A blogger’s use of a photo of the target of her posts has prompted a copyright infringement lawsuit from the person she writes about – and leads to some interesting questions about fair use of copyrighted material.
Irina Chevaldina maintains a blog styled “RK Associates” whose sole purpose seems to be criticize the business dealings of Miami-area businessman Ranaan Katz. The blog intro says:
This blog presents publicly available information about RK Centers (former RK Associates), including court records, media publications and opinions. Raanan Katz is the owner of RK Associates (Centers). Raanan Katz is a minor owner of Miami Heat.
The offending picture of Katz is a head shot apparently taken courtside (by someone other than Katz) at a basketball game in Israel. The picture appears in several posts, recently with the message “He ripped off special needs little Jewish girl” superimposed over his chest.
Here’s where it starts to get interesting: Katz apparently bought certain rights to the photo, in the interest of bringing a copyright infringement suit against Chevaldina, which he then did in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Her lawyers have filed a motion to dismiss the case. In it, Chevaldina’s lawyers correctly point out that Katz cannot make any claim of infringement occurring before he bought the rights on May 29, 2012, absent any evidence that he bought the right to sue for past infringement.
The other claims in the trial motion – at Defendant’s Second Motion to Dismiss, Katz v. Chevaldina, No. 1:12-CV-22211-JLK, 2012 WL 4504086 – lay out the battleground for the brewing legal fight.
The lawyers lead with the argument that Chevaldina can successfully raise a fair-use defense under the Copyright Act:
When determining the fair use of copyrighted materials for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research, courts look to the following factors:
1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
17 U.S.C. § 107. [other citations omitted]
No one factor in the fair use analysis is dispositive, and they must be weighed together.
Now, Chevaldina’s lawyers seem to say that because Chevaldina wants to criticize Katz the businessman, it is OK for her to use a copyrighted picture of Katz the basketball fan to do so. Criticism in the Copyright Act sense more typically references criticism of the copyrighted work itself (think of book or movie reviews, analyses of museum exhibits, and the like).
So it will be interesting to see how that part of the case develops.
Chevaldina’s lawyers also correctly point out that courts value news uses of copyrighted works in the fair-use analysis:
In assessing the components of the four factor test, the Court is mindful that, while § 107 does not accord the statutory factors any particular weight in relation to one another, the characterization of defendant’s use as news related carries great weight in the analysis of fair use.
They further assert that Chevaldina’s use is a news use. Their brief lacks any exposition on this point, though.
Chevaldina’s lawyers also contend that her use of the photo is transformative, another key element in a Copyright Act fair-use defense:
The transformative nature of copyrighted material’s use is determined by whether the use adds something new to the copyrighted work, altering the first with a new expression, meaning or message; the more transformative the work, the less will be the significance of other factors potentially weighing against fair use.
Of course, the use in question does not have to transform the photo itself to be a transformative use.
So, again, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out as the case moves forward.