Industry News

Photographer Wins Landmark Lawsuit Against BuzzFeed

August 19, 2020

By Jacqueline Tobin

© Ilin Sergey

Photographer Gregory Mango won a landmark lawsuit against BuzzFeed last week when a court ruled that the online publication was liable for third-party infringement of a photograph by Mango. The photo was originally published in the New York Post. And then when BuzzFeed grabbed it and published it, the staff removed his copyright information from the image.

Back in 2017, Mango licensed an image of a man named Raymond Parker to the New York Post after Parker found himself involved in a lawsuit against New York City. The newspaper published Mango’s image of Parker and included a credit below the image. A few months later, a BuzzFeed writer not only used the photo without the photographer’s permission, but they replaced Mango’s photo credit with the name of the prosecuting attorney’s law firm.

[Read: Google Images Gives “Licensable” Badge for Photographers to Sell Work]

When Mango filed suit against BuzzFeed, it was grounded on two points: for the online pub using his image without permission, and for removing his copyright management information (or CMI) in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

BuzzFeed fought Mango in court on the latter point, appealing a previous ruling and claiming that they couldn’t be held liable “because there was no evidence that it knew its conduct would lead to future, third-party infringement.”

[Read: Instagram’s Bombshell on Copyright For Embedded Images]

On August 13, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit disagreed, upholding the lower court’s ruling and awarding Mango $3,750 in statutory damages for copyright infringement, $5,000 in statutory damages for violation of the DMCA, and “reasonable” attorney’s fees ($65,132.50 in fees and $1,810.03 in costs).

According to legal information site Photo Attorney, the applicable section of the DMCA states:

No person shall, without the authority of the copyright owner or the law . . .

(3) distribute, import for distribution, or publicly perform works, copies of works, or phonorecords, knowing that copyright management information has been removed or altered without authority of the copyright owner or the law, knowing, or, with respect to civil remedies under section 1203, having reasonable grounds to know, that it will induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal an infringement of any right under this title. 17 USC Section 1202(b).

The case is, adds the Photo Attorney report, “good news with respect to the knowledge requirement of the DMCA, which has been difficult for photographers to prove. This court’s explanation of the knowledge requirement paves the way for more successful claims.”

Download the full opinion here.