L.A. Times Sued by David Strick Over Photo Copyright (Exclusive)

If the paper can’t force the veteran photographer’s copyright lawsuit into arbitration, it could be on the hook for millions

EXCLUSIVE

Veteran Hollywood photographer David Strick has sued The Los Angeles Times over photo copyright, citing more than 500 violations of the rights to using his work, TheWrap has learned. 

Ed Greenberg, an attorney for the photographer, told TheWrap that each infringement could come with an award for as much as $150,000. 

The suit was filed in May, but had not been previously reported. 

Read the whole suit here.

The photographer was signed to the Times with great fanfare four years ago. The paper hoped  to drive readers to its entertainment coverage by touting Strick's behind-the-scenes shots from TV and movie sets.

But the relationship soured in May 2010 after the paper decided not to pick up Strick’s option — but kept using photographs he’d shot while under contract.

Strick, who was never a fulltime Times staffer, claims his contract gave him the rights to his work. The Times is arguing that by uploading the images to the paper's content management system, Strick granted ownership of the photos to the company. 

Last May, Strick — a longtime photographer for Premiere magazine currently under contract at the Hollywood Reporter — slapped the Times and its parent company, Tribune, with a copyright infringement lawsuit.

If the courts go his way, it could end up being extremely costly for the financially troubled paper.

In his suit, Strick does not set a figure for the damages he believes he’s owed, but he alleges that the Tribune Company and its television stations and various papers have published at least 174 of his photos illegally. He cites at least 510 violations of his copyrights. 

In addition, Strick alleges that his agreement was with the Los Angeles Times exclusively and that the use of his images by other Tribune-owned properties such as KTLA and the Orlando Sun Sentinel is in further violation of that pact. 

Strick is also seeking attorney’s fees, any profits the Times or Tribune Company banked from use of his images and an injunction preventing the company from using his photographs.

Also read: Tim Rutten: Did Errors, Not Ageism, Contribute to His L.A. Times Pink Slip?

“The L.A. Times perpetrated numerous acts of copyright infringement. If a federal court judge and jury agrees, then Mr. Strick is entitled to a lot of money and the L.A. Times is in for a severe spanking,” Greenberg told TheWrap.

Attorneys for the paper are trying to force the case into arbitration. They're asking the court to treat the Strick suit as a breach-of-contract dispute, which would limit the amount of damages the Times would be forced to pay if it loses.

The Times declined to comment on the pending litigation.

A hearing to decide whether the two sides will be forced into arbitration or if the case will move to trial is scheduled for Aug. 23 in Los Angeles.

Read the arbitration motion here

Strick started at the Times in May 2008, with his photos shot mostly on movie and TV sets appearing both on the web and in print in a feature called “David Strick’s Hollywood Backlot.” His first column was an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the then-highly anticipated "Twilight."

Under the agreement, Strick retained the copyright to his photographs, reads the motion filed by his attorneys. According to a declaration by the paper’s former entertainment editor, Richard Rushfield, the Times agreed that if it terminated its agreement with Strick, it would return the rights to the images licensed by the paper to him and would remove archival photos from its website.

After the Times declined to pick up his option in May 2010, Strick claimed that per their agreement, he retained the copyright to unpublished images stored on the company’s content management system.

Via email, the Times disagreed, arguing that by uploading the images to the company’s software, he had transferred the rights to the Times. The paper claimed that those photos were snapped on assignment for the paper, and consequently are Tribune Company property. 

Strick’s lawyers contend that because he was a  contract employee and not a staff member, he retained ownership of his work. They also claim that Strick did not receive marching orders from the paper on what productions he would cover, and that under his contract he granted the paper only a limited license to images that were accepted for publication online or in print. 

Strick sent cease-and-desist notices to the Times and Tribune counsel, but the company continued to use his previously unpublished images. The photos came from films such as “Easy A,” “The Green Hornet,” “Cedar Rapids” and “Battle: Los Angeles.”

To create a paper trail, Strick registered the images in question with the U.S. Copyright Office in October 2010.

In a motion asking the court to deny the Times’ arbitration request, Strick’s lawyers request that if arbitration is required with the paper, the court allow the photographer to continue with his legal case against parent company Tribune.

It also asks the court to stay any arbitration proceedings with the Times until Strick’s federal case against the Tribune Company is resolved.  

Joshua L. Weinstein contributed to this report