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Copyright Victory

Judge Awards $258,000 to Photographer in Copyright Case

Scott Gunnellis, a professional photographer, has won his lawsuit for copyright infringement. American Choppers star Paul Teutel Sr., has been ordered by a federal judge to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to the photographer who sued Teutel and others for copyright infringement.

Photographer Alleged American Chopper Star Used Photograph on Merchandise and Advertising Without Permission

Gunnellis sued Paul, his son “Mikey,” Orange County Choppers, Discovery, Inc., and Pilgrim Media Group in June 2019. The case, filed in the Southern District of New York, contained several allegations of copyright infringement. Those allegations, as reported by Page included:

  • That the show used a photograph of Mikey on merchandise for sale such as hoodies and t-shirts. The photo, taken by Gunnellis, was also used on the show itself.
  • That a different photo that Gunnellis took of Mikey was used to promote Mikey’s art show. Gunnellis claimed that the Teutels removed his logo from the picture, indicating they knew they were violating his rights.

Photographer Wins Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Against American Choppers

On February 20, 2020, DIY (DIY) reported that the lawsuit has concluded, and the judge issued a verdict.

The judge ordered Teutel to pay Gunnellis $258,000 for using his photos without permission.

US Copyright Laws Create Immediate, Enforceable Rights for Photographers

The US Copyright Law makes it clear that a copyright exists the moment a photographer creates a picture. Control over the picture rests with the copyright holder or owner. He or she can keep those rights or assign rights to others. It is the copyright holder’s decision who may reproduce and distribute the work, if anyone, and at what price, if any. Using a copyrighted picture without permission, especially for commercial gain, violates copyright law.

Here, the judge determined that Teutel used Gunnellis’s photos with no permission or compensation. Although it is not clear how the judge arrived at the damages amount, copyright infringement cases can include statutory damages or actual damages. They can consist of a calculation of any profits the infringer got for using the picture.

As the writer for DIY stated, “Obviously, the photo used on merch and in the reality TV show was used for commercial purposes. It’s not clear how much Paul and Michael Teutel earned off the merchandise.”

As Anete Lusina stated in her February 24, 2020, article for Fstoppers, people violating copyright vary, which makes it especially difficult for photographers. There is no profile of a copyright infringer. “From less informed individuals assuming that everything that can be found online is available to be downloaded, used, and reproduced, to people who are actually aware of restrictions and knowingly breaching them regardless. It is a tough battle for photographers to protect their copyright. But, if anything, this particular case demonstrates that those rights are worth fighting for.”


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