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Judge rules for defendants in Indy skyline photo copyright suit

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A retired attorney and photographer who has filed numerous infringement lawsuits over the use of his copyrighted photo of the Indianapolis skyline lost a contested case. The ruling judge also said the purported value of the photo is questionable.

Richard N. Bell has sued hundreds of people for their use on websites of a skyline photo of the city he took in 2000 and copyrighted in 2011. Nearly all the cases have settled, but some parties to the instant litigation label Bell a copyright troll; he claims he’s defending his copyright against people who failed to pay a licensing fee before using the photo on their websites without permission.

On Tuesday, District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted defendants’ motions for summary judgment in Richard N. Bell v. Cameron Taylor, Taylor Computer Solutions, Insurance Concepts, Fred O’Brien, and Shanna Cheatam, 1:13-CV-00798.

“Mr. Bell contends that he is entitled to actual damages of $200.00 (from each defendant), as he has ‘sold for several years and currently sells the perpetual commercial rights to display digital download version [sic] of all his photos ... for use on the web for $200,’” Pratt wrote. “However, as Defendants note, Mr. Bell has not produced any objective evidence of the Indianapolis Photo’s value.

“(T)here is no evidence other than Mr. Bell’s unsupported assertion that he has sold the rights to the Indianapolis Photo for years at a price of $200.00. Without any support or evidence, this value is based on undue speculation,” Pratt wrote.

Bell also failed to show that defendants profited from the use of his photo on their websites, which would have entitled him to damages based on indirect profits. The court said Bell made overbroad discovery requests – in one case asking for 11 years’ worth of income tax records from Indianapolis Realtor Shanna Cheatam.

“Mr. Bell had opportunity to tailor his discovery requests based on the Court’s rulings, but he failed to do so,” Pratt wrote. “The Court finds Mr. Bell’s assertion that he ‘believes’ further ‘research and investigation’ will lead to issues of genuine material fact to be speculative.

“Additionally, the Court notes that the record does contain web reports from ShannaSells.com, despite Mr. Bell’s argument that he needs such reports, and presumably, the reports could have been used to attempt a causal nexus. However, the Court will not scour the record to create an argument for Mr. Bell.”

The Taylor defendants were granted summary judgment because they used a nighttime photo of the Indianapolis skyline that Bell claimed infringed his copyright. The court did not allow Bell’s complaint to be amended to include that image.

Since 2011, Bell has filed nearly two dozen copyright infringement suits in the Southern District, many naming multiple defendants. Only this case and another remained open as of Wednesday.
 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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