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Photographer’s intellectual property fight continues after death

An intellectual property dispute launched by a photographer continues, even after his death.

The estate of the late photographer, who was legendary for capturing famous moments in rock and roll history, filed a copyright infringement suit last week against Bloomingdale’s and a men’s clothing designer, claiming they used some of his most famous photos in their stores without authorization. The photos were of musicians such as the Beatles, Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones.

The dispute began years ago, when the clothing designer bought proof copies of the photos and allegedly made unauthorized copies to use in his New York store. Upon learning that the photos were being produced and used without permission, the photographer issued a warning to the designer and said the use wasn’t acceptable. But according to court documents, he did the designer a favor by letting him keep the reproduced photos on the wall in one store “and the one store only.”

In March 2010, the photographer was scheduled to attend an event the designer was holding at his store, where the photos were allowed to be displayed. But he passed away that night at the age of 74. The designer went ahead with the event anyway, paying tribute to the photographer and saying his photos would never “fade away.”

What didn’t fade away were the limitations the photographer set for the designer. After the photographer died, the designer was accused of making “new infringing reproductions” for display in other stores. The photographer’s estate is now suing for willful copyright infringement and has asked the court for an order barring future use and is demanding money for damages, attorney fees and the cost of litigation. The damages could amount to up to $3 million.

The photographer was said to have a gift for getting musicians to trust him and capturing their essence. Just as the photos allow the spirit of those musicians to live on, the photographer’s estate is trying to ensure that his ownership of the photos lives on, too.

Source: Hollywood Reporter, “Death of Rock Photographer Invited to John Varvatos Event Leads to Bizarre Lawsuit,” Eriq Gardner, Jan. 3, 2012

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