Zillow Digs. Copyright Infringement.


Copyright Internet Pics.

Copyright Infringement

Copyright Infringement

Taking a picture off of the Internet without permission and adding it to a website or blog seems harmless, right? Well I’m here to tell you that it’s quite harmful. When you use works protected by copyright law without permission, you are indeed infringing on a copyright. The penalties for infringing on a copyright can range anywhere from $200 to more than $150K for each work that was infringed upon. Plus, the infringer must pay all court costs and attorney’s fees.

To this day blogs, small companies as well as giants are not taking copyright infringement quite seriously. Case in point, the home listing giant Zillow was sued for “brazen theft” of interior design images.

The infringement lawsuit was brought by VHT Inc., a photography and image management services company, in United States District Court in Seattle in July of 2015. VHT alleged that the images that were being displayed or saved on Zillow Digs, a home design site, as well as on the main Zillow site, violated their copyrights.

In December of 2016, the courts dismissed the claim of infringement on Zillow.com.  However, the infringement claim with Zillow Digs continued and the trial began on January 23rd, 2017. In mid-February, the jury finally came to a verdict.  The jury ordered Zillow to pay a whopping $8.3 million in statutory damages.

VHT’s CEO Brian Balduf said to the press the jury’s decision “protects the interests of real estate photographers and their clients. We look forward to continuing to work with our team of nationwide photographers, as well as our industry counterparts, to create a rights management organization to ensure that all real estate photographs are managed properly and protected against unlicensed uses.”

In a statement to GeekWire, a Zillow representatives said: “We have persistently maintained our belief that this suit was without merit. While we are pleased that the majority of original claims were dismissed in this case, we regret that the jury did not find for us completely on those that remained, and will vigorously pursue all options to overturn their verdict. We take copyright protection and enforcement seriously and will continue to respect copyright permissions across our platforms.”

Copyright Infringement Steps To Take.

So, what should you do if you notice that someone is infringing on your work? Here are some steps to take:

  • Ensure you have a copyright notice on all of your copyrightable works. A copyright notice is not required for protection, but does help to prove an infringement.
  • Register your Copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, and once completed, the copyright office will send you a certificate.
  • Prepare and mail a warning letter to the infringing party. In the letter identify your work and inform the party that it’s copyrighted.
  • If you do not hear from the infringing party favorably, file a copyright lawsuit in your federal district court.

You have worked too hard not to protect your intellectual property – don’t wait until it’s too late!

Until next time, I’m Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours. Join my conversation on FacebookTwitter, or in one of my LinkedIn groupsGoogle+ Circles. Feel free to subscribe to my newsletter.


Copyright. Supreme Court. Is Fashion protectable?


Fashion. Copyright.

The Supreme Court ruled on copyright and fashion.  Can fashion be protected by copyright? This landmark copyright case will impact the fashion design industry for decades to come. This case began 10 years ago when Varsity Brands, Inc. sued Star Athletica, LLC for copyright infringement. Both companies supply uniforms and other accessories for sport related events. The lawsuit centered on a copyrighted two-dimensional stripe pattern and colors used on Varsity Brand cheerleading uniforms which they claimed Star Athletica infringed upon.

fashion. copyright.

fashion. copyright.

The case was originally heard by a federal  district court sitting in Memphis, TN in 2014, where Judge Robert Cleland ruled that the designs were utilitarian, and since utilitarian designs are not subject to copyright law, the case was dismissed.


Varsity Brands appealed the ruling and the case went to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, where the district court ruling was reversed in a 2 to 1 decision. Among other findings, the court found that the designs in question could be separated from the utilitarian aspects of the uniform, and that the designs could stand on their own separate from the cheerleading uniforms, thus eligible for copyright protection.

Is Fashion Protected by Copyright?

The case then made its way up to the Supreme Court, where finally, a ruling was announced this Wednesday. Varsity Brands came up victorious, once again.  In short,  Judge Thomas, who delivered the opinion of the Court, affirmed the decision of the Sixth Circuit  Court, holding that

“a  feature  incorporated  into  the  design  of  a  useful  article  is  eligible  for copyright  protection  only  if  the  feature  (1)  can  be  perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article and (2) would qualify as a protectable  pictorial,  graphic,  or  sculptural  work-either  on  its own  or  fixed  in  some  other  tangible  medium  of  expression if  it  were  imagined  separately  from  the  useful  article  into which  it  is  incorporated.”  The Court held that the test was satisfied in this case.

Until next time, I’m Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours. Join my conversation on FacebookTwitter, or in one of my LinkedIn groupsGoogle+ Circles. Feel free to subscribe to my newsletter.



Children’s Book. Dr. Seuss. “Oh the Places You’ll Go”


Who hasn’t read, or at least heard of the iconic children’s book, “Oh the Places You’ll Go” by the famous children’s author and illustrator, the late Dr. copyright puzzleSeuss? The book, published in 1990 by Random House, has sold over 11 million copies. According to Time Magazine, it is number 72 on the top 100 children’s books sold.


The copyright holders of the works of Dr. Seuss, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, filed a preemptive copyright lawsuit against publisher ComicMix. The company is planning to release a “mashup” book titled “Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go!”

