Did you know the photographer owns the copyright in the picture she takes of you? Famous photographer, Bruce W. Talamon, is suing the owners of bobmarley.com and many other Bob Marley related companies over the alleged use of Talamon’s copyrighted photographs he took of Bob Marley. Talamon is a Los Angeles photographer who shot exclusive photos of many famous artist and musicians. From 1978-1980, Talamon traveled with Bob Marley and his band during concerts in California and West Africa and created a book, Bob Marley Spirit Dancer, featuring the many photographs from his travels with Marley.
The complaint identifies over twenty instances of infringement, showing websites and Facebook pages allegedly using his copyrighted photographs of Marley. The named defendants span from music companies to producers of coffee and marijuana products, some of which Talamon previously sued in other cases. The complaint lists the copyright registration numbers of all 22 photographs that Talamon claims have been infringed and provides screenshots of the photos on the companies’ various websites. Despite the pictures featuring Bob Marley, a photographer is ALWAYS the copyright owner unless specifically agreed to specifically in writing prior to the shoot or assigned subsequently also in writing.
Similarly, wedding photographers also retain the rights to their works, not the happily married couple. Photographers have the rights to their creations, whether their clients are aware of or intend this consequence. Under the Copyright Act, the photographer retains rights as the creator unless they are designated as a “work for hire” in a prior written agreement. 17 U.S.C. § 101. Most couples are not aware of these circumstances before hiring photographers and only realize their lack of copyright ownership when they try to obtain the raw image files. In Elbe v. Adkins, 812 F. Supp. 107 (S.D. Ohio 1991), a couple paid for twenty-five photographs from their wedding photographer in advance, with additional photographs allowed to be purchased. The photographer placed a copyright symbol on his proofs, however the couple admitted to making infringing copies. By removing their photographers’ copyright symbol, name, and numbering system, the couple committed copyright infringement despite only intending to reproduce photos of themselves. The photographer had experienced actual harm from the reproduction of these photographs without compensation. From the original four hundred and seventy five dollar agreement, the copyright infringement led the wedding photographer to request over sixteen thousand dollars in damages (it was a 1991 case, after all). While the photographer did not receive statutory damages because the pictures were registered with the Copyright Office after the infringement, he was still able to receive actual damages. Talamon however, registered his photographs of Bob Marley before the alleged infringement began availing himself to statutory damages.
Talamon may receive up to $150,000 per infringement under the Copyright Act because of willful infringement allegations. 17 U.S.C. § 504(c)(2).
The case is Talamon v. Tuff Gong Worldwide LLC, Case 2:18-cv-06176 (C.D. Cal. 2018).