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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Studio Accused of Infringing Prince Photos

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — A Minnesota man claims in court that he was exploited out of nearly 3,000 copyrighted photographs he took of Prince during the musician's early career.

Allen Beaulieu, individually and dba Allen Beaulieu Photography, sued Clint Stockwell and Studio 1124 LLC in Minnesota federal court on Friday.

Beginning in 1978, and while working as an independent photographer, Beaulieu photographed Prince and took pictures which he licensed for use on album covers and liner artwork for three of Prince's best known records, "Dirty Mind," "Controversy" and "1999," according to the complaint.

Beaulieu says he traveled with Prince and his bands on three separate world tours from 1980 to 1983, "creating and shooting countless, unique photographs of Prince, including hard-to-find, one-of-a-kind, behind the scenes photos documenting Prince's performances and touring life."

According to the lawsuit, Beaulieu registered his copyrights in his collection of photographs entitled "Before Purple Rain, Prince 1979-1983" with the U.S. Copyright Office on Nov. 8, 1984.

Because he owned the photos, Beaulieu says he licensed the photos regularly for many years since he created the photos.

"In fact, the photos are of such unique and recognized value, having been sought after so regularly by so many people even as far back as 1984, that at that time their long-term value and popular demand was recognized by Prince's professional manager, Robert Cavallo," Beaulieu's complaint states.

Thereafter, Cavallo reportedly offered Beaulieu $250,000 to buy the photos and transfer his copyright interests to Prince during the time the "Purple Rain" movie debuted. But Beaulieu says he rejected Cavallo's offer as undervalued and ultimately maintained his ownership of the photographs.

Beaulieu has since retired from active photography work due to his age and medical conditions which make it difficult for him to leave his home, according to his 25-page complaint.

Before Prince's death earlier this year, Beaulieu was reintroduced to Stockwell during the formulation of a licensing project to publish a book of his photos, the complaint states.

Beaulieu says Stockwell received 42 copies of his photos to be incorporated into the book project proposal after Stockwell agreed to help put together pitch materials.

Prince's untimely death in April caused Beaulieu to be repeatedly contacted by media professionals and others from around the world with licensing requests for Prince photographs to use in news stories and other commercial uses, he says. Beaulieu provided many licenses and photographs from his photos in exchange for license fees.

Stockwell later became aware of the demands for Beaulieu's photos, according to the complaint, and suggested within a month of Prince's death that it would be more efficient for him to make the necessary copies of the photos so that Beaulieu could respond more efficiently to the vast amount inquiries from third parties.

"In or about the week of May 15-21, 2016, Stockwell told Plaintiff, 'I have a better scanner. I can scan your photos faster and get them all back to you within two weeks.' Plaintiff was reluctant to provide Stockwell his photos," the complaint states. "Stockwell continued, saying that he would buy a new iMac computer to make the process even faster, or more efficient. Plaintiff specifically confirmed with Stockwell, 'If I let you do that, the copies you make are going to be mine.' Stockwell, acknowledged the statement and confirmed, 'Yeah, absolutely! It's your work.'"

Beaulieu alleges Stockwell arrived at his home, along with his 5-year-old son and another man, to collect four boxes containing all of Beaulieu's approximately 3,000 original photos, agreeing to digitally scan copies.

But two weeks after taking Beaulieu's photos, Stockwell failed to return the photos or copies, the complaint states. After allegedly making up various excuses for his delay in returning the photos, Stockwell began his own ideas for exploiting the copyrighted works, Beaulieu says.

According to the complaint, when Beaulieu refused his ideas, "Defendant Stockwell told plaintiff 'I can do anything I want with these photos' and told plaintiff he refused to return to plaintiff neither the original photos nor the copies he made of them."

Ultimately, Stockwell began communicating with others to exploit Beaulieu's copyrighted photographs, the lawsuit states.

"For example, defendant Stockwell met with Prince's sister, Tyka Nelson, at the Minnesota State Fair on Aug. 26, 2016 for the purposes of exploiting plaintiff's copyrighted photos, for profit and without plaintiff's authorization or approval," according to the complaint.

Beaulieu says Stockwell admitted in an Aug. 31 email that he was in possession of the "thousands" of photos.

"That email also confirmed Stockwell had made copies of the photos. Stockwell ended the email referencing a bill he attached to the email, intimating plaintiff would have to pay $24,000 to Stockwell or Studio 1124 before Stockwell would return plaintiff s photos or the copies Stockwell made. Plaintiff responded to that email on the same date, again demanding to Stockwell, 'Just bring my film back,'" the complaint states.

Beaulieu seeks an injunction preventing Stockwell and Studio 1124 from infringing on his copyrights, and seeks damages for alleged copyright infringement, conversion, unjust enrichment, fraud, tort and violations of the Minnesota Vulnerable Adult Act. He is represented by Russell Spence Jr. with Hellmuth & Johnson PLLC.

Stockwell told Courthouse News that the Prince photos "have been available for pick up since last month but Beaulieu is trying to get out of paying the bill." He says Beaulieu owes him $25,000.

In a subsequent statement, Stockwell said the photos in question will be handed over to Beaulieu on Monday evening. Beaulieu's attorney confirmed that statement with Courthouse News.

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