Fox Wins Federal Appeal Over Copyrights for Stock Photography

September 13, 2017 – Press Releases

Fox Rothschild attorneys Christopher P. Beall and Michael Beylkin won a significant appeal involving copyright infringement claims for stock photography when a three-judge panel in the Ninth Circuit unanimously upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a suit against Fox client McGraw-Hill Education.

The panel, in a 27-page opinion handed down on September 12, 2017, held that plaintiff DRK Photo had no legal standing to sue McGraw-Hill over the copyrights to several hundred stock photography images because DRK’s licensing agreements with photographers were nonexclusive.

As a result, the court held, DRK failed to demonstrate any “ownership interest” in the copyrights.

DRK claimed in the appeal that it was assigned the rights to pursue copyright infringement actions, and that the terms of its agreements with photographers were meant to “authorize” DRK to pursue lawsuits.

But McGraw-Hill argued that DRK’s theory conflicted with both the language of the copyright statute and Ninth Circuit case law.

The court agreed, holding that “a nonexclusive licensee” does not become the legal owner of a copyright with standing to sue merely by virtue of “having been given the right ‘to authorize’ others to exercise the rights of copyright holders.”

Beall said McGraw-Hill was “pleased to see the careful decision from the circuit that ratifies the conclusion the district court had reached in this case, enforcing the rule that only photo agencies with exclusive rights have standing to sue on copyright claim concerning the photos they have represented. That requirement is a careful balancing of the copyright interests involved in a case like this.”

The Ninth Circuit's decision, Beall said, “ensures a greater degree of predictability in situations like this one where photographers have licensed their photos to multiple different photo agencies without identifying which among those agencies is the one with exclusive rights, and hence which one has standing to sue.”