The title of this upcoming book is a play on the Dr. Seuss book “Oh the Places You’ll Go” and a famous tag line from the Star Trek TV show “To boldly go where no man has gone before.”  The publisher plans to release the book for the holiday season.


Beside the title, the lawsuit contends that the book infringes on a number of aspects of the Dr. Seuss book, including specialized fonts and illustrations unique to the style of Dr. Seuss and found throughout his work. The complaint also points out that the Kickstarter page for the publisher admits that there may be copyright issues saying, “there may be some people who believe that this might be in violation of their intellectual property rights.”

In light of the suit, the Kickstarter page is no longer viewable. It has raised nearly $30,000 for the project, so far.

They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but the estate of Dr. Seuss does not take imitation of the author’s work lightly. Dr. Seuss Enterprises also filed a lawsuit several years ago against publisher Penguin Books for copyright infringement over a book called “The Cat NOT in the Hat! A Parody by Dr. Juice” The defendant claimed that the book was merely a parody mocking the O.J. Simpson trial. However, The Ninth Circuit court was not amused and ruled against the publisher.

Not Child’s Play.

Once again, we see that copyright infringement is not child’s play, but serious business that needs serious attention from the copyright holder. Protect your original works because there is no shortage of those who will willingly copy it if you don’t.

Until next time, I’m Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours. Join my conversation on FacebookTwitter, or in one of my LinkedIn groupsGoogle+ Circles. Feel free to subscribe to my newsletter


Kohl’s. Lili Chin. Trademark. Copyright.


Copyright Lawsuit.

What do you do if a major department store chain uses your trademarked designs on its products without your permission? You take them to court for trademark infringement, of course.

Copyright sign - conceptual illustration made like collageThat’s what happened when illustrator Lili Chin found out that Kohl’s department stores were selling merchandise with illustrations strikingly similar, if not nearly identical, to her work.

Chin filed a copyright infringement and unfair competition lawsuit against Kohl’s and some of its manufacturers in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, last month. The case centers on an illustration created by Chin consisting of a poster with a montage of her black and white Boston terrier, Boogie.

Doggie Language.

The 2011 work titled “Doggie Language” shows Boogie in various poses with captions underneath, such as “I’m friendly” and “Hello I love you.” There are total of 29 illustrations on the poster. She also sells t-shirts emblazoned with her illustrations and gives a portion of her sales to dog rescue organizations. Chin filed for copyright protection in 2013 and the work contains the copyright symbol ©.

Images nearly identical to Boogie appear on socks and t-shirts sold at Kohl’s department stores. Kohl’s is the second largest department store chain in the country with annual sales exceeding $10 billion. Chin states that she contacted Kohl’s in July of this year and demanded they stop using the illustrations, but they have ignored her requests and continued to sell the products.

Chin is requesting a jury trial with damages exceeding $1 million plus attorney fees. She has retained attorney Andrew Gerber of KG Law in New York City. Gerber represented artist David Anasagasti, aka “Aholsniffsglue” in a similar suit against American Outfitters in 2014. American Outfitters settled out of court.

Kohl’s has yet to release a statement.

Until next time, I’m Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours. Join my conversation on FacebookTwitter, or in one of my LinkedIn groupsGoogle+ Circles.

McDonald’s. Copyright Lawsuit. Artist Dash Snow.


Street Brand Art.



The late New York artist, Dash Snow, was well known in art circles for his “street brand” art, which included photography, collage and graffiti. Dash died in a New York City hotel in 2009 of a drug overdose at age 27. Recently, Jade Berreau his girlfriend at the time of his death and mother of his child, and executor of his estate, filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against fast-food giant, McDonald’s.

Graffiti Themed Art.

The suit, filed in federal court in California, alleges that McDonald’s is using Snow’s artwork in hundreds of their restaurants without permission or compensation. The art adorns the walls of many of their “graffiti themed” restaurants throughout the United States and even Europe. The suit also states that McDonald’s is using the late artist’s iconic signature pseudonym, ‘SACE.’ The lawsuit was brought after McDonald’s allegedly ignored requests from the Dash estate to remove the artwork from their restaurants when it first became known in June of 2016.

Within the complaint, Berreau points out that at the time of his death, Dash was an acclaimed artist whose work sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars at high-end auction houses. It also states that within the McDonald’s restaurants in question, the artist’s work is the most prominently displayed, and the only work from an acclaimed artist, and that at least on article appeared in the media where Snow’s name was mentioned in connection with the décor, giving a false impression of an endorsement.

McDonald’s has yet to comment on the suit.

There have been a slew of copyright lawsuits in recent years bought by artists against corporations over use of artwork. In 2014, graffiti artist Maya Hayuk filed a copyright lawsuit against the luxury accessory company, Coach, for using her “graffiti art” in a photo shoot. And in 2015 she filed a copyright suit against Starbucks for using her art in a Frappuccino campaign. The lawsuit against Coach was eventually dismissed.

It’s astounding how many people and big corporations still don’t seem to understand the fact that art, in all its forms, is afforded copyright protection under U.S. law. Using it without permission is not a smart thing to do and can trigger costly and time-consuming lawsuits.

Until next time, I’m Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours. Join my conversation on FacebookTwitter, or in one of my LinkedIn groupsGoogle+ Circles.