Art doll

Beware of what’s in the background

“Russian doll copyright infringement is an infringement of a copyright that resides in another copyright, just as Russian dolls are nested within each other…. The consequences can be costly. »

In the winter of 2014, Leah Bassett rented her Martha’s Vineyard home to Joshua Spafford. He seemed like a nice, calm, well-dressed guy. Joshua listed his employer as “Mile High Media”. Mile High later used the house to shoot several adult videos. Leah, the owner, didn’t know they were going to use her house this way. She was upset when she learned what they had done, but in the end she got revenge through copyright law.

Bassett is an artist. She had her original artwork on the walls, which appeared in numerous video scenes. She filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court in Massachusetts. The court found that the unauthorized use of his artwork in the scenes constituted copyright infringement. The court then left the issue of damages and destruction of the videos to the jury. Bassett requested all profits from the films. The Cape Cod weather reported that the copyright case was settled just before the trial.

Copyright infringement of “Russian Doll”

The copyright infringement of a “Russian doll” is an infringement of a copyright that is part of another copyright, just as Russian dolls are nested inside each other. This type of copyright infringement can appear unexpectedly and have serious consequences.

US Postal Service stamp issues

The United States Postal Service (USPS) learned of the Russian doll’s copyright infringement the hard way – twice. In 2003, the USPS issued a permanent stamp honoring Korean War veterans. They used a copyrighted photo taken by Marine Corps Reserve Lt. Col. John W. Alli showing snow-capped statues at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. He visited the monument early on a Sunday morning after heavy snowfall and took the picture. The USPS paid a licensing fee to Mr Alli for its use, but was also sued by the sculptor of the statues, Frank Gaylord. He had not given permission to use his carvings on the stamp. In a classic Russian doll copyright infringement case, the USPS had to pay Mr. Gaylord $685,000.

Seven years later, the USPS issued the Lady Liberty stamp forever. For the image on the stamp, the USPS licensed a photo by Raimund Linke of the face of the Statue of Liberty. I’m sure they were convinced that the copyright on the famous New York landmark had expired, and they were right. But what they didn’t realize was that the image they allowed was of a replica Statue of Liberty in Las Vegas. They were sued by her sculptor, Robert Davidson, and had to pay $3.5 million.

Consequences for other companies

Counterfeiting of Russian dolls has also occurred in mainstream commercial advertising. General Motors found out when they launched an ad campaign for Cadillac. The ad used a photo of a Cadillac taken on the top floor of a parking lot in Detroit. Unfortunately for GM, there was a mural on a wall next to the car. Adrian Falkner’s mural, also known as SMASH 137, was commissioned as part of a street art project and is copyrighted. Falkner sued General Motors for infringement. GM argued that they had done nothing wrong since photos of buildings are allowed if visible from a public place. Their argument is correct with respect to the buildings, but the court concluded that the mural was not part of the building, but a separate protected work of art. GM settled with the artist.

Mercedes Benz did the same in 2018. Several photographs used on the company’s social media pages depicted its G 500 in front of murals at Detroit’s Eastern Market. The murals had been painted by four artists, Daniel Bombardier, Maxx Gramajo, James Lewis and Jeff Soto. They objected to the use of their art. Mercedes disagreed and sued, asking a federal court to declare that she had done nothing wrong. Mercedes used the same argument GM used, and the Detroit court ruled the same as the California court. Mercedes Benz has settled the lawsuit.

Takeaway meals

Copyright infringement can be expensive. Damages can range from actual damages to the copyright holder to any additional profit made by the infringer or even statutory damages. Statutory damages are available if a work is registered in a timely manner – usually accepted within three months of the work’s publication date or before copyright infringement takes place. Statutory damages can range from $750 to $30,000 per violation, up to $150,000 for a willful violation.

To avoid Russian doll fakes, you need to be aware of what is in the background of your photos or videos. Copyright protects the expression of an idea in a tangible form, such as paintings, sculptures, photos or music. These may appear inadvertently in your work. If you notice this has happened, take appropriate action as soon as possible. If it is not possible to avoid incorporating potentially infringing material into your work, you can also contact the copyright holder and request permission to use the work, which may require a license . The consequences can be costly.

Image Source: Depot Photos
Author: Ruigsantos
Image ID: 6582448

Image by Guillaume Honaker