Publisher Fruitlessly Contests Stock Photo Company’s Standing to Sue

Minden Pictures is a stock photography company that also acts as a licensing agent for many photographers.  Minden considers itself “one of the world’s premium providers of wildlife and nature photos.”  Between 1993 and 2008, Minden entered into agreements with photographers that authorized Minden to act as the sole and exclusive agent and representative regarding licensing the uses of the photographers’ submitted images.  The photographers gave Minden the unrestricted, exclusive right to distribute, license and exploit their images.  At the same time, the photographers reserved some rights to themselves, but were prohibited from hiring another licensing agent.  Minden and the photographers also agreed that the photographers owned the copyrights.  Minden and the photographers later entered into agreements conveying some ownership interest to Minden and authorizing Minden to bring lawsuits for the unauthorized use of the images.

Minden sued educational publisher John Wiley & Sons for copyright infringement for exceeding the scope of the licenses Minden granted to it.  Wiley moved to dismiss the case on an FRCP 12(b)(1) motion (which the court noted should have been a 12(b)(6) motion) for failure to state a claim for relief.  Wiley argued that Minden lacked standing under the Copyright Act to bring the lawsuit, alleging Minden was not an owner and therefore could not sue for copyright infringement.  The district court agreed with Wiley and dismissed the case.  The Ninth Circuit reversed.  Minden presented evidence to the Ninth Circuit of its allegations of Wiley’s longstanding practice of copyright infringement, citing eleven other cases brought against Wiley.  The Ninth Circuit disregarded those allegations and limited its discussion to Minden’s case against Wiley.

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