Corbis Sues National Museum of Crime and Punishment

Posted on 4/7/2009 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (0)

On April 2, Corbis filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against a Washington, D.C.-based National Museum of Crime and Punishment. Beyond the inescapable irony of a museum devoted to crime committing one, the allegations outlined in the complaint are particularly egregious. Purportedly, NMCP agreed to pay Corbis a licensing fee of $139,600 for limited non-exclusive use of 705 images, did not pay any of such fees but has used the images since last May and continues to do so to this day.

Corbis attorneys describe NMCP as a privately-owned, for-profit organization that presents the history of crime and punishment in the U.S., including its depiction in popular media. NMCP exhibits contain artifacts and photographs that pertain to related topics, and the museum charges admission fees of $17.95 for adults and $14.95 for children to view the exhibits. The museum also serves at the headquarters and studio for FOX’s “America’s Most Wanted.”

When NMCP representative initially contacted Corbis to license images, the NY company refused to extend credit terms due to the museum’s lack of credit history. Corbis says that an NMCP representative then provided proof that the museum was funded by a prominent Orlando attorney John Morgan, a principal of Morgan & Morgan. Based on the belief that Mr. Morgan is a member and shareholder of NMCP, Corbis agreed to standard 30-day credit terms.

On April 29 and 30, 2008, Corbis invoiced NMCP. Failing to pay by June 1, 2008, NMCP was in breach of the Corbis licensing agreement, which stipulates that any usage rights granted terminate in such a case. By entering into this agreement, NMCP also agreed to pay 10 times the agreed-upon license fee for any unauthorized use; now, the complaint says that Corbis is entitled to 1.4 million and other fees, damages and penalties.

As NMCP continued to use the images in marketing materials and revenue-generating exhibits, Corbis sent the museum a written notice last September and continued its attempts to resolve the issue in October and December. According to the complaint, such attempts were continually rebuffed—without NMCP offering any reason for non-payment and continuing its unauthorized use.

Corbis is suing NMCP for copyright infringement and breach of contract. The stock-licensing company is asking the U.S. Southern District Court of New York to order NMCP to cease using Corbis imagery. Corbis is also seeking numerous financial awards, including NMCP profits that resulted from infringing use of its imagery; compensatory damages of $1.4 million; statutory damages; all costs, legal and attorney fees incurred while pursuing payment and the lawsuit; and any other and further relief the court may deem just and proper. According to the current copyright laws, statutory damages can range from $750 to $150,000 per image, depending on whether or not the court issues a finding of willful infringement.

On the same day, Corbis also filed a lawsuit against Georgia-based plumbing, heating and air-conditioning contractor Gainesville Mechanical. According to this complaint, a Gainesville representative copied 10 Corbis images from its Web site in March 2006 and continued to use them on the Gainesville Mechanical Web site through January 2009, without licensing or paying related fees. Gainesville also stripped the images of embedded metadata, which constitutes a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, in addition to copyright infringement. Corbis is asking for injunctive relief, actual and statutory damages, statutory costs and attorneys fees.

Copyright © 2009 Julia Dudnik Stern. 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


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