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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Photo Copyright Claims Follow Book Publisher

(CN) - Pearson Education must face claims that it printed and globally distributed thousands of photos in textbooks without permission, a federal judge ruled.

The publisher faces five lawsuits in New Jersey from Minden Pictures Inc. (MPI), a Watsonville, Calif.-based stock photo agency, and 12 of its photographers, including Frans Lanting , Jim Brandenburg, and Mark Moffett.

Minden had filed the suit after Pearson won summary judgment in a separate San Francisco case where U.S. District Judge William Alsup found that Minden lacked standing under the Copyright Act.

Minden's appeal of that decision is pending before the 9th Circuit.

The claims have become common for the publisher

In the New Jersey case, the plaintiffs say that Pearson first requested and obtained limited licenses to print copyrighted photographs in the U.S., and then secretly printed and distributed textbooks beyond these limits.

Pearson allegedly spread its publications globally via its international rights management group, which seeks to "maximize the number of translations and local versions published," according to the complaint.

The publisher ultimately moved to dismiss the contributory claims, sever all non-first-named plaintiffs, and dismiss Minden as a plaintiff.

U.S. District Judge Faith Hochberg refused on Oct. 3 to dismiss the contributory claims, dismiss Minden as a plaintiff and sever all non-first-named plaintiffs.

The 15-page ruling notes that a Philadelphia federal judge recently refused to dismiss "substantially similar" claims filed against Pearson by photographer Jon Feingersh earlier this year.

Last year, a Chicago federal judge also refused to dismiss similar claims brought by photographer Robert Frerck, who said that Pearson infringed on about 4,000 of his photos.

"Plaintiffs have alleged enough facts to survive a motion to dismiss because, if accepted as true, their factual allegations 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face,'" the unpublished ruling states. "The complaint alleges third-party infringement, Pearson's knowledge of that infringement, and material contribution in the form of reproduction, transmission, and facilitation."

The fact that Minden lost its San Francisco case does not preclude the photo firm from bringing suit in New Jersey, Hochberg ruled.

"The Minden court clearly envisioned that some entity would be able to assert the underlying copyright infringement claims," the judge wrote, describing Alsup's ruling. "In this case, by virtue of an alleged wholesale assignment, those rights presumably reside with MPI. Thus, MPI's right to bring this action for photographs it wholly owns was preserved in the Minden action. Indeed, the photographers can freely sell or transfer their copyrights, and any subsequent buyer should be able to exercise those preserved causes of action as if they were the original copyright owner."

In refusing to sever any plaintiff, Hochberg tossed aside Pearson's argument that the claims do not arise out of the same transactions or occurrences.

"Although the claims plaintiffs bring involve different underlying material, they all involve licenses negotiated by MPI and Pearson and publications created and sold by Pearson," Hochberg wrote. "Each of plaintiffs' claims is also premised on the same alleged pattern and practice of under-licensing copyrighted work by Pearson."

Pearson PLC, the London-based parent of the accused publisher, reported sales of nearly $9.87 billion last year.

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