Houghton Mifflin Accused of Cheating Artists | Courthouse News Service
Friday, December 1, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Houghton Mifflin Accused of Cheating Artists

ANCHORAGE (CN) - Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing made "billions of dollars" unjustly by paying photographers and artists for the right to print limited numbers of their works, then reprinting the images in the "millions," Alaska Stock claims in Federal Court. The agency claims "Houghton's business model [is] built upon a foundation of pervasive, willful copyright infringement."

The complaint states: "Beginning in or around April 1995 and continuing through September 2007, a number of photographers, acting through their agent, Alaska Stock, sold Houghton limited licenses to copy and distribute a limited number of copies of the Images, as summarized on Exhibit A. Upon information and belief, and unbeknownst to Alaska Stock until 2008 or later, Houghton greatly exceeded the license limits, causing unauthorized reproductions of each of these Images to be made and distributed beyond the permissions granted.

"Alaska Stock was induced to grant Houghton licenses to copy and distribute the images at the prices they charged because of Houghton's misrepresentation that it was seeking permissions for expressly limited use.

"Upon information and belief, at the time it represented that it needed a certain number of copies of the Images, Houghton knew its actual use would greatly exceed that number. Upon information and belief, Houghton went on to cause printing in excess of the licensed number of copies, and continues to this day to use the Images in violation of Plaintiff's copyrights.

"Upon information and belief, Houghton intended by its misrepresentations to obtain access to the Images at a lower cost than it would have paid had it been honest in its dealings with Alaska Stock.

"Upon information and belief, in a fashion similar to its treatment of Alaska Stock,

Houghton grossly understated the number of copies it needed when seeking permissions for hundreds of other paintings, photographs and illustrations in its textbooks.

"Upon information and belief, Houghton's practice of requesting and paying for permission to print only a small fraction of the number of copies it knew it actually needed extends far beyond the publications in suit (see Exhibit A) to many other Houghton publications. While the lost licensing fee to any individual copyright holder may be relatively small, millions of these books have sold, generating billions of dollars in revenue. Houghton's business model, built upon a foundation of pervasive, willful copyright infringement, deprived Plaintiff and thousands of others their rightful compensation for the use of their creative work and unjustly enriched Houghton with outlandish profits in the process.

"Houghton did not simply take the intellectual property of photographers, artists, and illustrators without a license. Instead, it licensed the copyrighted works of others for low numbers of reproductions, but surreptitiously copied them many times beyond the agreed-upon license limit. This lulled licensors into a false sense of trust; if photographers saw their licensed works reproduced in a Houghton textbook, they suspected nothing untoward. And, the licensing of a specific number of copies created the expectation that additional uses by Houghton would be requested and paid for if more copies were made. By this contrivance Houghton fraudulently concealed its wrongdoing by throwing licensors, including the photographers, 'off the scent.'

"Upon information and belief, [co-defendant] R.R. Donnelley was the printer for the publications in suit, including the copies printed in excess of the licenses granted by the photographers to Houghton. R.R. Donnelley earned profits from such printings."

Alaska Stock's lead counsel is Brent Cole with Marston & Cole.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.