It’s nice to see the virtuous, hard-working underdog triumph.
Many creative people have their online materials used without their authorization. If a cease-and-desist letter or DMCA take-down notice doesn’t resolve the issue, a copyright infringement lawsuit may be the only remaining alternative. It’s an illusive alternative for many because the cost of litigation may be more than the damages that can be recovered from the infringer.
Stock photographer, Chris Gregerson, didn’t let the cost of litigation deter him. Gregerson represented himself in a copyright infringement lawsuit after discovering that Vilana Financial, Inc. had used his photo of the Minneapolis skyline in its telephone book advertisement. He later discovered that Vilana had also used the photo on additional print and web advertisements including in an advertisement in a Russian-language newspaper, and had used another of Gregerson’s photos in a promotional brochure.
Vilana claimed that it had validly licensed the photos from an individual named Michael Zubitskiy with this version of events: Vilana’s owner, Andrew Vilenchik, met Zubitskiy by chance in the sauna at the gym in early March 2004 and commissioned Zubitskiy to take photographs of Minneapolis buildings. Zubitskiy delivered the pictures to Vilenchik at his office on a photo CD. Vilenchik paid $850 for the photos and memorialized the agreement in writing. Yet, Vilana/Vilenchik could produce no contact information for Zubitskiy, the photographer.
The court rejected Vilana/Vilenchik’s version finding “there is no credible evidence to support a belief that “Zubitskiy” exists or was the source of the controverted photos.” The court awarded Gregerson close to $20,000 in damages. Gregerson was not eligible for attorneys’ fees because he brought the action pro se rather than retaining an attorney. All of Vilana’s counter-claims, which included deceptive trade practices, interference with contractual and business relationships, and invasion of privacy by appropriation of Defendants’ name and Vilenchik’s likeness, were dismissed. All the counter-claims related to Gregerson’s blog narrative about the dispute which yielded several negative comments about Vilana and Vilechik.