Copyright and Karma: Photographer Sues UNICEF for Allegedly Exceeding License

Give me a chance...
Creative Commons License photo credit: Shavar Ross

Wow.  Is it always wise to sue?

A photographer who was hired (and paid) by the United Nations’ international children’s charity, UNICEF, has sued the charitable organization for copyright infringement.
The photographer’s company, William Anthony Photography, Inc., alleged that although UNICEF paid him in full for several photo shoots featuring prominent celebrities for use in a fund-raising campaign, he only granted UNICEF a license to use the photos for a BELIEVE IN ZERO “print campaign.”  WAP alleges that UNICEF exceeded this license by also featuring the photographs on things like billboards, buses and trains, airport video displays and illuminated subway displays.  By doing so, WAP claims that UNICEF infringed its copyrights in the photographs.

Among the relief sought by the photographer is UNICEF’s revenues derived from the fundraising campaign.  No word yet on whether the plaintiff intends to seek an injunction to stop UNICEF from feeding starving children or assisting child refugees so the “ill gotten gains” are not dissipated. . .    Also no word on whether UNICEF will pay any potential judgment in Halloween penny boxes.

Seriously, though, even if the alleged uses did exceed the scope of the license (likely a fact-intensive inquiry, especially because the alleged restriction is vague and was only included unilaterally on some of the photographer’s invoices), it would seem unlikely that any judge or jury would impose a high statutory damage award on these alleged facts.  And what would the reasonable royalty for the expanded use really be?   The plaintiff admits in the complaint that he charged UNICEF a reduced rate in recognition of UNICEF’s charitable mission (apparently from a sense of compassion that quickly dissipated).  So how much more would have been charged if the additional uses were expressly included in the work order?  Is it really worth suing over?

Here is the complaint: