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Photographer Suing Hearst Communications for Infringement

Photographer Sues Hearst For Copyright Infringement

Photographer Nick Onken recently filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York alleging Hearst Communications owes him damages for copyright infringement. Onken claims that Hearst used his copyrighted photographs without permission, consent, or credit. In the lawsuit filed in June 2021, Onken asks the court to award “statutory and enhanced damages, attorney’s fees and costs, and pre-judgment interest.”

Who Are The Parties in This Copyright Case?

Nick Onken is a professional photographer. More specifically, and according to the complaint, he is an “accomplished and critically acclaimed photographer, podcast host, and creative entrepreneur. Onken has photographed many A-list celebrities, including Justin Bieber, and performed work for huge international brands and publications.

Hearst Communications, Inc. is a massive multimedia corporation with more than 350 businesses, including more than 200 magazines. Cosmopolitan Italia is one of them and is the named defendant in Onken’s lawsuit. Cosmopolitan Italia is the Italian version of Cosmopolitan.

What Are the Allegations in this Copyright Infringement Lawsuit?

Onken alleges that one of his copyrighted photos appeared in Cosmopolitan Italia and that the defendant did not purchase a license, secure permission, or give credit to him. The picture is of two nearly identical models wearing blue mirrored sunglasses with a “third eye.” The picture is attached to the complaint as Exhibit A. Onken states that he registered his copyright to the picture in question.

Exhibit B shows the same picture as it appeared in the defendant’s magazine. In this version, however, the models are flanked by two cartoon drawings. One is of a man with a third eye. The other features a man in sunglasses, looking toward them all with a finger to his face as if he has an idea. The caption reads “occhiali da sole tendenze,” which translates to “sunglasses trends.”

Onken’s complaint alleges that the defendant made an identical copy of the picture from the plaintiff’s website or other digital location and used it to create and publish derivative work that violates copyright law. The complaint also alleges that the reproduction and copying infringement was willful, intentional, and malicious.

The complaint also accuses the defendant of knowingly providing false copyright management information by removing the data/URL from the original image and replacing it with its own attribution information. If this is true, publishing and distributing the information might violate 17 U.S.C. § 1202(a).

The plaintiff, in this case, asks that the court stop the defendants from use of that picture and demand they remove the infringed-upon pictures. Onken wants it removed from any and all websites and or print publications owned or controlled by Hearst.

Onken also requests the maximum damages allowed by law, including profits the defendants earned from the infringement, losses suffered by himself, and applicable statutory damages, attorney’s fees, and court costs.

This seems like a slam-dunk for Onken unless the defendant can prove that he does not have a valid copyright, that the image falls within fair use, or that the picture is somehow not derivative. We will have to wait and see how things play out.

Is Someone Infringing on Your Copyright? Call The Sanders Law Group.

Photographers call the Sanders Law Group when they need copyright protection. Our copyright infringement lawyers fight for the rights of photographers around the globe and can do the same for you. Copyright law exists for your protection.

Don’t let copyright infringement devalue your hard work. Call the Sanders Law Group at 888-348-3090 today for a free copyright infringement evaluation.


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