WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge refused to toss a copyright lawsuit by an international photographer who claims that the Vapiano restaurant chain ripped off her work to achieve its sleek Italian dining concept.
Stockholm-based photographer Ewa-Marie Rundquis says her work has appeared in fashion powerhouses like Vogue, various brands’ international ad campaigns and in cookbooks. One such book, “La Pizza: The True Story from Naples” contains several of her copyrighted photographs of street and dining scenes from Italy.
She sued German-owned Vapiano SE and its U.S. subsidiaries, Vapiano International and Vapiano Franchise USA, claiming that they made “large mural-sized black and white reproductions” of her “original and unique” works, and plastered them in franchised restaurants throughout the United States and around the world.
The images also allegedly appear on Vapiano’s websites.
Rundquist’s attorney, Scott Christensen with Hughes Hubbard & Reed, told Courthouse News that he filed suit in November 2009 after Vapiano rebuffed their efforts to settle outside of the courts in 2008 and January of that year. Rundquist says her photographs are copyright protected and protected under the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.
Vapiano moved to dismiss all of claims against it, claiming the federal court in Washington lacks personal jurisdiction. Alternatively, it said the court should dismiss the claims alleging infringement outside of the United States for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for inconvenience.
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell agreed to toss two counts against the German parent company from Rundquist’s amended complaint, agreeing that it does not have subject-matter jurisdiction regarding liability under the Copyright Act for infringement occurring in foreign Vapiano restaurants.
“The plaintiff essentially argues that infringement inside the United States enticed others outside the United States to open their own restaurants, which, among numerous other requirements, required them to infringe on plaintiff’s protected photographs,” the judge explained. “This chain of causation between the alleged ‘enticing’ predicate act of infringement in the United States and the resulting acts of infringement abroad is too attenuated and stretches the predicate act exception too far. … In order to have enticed the foreign franchisees, the American Vapiano locations must necessarily have come first, but this allegation is missing from the complaint.”
As far as personal jurisdiction, Howell gave Rundquist 60 days to gather facts to help prove that the foreign company is doing business in the Washington area.
Rundquist claims that Vapiano has 60 restaurants in at least 16 countries, including six restaurants in the United States. She says there are two Vapiano restaurants in the D.C. area.
The Germany-based Vapiano argues that it is separate from its U.S. entities, Vapiano International and Vapiano USA, and earns “no income … based on the operation of any restaurant in D.C.” It adds that it has imposed “no requirement for the use of any photographs in Vapiano restaurants.”
Rundquist wants to force Vapiano to remove her photographs from all of its restaurants and it websites, and to award her compensatory and punitive damages.