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Photo of John and Yoko Sparks Copyright Lawsuit

Photographer Sues Universal Music for Using his Photo of John Lennon

Allan Tannenbaum is an award-winning photographer. He is most well-known for taking photographs of the New York City art and music scene during the 1970s and into the early 1980s. Of his vast portfolio of photos, one, in particular, is now the subject of a copyright lawsuit. According to various websites such as and, Tannenbaum filed a federal copyright infringement lawsuit against Universal Music Group, Inc. (UMG) in New York District Court on May 23, 2019. Tannenbaum is represented in this case by The Sanders Law Group.

Iconic Photo of John Lennon is Subject of Copyright Lawsuit

The iconic photograph at the heart of the dispute is of John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, which Tannenbaum took in 1980. It is an image captioned on his website with these words: “John Lennon cracks a joke while he and Yoko are nude in bed filming a video for ‘Just Like Starting Over’ in a SoHo studio, November 26, 1980.” Tannenbaum states in his complaint that he owns all of the rights to this photograph and that UMG violated his copyright by using the image without his permission.

UMG, the complaint alleges, publicly displayed the iconic, copyrighted photograph on one of its websites called The website published an article titled “John Lennon-Milk and Honey” alongside which were images of John and Yoko, including Tannenbaum’s picture described above. published the photograph notating Tannenbaum’s copyright. The article was published in 2015, but Tannenbaum did not discover copyright infringement until recently.

The Complaint Contains Allegations of Intentional Copyright Infringement

The complaint against UMG filed under section 501 of the US Copyright Act states that Tannenbaum is the author of the photograph. Furthermore, the complaint says that at all times, he has been the sole owner of all of the rights to the image, including copyright.

The complaint also alleges that,

Universal Music infringed Plaintiff’s copyright in the Photograph by reproducing and publicly displaying the Photograph on the Website,” the complaint notes.
Universal Music is not, and has never been, licensed or otherwise authorized to reproduce, publicly display, distribute and/or use the Photograph.
It further alleges that Universal’s actions were willful, intentional, and purposeful, in “disregard of and indifference to Plaintiff’s rights.

If Tannenbaum’s copyright infringement lawsuit is successful, he may be entitled to recover actual damages and any profits UMG realized from its unlawful use of the copyrighted photograph of John and Yoko. Alternatively, because his copyright is registered with the US copyright office, he may be entitled to statutory damages of up to $150,000.

Federal Copyright Law Protects Photographers

Copyright law is in place to protect photographers from unauthorized use of their work. Copyright bestows upon photographers the sole right to determine when, where and how their work is displayed, and by whom. It is up to each individual photographer to decide on whether to grant a license to use their image, demand payment for a picture, or turn it over for public use. When a business or a person reproduces a photograph you took, you may have the right to file a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Contact our Copyright Lawyers for Help

Contac Sanders Law Group if you are a photographer with concerns about copyright infringement. If your rights have been violated, call us today.


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