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.



Website. Copyright Protection.


Do you have a fabulous website that YOU created, with YOUR original content? Have you thought about protecting that website and its component parts?  If you’ve not given much thought to the protection of your website, now is the time to change your thinking.
Your website, like your blog posts, books, articles, videos, screenplays, music, marketing materials other valuable content, in some cases can be protected by copyright.

Copyright for Website.

While the Copyright Office does not register websites, per se, it does allow you to register the copyrightable content that is on your website.  For example, did you know that you can register the source code, the audio visual material (e.g., videos), text, and any visual content (e.g., cartoons, photos)? Don’t wait until someone has copied your website to take action. Register it with the US Copyright Office now.

In order to obtain a copyright registration for your website, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Your website content MUST be original,
  2. You (not your web designer) must own the content,
  3. If you handle the registration yourself, make sure you do it right or you won’t have a valid registration,
  4. Read Copyright Office Circular 66 carefully
  5. Make sure you use the correct form,
  6. Remember, update your registration whenever you make significant revisions to your website

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.

Collaborator. Joint Ownership. Copyright.


Collaborator. Joint Ownership.

Collaborator. Joint Work.

Collaborator. Joint Work.

It seems like everyday, in one of my writing discussion groups, folks are looking for someone to collaborate with, on a writing project.  They want someone to help them write books, screenplays, and blogs.  The problem is those seemingly innocent requests are fraught with issues–sometimes costly issues. Why? Because oftentimes writers are right brained thinkers who never stop to think about the business issues of an endeavor, until it is too late.

A word of caution, for those seeking collaborators. Unless you want to inadvertently risk entering into a joint-copyright arrangement, you should have a well-drafted, clearly defined agreement in place, BEFORE you discuss your idea with another person—regardless of who it is. Plus, it is wise to be crystal clear what the terms of the relationship will be BEFORE you enter into the relationship.


There have been many lawsuits regarding ownership of rights, where collaborators were involved. Don’t leave such an important issue to a “friendly handshake”. This becomes especially important once your work hits pay dirt. Protect yourself now, while you are still in control and while the choice is still yours.

When considering a business collaboration of ANY kind:

  1. Know who you are dealing with. Do your due diligence. A writing collaboration is a business relationship. Treat it as such.
  2. Have clear expectations before you start working together.  Talk things through. Make sure the other party(s) understands what you want, from the start.
  3. Reduce those clear expectations to writing. Having a well drafted, enforceable contract in place BEFORE you start will help you avoid the nasty problems, which could land you in court later.

Remember, a writing collaboration is a business relationship. Treat it as such.

Until next time, I am Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours.

Join my conversation on my Facebook business page, Twitter, LinkedIn.

50 Cent. Copyright Infringement. “I Get Money”. Young Caliber.


Copyright Infringement. Curtis Jackson. 

Music. Copyright.

Music. Copyright.

Lawsuits on copyright infringement are on the rise and musicians are the first on the list get slapped with a lawsuit.

One such lawsuit came to conclusion in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month. Queens rap mogul Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, was victorious in a suit against him over his hit single “I Get Money,” which peaked at No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2007.

The lawsuit was filed in 2010 by Atlanta rapper Tyrone Simmons, know as Young Caliber, which alleged that 50 Cent and his producers infringed on Simmons’ rights to use the instrumental for the song. Simmons claimed that he bought the instrumental of ‘I Get Money’ from the producer first and had exclusive rights.

Lawsuit Overturned.

The Second Circuit in Manhattan overturned the case due to the fact that Simmons had waited too long to file and the suit had exceeded its 3 year statute of limitations.

Jackson’s lawyer, David Leichtman, told reporters: “Today the Second Circuit Court of Appeals vindicated Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, in a copyright case relating to his 2007 hit record ‘I Get Money.'”

And this is not the first time Jackson won a court battle. Back in 2011 in a Newark, NJ federal court, a judge dismissed a copyright infringement case against 50 Cent along with his record label, G-Unit.

The Preacher’s Son.

In this suit, Shadrach Winstead, the author of ‘The Preacher’s Son – But the Streets Have Turned Me Into a Gangster,‘ claimed that Jackson plagiarized his book. Winstead asserted that Jackson took elements of the book and used it in the 2009 crime drama film, Before I Self Destruct. The judge tossed the case noting that the book and movie did not contain any major similarities.

Copyright infringement cases truly reflect why it’s so important to take all of the necessary steps to protect what’s yours, especially if you’re a musician or author. And a copyright attorney can help you with:

  • Creating a copyrightable work.
  • Advise you about the need for proper notice.
  • Help you determine which form to use.
  • Help you decide whether you should actually register your copyrighted work with the US Copyright Office, and if so, how to go about doing it.
  • Help you in the event that someone is infringing on your copyright.

Until next time, I’m Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours.

Feel free to join my conversation on FacebookFacebook Esteemableacts Fan Page, or my Facebook Law Page, you can also interact with me on my Twitter Esteemable Acts pageTwitter Law Page, or on LinkedIn.