TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Blogger Sued for $7.6 Million for Violating Copyright Law in Posting Photos on Blog

The $7.6 million lawsuit against an L.A. blogger for copyright infringement should send chills down the spine of bloggers everywhere.  From the L.A. Times:    Perez Hilton Takes Their Best Shots; The Gossip Blogger's Use of an Agency's Paparazzi Photos Puts the Legal Spotlight on Copyright Infringement:

It's hard to know whom to sympathize with in this fight. On one side: the paparazzi who stalk celebrities in their moments of greatest vulnerability — at doctors' offices, with their newborns, when they are falling-down drunk. On the other: a blogger who helps himself to those photos, scrawls puerile comments on them, and posts them on his immensely popular and profitable website. ...

While X17 has agreements with many gossip blogs ... allowing them to post photos with proper credit and a link back to the X17 website, Navarre said she was tired of constantly reminding Hilton to credit X17 and had finally given up.

[Blogger Hilton says:]  "My position is that I don't think what I am doing is illegal, and I am going to vigorously defend myself. I am willing to step up to the plate and fight for my rights and fight for the rights of all bloggers."

While it's easy to be flippant about a battle between paparazzi and a sometimes juvenile blogger ... there is a serious legal question at issue. If it turns out that what he does is copyright infringement — rather than a fair use of newsworthy images, as Hilton's attorney claims — it would not only put a serious crimp in the photo-driven field of gossip blogs, but possibly create new case law. "The effect would be to eliminate the ability to comment on and transform photographs under the fair-use exception to the Copyright Act," said Hilton's attorney, Bryan Freedman of Century City. It's one thing to take somebody's copyrighted work and turn around and sell it, he added, but to alter the work to achieve a satiric or humorous end is entirely different and is allowed under the law.

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