The explosion of social media and the resulting ease of sharing photographs online have created a host of novel legal questions. For Richard Liebowitz, a photographer turned New York attorney, it’s been a business opportunity.
In the three years his boutique firm has been open, he has sued just about every major media company — CBS, Vice, Yahoo, iHeartMedia and The Hollywood Reporter parent Prometheus Global Media, to name a few — for copyright infringement on behalf of more than 350 photographers.
“It’s very tough to make a living as a photographer,” he says. “My goal is ultimately to get them paid for their work so they can focus on taking pictures.”
Liebowitz, 29, won’t say how many lawsuits he’s brought against media firms, but searches of federal court records show hundreds of filings. “It’s a major problem in the digital age,” he says. “It’s so easy to take without permission.”
But intellectual property experts have criticized this kind of niche practice — especially the breakneck rate at which he files complaints. “In one sense, it feels like a nuisance,” says L.A.-based IP lawyer Jesse Saivar. “But, in the other sense, the attorneys that bring these cases would argue they’re doing a greater good and are enforcing the laws that are there for a reason.”
In one of more than three dozen cases filed on behalf of photographer Steve Sands, Liebowitz sued Meredith Corp. over its alleged unauthorized use of a photograph of Benedict Cumberbatch as his Marvel character Dr. Strange in a Hello Giggles web story. He’s seeking $150,000 in damages, the maximum allowed under the law for willful infringement of a copyrighted work…