Tag Archives: copyright infridgement

Attack Blog’s Salvos against Corporation and Blogger’s Use of Copyrighted Photos in Parodies of Management Deemed Non-Actionable by California District Court

Attack Blog's Salvos against Corporation and Blogger's Use of Copyrighted Photos in Parodies of Management Deemed Non-Actionable by California District CourtMany blog sites on the Internet are devoted to complaints or criticism of the practices of businesses and their executives. For example, we recently blogged about a site that critiques the practices of beauty company Mary Kay, Inc. —www.pinklighthouse.com. Another site focuses on critiques of Starbucks’ operations —starbucksgossip.typepad.com. The authors of such blogs or websites frequently worry that their posts could subject them to ruinous liability for defamation, trademark infringement (for use of the company name), or copyright infringement (for reprinting company materials).

However, a recent decision by a District Court in the Northern District of California illustrates the protections the law affords attack blogs from such claims. In 2006, Robert Delsman, Jr., a former General Electric employee, submitted a claim for disability benefits to the firm that handled such claims for GE — Sedgwick Claims Management, Inc. Sedgwick is managed by David North (CEO) and Paul Posey (COO). Delsman grew dissatisfied with Sedgwick’s handling of his case and began to express his views about Sedgwick, North and Posey in a blog and a postcard mailing campaign called “Operation Going Postcard.”

The blog, which is currently hosted at https://www.gesupplydiscrimination.com/, accused Sedgwick of wrongfully denying benefits to claimants, violating various laws, and accused Sedgwick and its “minions” (which it termed “Sedgthugs”) of having committed “Sedgcrimes.”
Delsman also took two copyrighted photos of North and Poser and superimposed them on “WANTED” postcards, some of which he “morphed” to look like pictures of Adolph Hitler and Heinrich Himmler. The postcards contained messages next to the photos such as this: “WANTED FOR HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS. . . Have you been threatened by this man or his minions? The time for change is at hand!” On the reverse side, they read: “Have you been terrorized, threatened or lied to by Sedgwick Claims Management Services? The time to act is now! Report these despicable activities to the US Department of Justice and the Attorney General in your state. Sedgwick CMS can be stopped peacefully and purposefully if enough people act now! Get informed!”

That’s strong stuff!

Sedgwick filed suit against Delsman seeking to stop his damaging campaign. It claims included copyright infringement, for his use of the photos, and the usual panoply of defamation-related claims, including libel and interference with prospective business advantage. See Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc. v. Delsman, U.S.D.C. Northern District of California, Case No. C 09-1468 SBA, Order Granting Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (July 16, 2009).

There is nothing wrong with the types of claims Sedgwick brought. I have successfully brought them myself on behalf of defamed plaintiffs. However, the circumstances have to be right. The reality is that the First Amendment protects a lot of damaging speech.

Copyright Infringement When No Heir Apparent

The recent controversy about Vivian Maier’s pictures brings forth a major issue that is often seen in legacy and estate related matters. Maier spent her life working as a nanny and kept her artistic life a secret. When she died in 2009, penniless and with no family, her pictures were discovered and declared to be one of the most remarkable pieces of art in the 20th century. Since her heir was unknown, it became quite a challenge for the courts to declare her heir.

Since there was no heir apparent, Maier’s images were being sold by people who came to own the negatives. They had no connection to her but still had access to prints of her work.

John Maloof, a former real estate agent bought tens of thousands of the negatives for a mere $400 and then spent years promoting her work in galleries, museums, exhibitions, books and a documentary. It is believed that Maloof paid an undisclosed amount for the rights to her work to Sylvain Jassaud who had been identified as her closest relative.

David C. Deal, a lawyer and a former commercial photographer took it upon himself to try and track down Maier’s heir. He hired his own genealogists and travelled to Maier’s home town in France. He was able to track down a Mr. Baille who was then recognized to be Maier’s heir under American law.

The exploitation of Maier’s work highlights a loophole in the legal system with respect to copyright infringement. Under federal copyright law, the copyright owner of an image controls whether these images are reproduced or sold. An individual can own a negative or a print but he still does not have the copyright to market/reproduce.
The way Maloof profited from Maier’s work seems completely unfair because he had no legal copyright to do so. Under the eyes of the law, Maloof (and other owners including Jeffery Goldstein) were breaking the law.

Estate cases like Maier’s area generally complicated because their relatives are not United States citizens. It may take years to find the rightful heir but with the right lawyers and the right legal representation, it can be done.

A similar legal battle has taken place over the literary rights to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The heirs have filed an appeal with the Supreme Court to stop the publication of new stories which have recently been commissioned and are expected to be out later this year. Doyle’s heirs argue that the characters have continued to develop throughout the course of all Holmes works and they are seeking copyright protection.

Copyright protection is thus a controversial aspect and can often result in legal battles that can continue for long periods of time.