Marc Jacobs International LLC is facing a lawsuit from photographer Christopher Peterson for allegedly posting one of his photos on their Instagram without permission from the professional photographer (see Christopher Peterson v. Marc Jacobs International, 1:19-cv-06121 (SDNY)).
The photograph in question features supermodel Bella Hadid in a Marc Jacobs sweatshirt:
Peterson claims he had licensed the image to the Daily Mail for use in one of their articles, but did not provide any such licence to Marc Jacobs.
The photographer therefore lodged a copyright infringement claim at the New York District Court for the use of the photo without such authorisation, alleging that the fashion designer utilised the image in order to promote the brand’s clothing.
As the photographer, Peterson owns the copyright of the photograph, governed in the US by section 102(5) of the Copyright Act 1976. Such copyright exists, and provides protection, for the creator from the very moment of creation. It means that Peterson has ownership rights over the photograph, such that only he has the right to reproduce the work, display and commercially distribute the photograph publicly, and licence use of the photo by others.
There is a potential defence to the use of a piece of work under the doctrine of ‘fair use’ per section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976. Since the use by Marc Jacobs is alleged to be commercial in nature there is potentially no such defence here.
Since Peterson has filed a lawsuit, he has also registered his photograph. This allows registrants to make claims for higher damages against infringers and expedites court process.
As a result, he is seeking a financial settlement, including statutory damages up to $150,000, in addition to a separate claim under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act 1998 for alteration and/or removal of copyright management information – that being the watermark that Peterson alleges was cropped out of the image to hide the fact it was subject to copyright (although such a mark is not necessary for the purposes of copyright protection, it can be useful primarily to warn others against using the photograph).
The image has since been removed from the company’s Instagram account.
This is not the first time Marc Jacobs has been on the receiving end of a copyright infringement claim. The fashion designer was previously sued for copyright infringement by representatives for the band Nirvana after making use of the band’s infamous ‘smiley face’ logo, which you can read about here.