Using a Picture That Someone Else Took – You Could Be Facing a Copyright Claim


By: Neil Hartzell

United States copyright law protects “original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium and the protection is available to published and unpublished works.” The law is codified in Title 17 of the United States Code.  The case of Choobeck v. Gurzanski, U.S.D.C. Central District California, March 16, 2021, illustrates the issues that arise when someone uses somone’s copyrighted work. In 2020, a photographer took certain photographs of young people in bathing suits. Another person obtained copies of those photographs and in September and October of 2020, posted those photographs on that person’s social media accounts including Twitter. The individual who posted the photographs allegedly did so behind paywalls. (A method used to restrict access to content via a paid subscription or purchase.)

The photographer learned that his photographs had been posted and then in March 2021 registered them with the United States Copyright Office. He then filed suit claiming copyright infringement, injunctive relief and damages.

Copyright is automatically granted to an author of an original work. Thus, one does not need to register the copyright in order to gain copyright protection. But, subject to certain exceptions, registration must occur before suit can be filed, 17 U.S.C. § 411(a). With some limited exceptions, federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction for copyright claims. Once the copyright is registered, a suit can seek injunctive relief and recovery for actual damages and any additional profits of the infringer. Alternatively, statutory damages are available up to $750-$30,000. Statutory damages for willful infringement can be up to $150,000, 17 U.S.C. § 504.

While there are a number of defenses to a copyright claim, beware—using someone else’s work without permission can expose you to copyright liability.

For more information, please contact Neil Hartzell at