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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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