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Famous Photographer Sues for Copyright Infringement

Photographer Sues Clorox for Using Photos in Ways that are “Beyond the Scope” of Their Agreement

Jill Greenberg is a photographer known for animal portraits. Her book “Monkey Portraits: Plus a Few Apes” is a New York Times bestseller. In an article posted on, Jack Neff writes that one of her famed photos is now the subject of a lawsuit. Greenberg, on April 16, 2019, filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against Dentsu/McGarryBowen and Clorox Co. The lawsuit alleges that these businesses infringed on her copyright by using photographs in ways that were beyond the scope of their agreement.

According to Neff, McGarryBowen contracted with Greenberg to create a series of portraits showing cats walking and playing on top of some clear glass. The images were to be part of an advertising campaign for Fresh Step kitty litter. The purchase order for the pictures, Neff states in his post, was filed with Greenberg’s court documents. The agreement permits a wide range of uses of the photographs in print format, for a period of two years. The purchase order “excludes use of the photos in video, though it allows a wide range of uses in print, out of home, product packaging, and retail display.” According to the purchase agreement, Greenberg received for the images $115,450, plus over $80,000 in expenses.

Photographer’s Complaint Claims That Showing Her Work as Art Violated her Copyright

Greenberg alleges that Dentsu/McGarryBowen and Clorox used the photographs in ways that went beyond the scope of the agreement, breaching their contract and infringing on her copyright. She told AdAge that the parties never discussed using the photographs at pop-up art galleries in New York and California, which is where they ended up. Fresh-Step used the images from the ads as part of a show to promote cat adoption. Greenberg told Neff “In my 27 or 28 years of shooting advertising images, it never crossed my mind that my kitty litter ads would be put up on the wall of a Chelsea gallery and referred to as fine art photography.”

Lawsuit Lists Several Alleged Copyright Violations Devalued Her Work

Greenberg’s complaint alleges that there were several infringements on her copyright when Clorox or Dentsu/McGarryBowen “controlled and arranged interviews and content” that used Greenberg’s copyrighted work for local TV news broadcasts, the “Ellen” show” and more. Specific allegations of copyright infringement in Greenberg’s complaint include:

  • Paying influencers to post videos with her copyrighted pictures from the pop-ups
  • Showing the copyrighted photographs on an episode of the “Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
  • Arranging for video and pictures to air on the news in New York and California
  • Distributing the copyrighted photos as downloadable art or mobile wallpaper to reward members of Fresh Step’s Paw Points loyalty program.
  • Hosting live-streaming videos of the cats on glass pop up galleries

Greenberg claims that violating her rights significantly devalued the worth of her photographs and “confused the market” with regards to her brand. She asks that the court grant injunctive relief, along with statutory damages, licensing fees, actual damages, profits, and costs.

Photographers Use Copyright Laws to Protect and Control the Use of their Pictures

The purpose of copyright is to ensure photographers retain control over the reproduction, display, and other uses of their work. A for-hire contract that allows the “employer” to use the images does not automatically mean the photographer surrenders ownership rights. Copyright stays with the owner unless an agreement explicitly says otherwise. If the images get used in ways that are beyond the scope of the agreed-upon terms, copyright infringement may result.

Contact Our Copyright Infringement Lawyers for Help

If you are a photographer and your images are being used in violation of a license, for-hire, or other types of contract contact the Sanders Law Group for help. You can reach our copyright lawyers at 516-233-1660.


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