33 Rowell Sues Price Costco
June 18, 1996 -
World-renowned outdoor adventure photographer, Galen Rowell, is seeking damages
from Price Costco for copyright infringement and unauthorized commercial use of
his well known photograph, "Wild Horses Below Fitz Roy, Patagonia" as a point of
purchase display promoting their amateur film processing.
The copyright violation was first brought to Rowell's attention in January 1995
by a fellow photographer who saw the image hanging "in what seemed to be an
uncharacteristic and rather incongruous setting."
The image was featured prominently, just inside the Seattle Price Costco
warehouse entrance at their one-hour photo processing operation. The rear
partition of the cubicle acts as a billboard for their service. Arranged in a
line across the top are four to five photos, each about 16"x20" in size.
Rowell had previously endorsed the New Lab in San Francisco for its processing
services and has had a long standing working relationship with then. He said,
"I would never endorse any one-hour photo operation."
Price Costco had purchased a varied selection of hundreds of posters from
Portal Publications in California to use in many of their stores. Each poster
was "trimmed" from the retail format as sold by Portal, and then reconstructed
to a strip of film, sprocket holes and all, with each frame being a unique,
Rowell asserts that, in addition to being a copyright violation, the use of his
photo in this manner falsely attributes a direct or implied endorsement of Price
Costco photo-finishing products and services.
This image is widely recognized as being taken by Rowell, having appeared
originally as a double-page spread in Rowell's 1989 large-format book, The Art
of Adventure, published by Collins. Rowell licensed to Portal the rights to
produce the image as a Sierra Club poster.
Initial attempts were made to settle the matter directly with Price Costco.
Gary Crabbe, manager of Rowell's stock department, was told by the director of
Price Costco's Photo Service Division that by purchasing the retail posters for
a few dollars each, Price Costco had the right to use or display them in any
manner which they saw fit. Price Costco initially refused to make any
legitimate disclosure about the extent of the use or negotiate a settlement in
Rowell retained Jeffrey Berchenko, a San Francisco based lawyer who specializes
in photography, artist, copyright and trademark law. In addition to Rowell,
other photographers whose images have been used in the same way by Price Costco
are Carr Clifton, Al Giddings, Jeff Gnass and Tom Till. They are all exploring
the possibility of bringing an action.