registration does not become a post-registration infringement just because you belatedly register your copyright.

If my initial guess is correct, you can probably expect to get the infringer to stop making additional copies of your work, and you may get some minimal royalties, but that would be the limit of likely recovery.

For the future, you might want to know that the copyright office published new rules last year about registration of photographers' works -- we used to do this informally, but the office made the policy official: every year, you can file contact sheets of all of your photographs under a single registration (this is a boon to professional photographers, who otherwise would have prohibitive costs if they had to register each photograph individually).

I've worked with similar cases to yours involving photographs if you need more specific advice. Best wishes,


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Answered on 5/17/02, 7:38 am
Amy Ghosh Law Offices of Amy Ghosh

Re: Photo copyright question

If their line drawings are clearly based on your is infringement. If you have not registered your photographs you will not be entitled statutory damages. You should start with a cease & desist letter. Before I advise ...I would like to get the URL for your site...please directly e-mail me and let me know which pictures ...and sample of the line drawings on the mugs. Remember they will come up with defense such as public domain...similar pictures of that particular lighthouse has been aroud for a long time or they have used the lighthouse itself as the model.. We have to emphasize the uniqueness of your photograph and how that was appropriated by the infringer. I am in Los Angeles...I have worked on some well-known photograph infringement cases including never published pictures of Merilyn Monroe. Contact me if you need help.

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Answered on 5/17/02, 12:58 pm

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