Haiti Quake Photos Case Offers Multiple Intriguing Issues and $1.2M Jury Award

In late November 2013, a jury awarded Daniel Morel $1.2M against Agence France Presse (AFP) and Getty Images for willfully infringing photos Morel took in Haiti on January 12, 2010, immediately after the earthquake that demolished the country.  Morel, a noted photographer, swiftly contacted AFP and Getty regarding removing his photos from their websites after he found them posted there.  

AFP actually initiated the lawsuit by bringing a declaratory judgment that it did not infringe Morel’s copyrights in his Haiti earthquake photos.  This case presents a number of intriguing issues, including AFP’s and Getty’s claims that they received a license under the Twitter terms of use, AFP’s and Getty’s claims that they were third party beneficiaries of Morel’s Twitter contract, Morel’s contributory infringement and vicarious liability claims against some of the licensees, Morel’s DMCA copyright management information claim, Getty’s claim that it was protected by a DMCA safe-harbor, Morel’s willful copyright infringement claims against AFP and Getty and Morel’s Lanham Act false representation and false advertising claims.  Morel survived motions to dismiss and summary judgment motions brought by AFP and Getty on the way to his jury verdict.  This post discusses why some issues were dismissed, while others remained in the case to be decided by the jury.

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Multimillion Dollar Trademark Jury Award Upheld by the Ninth Circuit

Skydive Arizona sued defendants collectively doing business as SKYRIDE, alleging trademark claims of false advertising, trademark infringement and cybersquatting.  The district court granted partial summary judgment in Skydive Arizona’s favor on the false advertising claim.  The jury awarded damages to Skydive Arizona:  $1 million for willful false advertising, $2.5 million for willful trademark infringement, $2,500,004 for lost profits and $600,000 statutory damages for six violating domain names.  The district court doubled the false advertising and trademark infringement awards.  SKYRIDE appealed the judgment against it to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Skydive Arizona appealed the district court’s grant of an injunction against SKYRIDE limited to Arizona, instead of a nationwide injunction.

Skydive Arizona is one of world’s most well known skydiving centers.  It hosts 145,000 to 160,000 skydives within Arizona each year and provides planes and personnel for skydiving events in 30 other states.  SKYRIDE is a third-party advertising and booking service for skydiving centers, but does not own skydiving facilities.  Customers pay SKYRIDE for a certificate that can be redeemed at drop zones across the country.  SKYRIDE owned and operated a number of website referencing locations in Arizona, such as PhoenixSkydiving and TucsonSkydiving, as well as domain names such as skydivearizona.net.  Both Skydive Arizona and SKYRIDE promote their businesses extensively on the Internet.

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