Attorney awarded $150K for infringement of Indy photo

An Indiana attorney and hobbyist photographer has been awarded more than $150,000 for the willful infringement of his copyrighted photo of the Indianapolis skyline.

Indiana Southern District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ordered defendant ROI Property Group Management LLC to pay attorney Richard Bell $150,000 in enhanced statutory damages and $407.92 in costs in a Tuesday order in Richard N. Bell v. ROI Property Group Management, LLC, 1:18-cv-00043. Bell sued the property management company in January after he discovered his photo of the Indianapolis skyline – which was taken in 2000 and copyrighted in 2011 – was used on the company’s website to promote its Indianapolis operations. A search of the webpage in question on Wednesday showed the picture was no longer in use.

Bell’s complaint alleged he discovered ROI’s use of the photo in November 2017 and believed the company had been using the photo for commercial purposes since 2016. He also said the webpage included a 2017 copyright notice below the photo, falsely implying ROI owned the copyright to the photo.

Further, “Mr. Bell testified that the vice president of ROI, Jared Garfield, was involved in an earlier lawsuit with Mr. Bell concerning copyright infringement of the same Indianapolis Photograph,” Pratt wrote Tuesday. The other case was Richard N. Bell v. KG American Real Estate Holdings, LLC, 1:15-cv-01423, where Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson entered default judgment against the defendant and awarded Bell $2,417.50 in damages and costs.

Bell argued Garfield’s involvement in yet another copyright infringement case concerning the same photo was evidence of willful infringement on ROI’s part, thus entitling him to enhanced statutory damages. Pratt agreed, further noting default judgment was once again entered against Garfield’s company in the instant case.

“In considering the appropriate amount of damages within the statutory limits, the Court notes that ROI ignored this litigation and did nothing to cooperate in the adversarial process,” she wrote. “ROI did not cooperate in providing evidence concerning the value of the infringing material.”

“The interests that parties hold in their copyrighted materials are significant and worthy of protection, and it is important that courts deter further infringing activities by the infringer and by others,” Pratt continued. “In light of these considerations and the fact that Mr. Bell has shown willful infringement on the part of ROI, the Court determines that an enhanced statutory damages award of $150,000.00 as permitted by 17 U.S.C. section 504(c)(2) is appropriate.”

The court also issued an injunction prohibiting ROI from using the photo on its website or in any other way “so long as the statutory damages awarded herein remain unpaid.”

Bell’s victory over ROI is the latest in a series of court decisions related to the Indianapolis photo. Bell has sued dozens of defendants for alleged infringement of the photo, at times winning the cases and other times drawing the ire of judges and receiving sanctions for frivolous lawsuits. 

Last week, Bell took one of his copyright infringement cases to a bench trial before Judge Richard L. Young, whom he asked to award $10,000 in statutory damages. The defense, however, argued Bell has no ownership claim over the photo because it was taken as part of a work-for-hire arrangement. Young has not yet ruled in that case.

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