Photographers vs. Publishers

Posted on 12/30/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (3)

For much of the past decade, textbook publishers have licensed rights to print a minimum number of copies of the books they published and proceeded to greatly exceed the authorized press run, without informing the content creators. Only recently have photographers become aware of this problem, which we covered last month (see “Textbook Market for Photographers Declines - Part 1: Introduction,” “Part 2: Electronic Uses,” “Part 3: Who Is in Control?” and “Part 4: Publishers Owe for Past Uses.”

Consequently, a large number of federal court actions for copyright infringement have been initiated against several major publishers in the last few years. The table accompanying this article lists photographer plaintiffs and publisher defendants. Many of the cases have already been settled, although some were filed in 2006 or 2007 and were not Settled until 2009; 10 cases are still active.

Non-disclosure agreements have made it seemingly impossible to learn the amounts of any of the settlements. One of the keys to success in these actions was that each image was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office prior to the infringement.

The law firm handling most of the cases was Harmon & Seidman (“HS” in the table), with offices in Grand Junction, CO, and Northampton, PA. The Hawaii case was handled by attorney Rush Moore, and Seny Norasingh used Larry Coats of Coats & Bennett in Cary, NC. Norbert Wu and Louis Psihoyos used New York attorney Dan Nelson, who specializes in intellectual property litigation. While the cause of action in most of these cases was copyright infringement, the Minden Pictures action is for breach of contract.

Photographer lawsuits and arbitration actions against major publishers
Filing date Plaintiff Defendant District court Judge Suit type Plaintiff’s attorney Status
15-Dec-09 Viesti Associates, Inc. HMH Publishing et al Colorado Wake CR HS Active
14-Dec-09 DRK Photo HMH Publishing et al Arizona Wake CR HS Active
6-Jul-09 David Hiser John Wiley & Sons NY Southern Hellerstein CR HS Active
23-Jul-09 Norbert Wu, Louis P. Psihoyos HMH Publishing et al NY Southern Baer CR Nelson Active
23-Jul-09 Norbert Wu Pearson Education NY Southern Koeltl CR Nelson Active
11-May-09 Viesti Associates, Inc. HMH Publishing et al Colorado Brimmer CR HS Settled
10-Apr-09 Pacific Stock, Inc. HMH Publishing et al Hawaii Ezra CR Moore Active
2-Apr-09 Viesti Associates, Inc. HMH Publishing et al Colorado Kane CR HS Settled
26-Mar-09 Alaska Stock, LLC HMH Publishing et al Alaska Burgess CR HS Active
23-Mar-09 Muench Photography HMH Publishing et al NY Southern Preska CR HS Active
19-Dec-08 Robert Vavra HMH Publishing et al Illinois Northern Darrah CR HS Settled
15-Dec-08 Robert Vavra HMH Publishing et al Illinois Central McDade OT HS Settled
16-Apr-08 Grant Heilman HMH Publishing et al Colorado Krieger CR HS Active
15-Apr-08 Julio Larraz HMH Publishing et al Massachusetts Tauro CR HS Settled
28-Mar-08 Robert Vavra HMH Publishing et al Massachusetts Woodlock CR HS Settled
1-Oct-07 Jon Krakauer HMH Publishing et al Colorado Daniel CR HS Settled
24-Aug-07 Hilda Semerdjian McDougal Littell, et al NY Southern McKenna CR HS Settled
26-Jul-07 Tom Bean McDougal Littell, et al Arizona Duncan CR HS Settled
26-Jul-07 Phyllis Shuptrine McDougal Littell, et al Tenn. Eastern Collier CR HS Settled
18-Jul-07 Ted Wood McDougal Littell, et al Colorado Ebel CR HS Settled
15-Aug-07 Seny Norasingh Houghton Mifflin et al NC Eastern Flanagan CR Coats Settled
11-Jun-07 Neal Beidleman Holt, Rinehart & Winston Colorado Weinshienk CR HS Settled
10-Jan-07 Robert Sacha McDougal Littell, et al Illinois Northern Castillo CR HS Settled
28-Aug-06 Michael Bergt McDougal Littell, et al Illinois Northern Schenkier CR HS Settled
27-Jun-06 DeVore Family Partnership LLP McDougal Littell, et al Illinois Northern Conion CR HS Settled
11-May-06 Bill Pogue McDougal Littell, et al Illinois Northern Castillo CR HS Settled
28-Mar-06 Neal Beidleman McDougal Littell, et al Illinois Northern Kocoras CR HS Settled
1-Feb-06 Jay Maisel McDougal Littell, et al NY Southern McKenna CR HS Settled
12-Jan-06 Jay Maisel McDougal Littell, et al Colorado Weinshienk CR HS Settled
AAA arbitration actions
30-Dec-05 Jay Maisel McDougal Littell New York   CR HS Settled
28-Oct-06 Neal Beidleman McDougal Littell New York   CR HS Settled
5-Oct-07 DeVore and Beidleman Houghton Mifflin Colorado   CR HS Settled
13-Mar-08 Hiser and Chesley Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Colorado   CR HS Settled
16-Apr-09 Hiser John Wiley & Sons Colorado   CR HS Active
20-Jul-09 Network Aspen and Still Media Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Colorado   CR HS Settled
15-Oct-09 Network Aspen and Still Media Pearson Education California   CR HS Settled
16-Dec-09 Minden Pictures, Inc. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt California   CO HS Active

Copyright © 2009 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Paul Melcher Posted Dec 31, 2009
    A few comments here:
    - seems as we have repeat offenders here
    - Does any of these photo supplier get blacklisted after bringing legal action ?
    - How come there is no big player like Getty or Corbis. Do they get paid additional fees or do they not sue ?
    - What are associations like PACA or ASMP doing about this ?

  • Jon Feingersh Posted Dec 31, 2009
    Jim-- Thanks for keeping this in the forefront of photographer awareness. The attorney information is of particular interest, as is the the number of cases.

  • Jim Pickerell Posted Dec 31, 2009
    Paul - Indications from their online price lists are that Getty and Corbis get paid LESS than most other suppliers, not more. Corbis says they've never had a problem with unauthorized use by the major publishers. I'm not sure about ASMP, but PACA has certainly made their membership aware of this problem. However, there are indications that not many of the PACA members are making claims.

    I suspect that suppliers do get blacklisted after they sue, and fear of that is probably the reason that so few pursue settlements. On the other hand it is hard to see why Getty and Corbis should be so fearful. Can you imagine the publishers doing without any of the pictures Getty or Corbis have in their collections?

    We don't have a list of the books where these violations occurred, but it is reasonable to assume that not all cases concern unauthorized used within a single book. The average textbook has about 200 photos in it. If the publishers are not paying for extended use of one photo in a book, chances are they didn't pay for any of the extended use of photos in the book. Thus, very likely there are a lot of other photographers and agencies who have legitimate claims if they could only uncover the actual number of copies that have been printed of the books where their photos have been used.

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