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Bell v. Startup Production, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

November 20, 2018

RICHARD N. BELL, Plaintiff,
STARTUP PRODUCTION, LLC, et al., Defendants.


          Danny C. Reeves United States District Judge

         This case involves the use of a copyrighted photograph of the Indianapolis skyline. [Record No. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1] Plaintiff Richard Bell contends that he took the subject photo and that Defendant Startup Production, LLC created a website for Defendant Upscale Furniture, LLC that published the photo for advertising purposes, infringing on his copyright in violation of 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">17 U.S.C. § 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">101');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 et seq. [Id.] The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [Record Nos. 30');">30');">30');">30, 32');">2]

         Because Bell owns the copyright of the photo, the defendants have not established judicial estopped applies. Genuine issues of material fact also remain regarding whether the defendants copied the photo. As a result, the defendants' motion for summary judgement will be denied. Bell's motion be granted, in part, and denied, in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Bell took a photograph of the Indianapolis skyline in 2');">2000 and posted it online. [Record No. 32');">2-2');">2, p. 2');">2] The defendants contend that the photo was posted on Pinterest by the City of Indianapolis and does not bear a copyright notice or identify Bell. [Record No. 30');">30');">30');">30, p. 5 n.3]

         Bell asserts he first published the photo on and later published it on [Record No. 32');">2-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, p. 2');">2] Commercial licenses of the photo have been sold through these sites since around 2');">2004. [Record No. 30');">30');">30');">30-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">10, p. 96]

         Bell's wife filed for divorce on November 2');">26, 2');">2008. [Record No. 32');">2-2');">2, p. 4] The divorce proceedings required that each spouse complete a financial declaration. [Id.] Each spouse had copyrights but neither listed their respective copyrights in their financial declarations. [Id., at p. 5] The marital assets listed in the financial declarations were divided between the spouses consistent with the divorce proceedings. [Id.]

         Bell registered the photograph with the United States Copyright Office on August 4, 2');">201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1. [Id., at p. 2');">2] He used a reverse-image search engine in 2');">201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">17 and discovered the photograph on Upscale's website at [Id.] Bell subsequently notified Upscale of his copyright and demanded that it pay for the unauthorized use of the photo. [Id., at 3] Upscale accessed Bell's website and paid $2');">200 for a commercial license of the photograph bearing the copyright notice after receiving Bell's notice of infringement. [Id., at 3; Record No. 30');">30');">30');">30-7] The license states it is a “perpetual, nonexclusive, nontransferable worldwide license to the accompanying image.” [Record No. 30');">30');">30');">30-9] The accompanying image was the photograph of the Indianapolis skyline which included the copyright notice. [Id.]

         Counsel contacted Bell after purchasing the license and informed him of the defendant's position: that the license was retroactive and relieved the defendants from any liability for copyright infringement. [Record No. 32');">2-2');">2, p. 3-4] Bell subsequently returned the $2');">200, terminated the license, and demanded that the defendants remove the photograph from Upscale's website. Upscale refused to cancel the purchase. [Id., p. 4; Record No. 30');">30');">30');">30-8]

         Startup created Upscale's website and maintains certain access and control over the site. [Record Nos. 30');">30');">30');">30-5, p. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1-2');">2] The defendants assert that an individual identified as Alison Peterson uploaded the photo to Upscale's website and that she was never employed by Startup or Upscale. [Record No. 30');">30');">30');">30, p. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">10]


         Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no genuine disputes regarding any material facts and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.p. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">17');">477 U.S. 31');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">17, 32');">22');">2-2');">23 (1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1986); Chao v. Hall Holding Co., 2');">285 F.3d 41');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15');">2');">285 F.3d 41');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15, 42');">24 (6th Cir. 2');">2002');">2). A dispute over a material fact is not “genuine” unless a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 2');">242');">2');">477 U.S. 2');">242');">2, 2');">251');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1-52');">2 (1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1986). The determination must be “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 2');">251');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1-52');">2; see Harrison v. Ash, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">10');">539 F.3d 51');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">10, 51');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">16 (6th Cir. 2');">2008).

         The Court views all the facts and draws all inferences from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1986). “The standards upon which the court evaluates the motions for summary judgment do not change simply because the parties present cross-motions.” Taft Broadcasting Co. v. U.S., 2');">29 F.2');">2d 2');">240');">40');">92');">29 F.2');">2d 2');">240');">40, 2');">248 (6th Cir. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1991');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1).


         A. Copyright Infringement

         “If a person, without authorization from the copyright holder, puts a copyrighted work t o a use with in the scope of [an exclusive right], he infringes the copyright.” Twentieth Century Music Corp. v. Aiken, 42');">22');">2 U.S. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">151');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">155 (1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1975). These exclusive rights include rights to reproduce the copyrighted work through copies and to distribute copies of the work to the public. Aiken, 42');">22');">2 U.S. at 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">154-55 (citing 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">17 U.S.C. § 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">106). “To succeed in a copyright infringement action, a plaintiff must establish that he or she owns the copyrighted creation, and that the defendant copied it.” Kohus v. Mariol, 2');">28 F.3d 848');">32');">28 F.3d 848, 853 (6th Cir. 2');">2003); see also Feist Publ'ns., Inc. v. Rural Tel. Servs., Inc., 499 U.S. 340');">40, 361');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 (1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1991');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1).

         The defendants assert that the plaintiff is judicially estopped from asserting ownership of the copyright and that “there are no facts to establish that Startup and/or Upscale copied the ‘Indianapolis Photo.'” [Record No. 30');">30');">30');">30, p. 6]

         1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1'); ...

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