Heidi Klum’s Project Runway Sued for Copyright Infringement, What it All Means #Photography Law

Greeting folks. Happy Monday. Happy New Month. I wish for you, all of the wonderful things you wish for yourselves.

OKAY! Let’s go! Litigation time. What’s on our court docket today? The popular Project Runway show. I love that show, although it has been a while I have watched it. The icing on cake is really when they show at Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week. I am always about emerging talent and shows like San Francisco’s Academy of Art and Project Runway Fashion Shows in New York are ones I definitely love attending at New York Fashion Week.

What’s the legal scoop?

Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn’s Project Runway have been sued for alleged copyright infringement.

In pertinent part, “Hollywood Reporter’s THR, Esq. states:”

“A Missouri photographer is suing Lifetime and A&E claiming the networks improperly featured her copyrighted photographs on the current season of Project Runway.

Marcie Cobbaert filed a complaint on Friday in Missouri federal court, alleging that at least four of her photographs of the work of current Runway contestant Laura Kathleen Planck were swiped. The photog claims that when the reality fashion show featured Planck’s past work, it violated the copyright on her photos.

Cobbaert says she never consented to the use of her photos on television and on the show’s website, and that the network was expressly informed of her objection to the use. The complaint states that the material is being used for advertising purposes and being displayed with stamps “falsely indicating the photograph belongs to Lifetime.”

The analysis is pretty straightforward here and one that I covered in the Copyright Infringement law suit in the Fela Case. Notice the increase of law suits brought on by photographers? Hmmmm . . . will models follow next? i.e. sue photographers for using their images beyond the scope of what they authorized? Anyway let’s quickly get into the analysis and then I will send you all off to THR., Esq. for the full scoop including damages alleged.

What Law Governs?
US Federal Copyright Law

Who Is the Owner of the Photo?
Marcie Cobbaert claims ownership. She obviously has to prove ownership. It is not enough for her to say, ” I own it.”

What Does This Mean Under Copyright Law?
As the author of the work, Marci has the exclusive right to prevent Project Runway and others from using her photos without permission.

How Did Marcie Create this Copyright?
Under the law, she created it the moment her work was “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.”

Ms. Uduak (As Some Call Me) Could you Please Speak English?
Sure. 🙂 To create a copyright, Marcie’s work MUST be: Original [creative intelligence] AND must be fixed in a concrete form of expression. For example, the pictures at issue here. Ideas are not protected. It’s in your brain. Put it down on paper and now the law steps in to protect you.

Did Marcie Have to Register Her Work with the US Copyright Office?

What is the Significance of Copyright Registration?

  • It puts the world on notice and gives legal presumption that her copyright is valid.
  • To sue/bring her infringement action, she MUST register her work!
  • It also makes it easy to sue & recover. For example, timely registration, within 3 months or even late registration within 5yrs of published work, strengthens her case when others infringe/violate her copyright(s).
  • If she registered before her rights were infringed upon, she could recover up to $150,000 & possibly attorney fees when she sues.  She doesn’t have to prove actual monetary damages.

How long does a copyright last?

1. If you created your copyrighted work after 1977, then it will last for the life of you, the author plus an extra 70years after you die, long time innit?

3. Copyright for works created from 1923-1963 last for 95 years from the date the works were published, if timely renewed

4. Copyright in works published from 1964-1977 last 95years, whether you filed for a renewal or not.

5. Copyright created but not published before 1978 last 70years after the author dies.

What About Copyright I Create as An Employee for my Employer?

If you are an employee and you created copyrighted work for your employer, then that copyright last for 95years from the date the work was published OR 120years from the date you first created it, whichever one happens first.

Get all questions on copyright law answered at the US Copyright Office website here.

Read the Project Runway Full Story on THR, Esq. here.


Photocredit: FlynnPictures
Photo description: Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn at New York Fashion Week 2009