Moschino Responds to Paparazzi Photo Lawsuit: You Infringed Our Copyright in the Dress

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image: Moschino

image: Moschino

When Cardi B or nearly any major celebrity, for that matter steps out in public, a stream of flash bulbs tends to follow courtesy of paparazzi photographers scrambling to get their shots of the famous figure. An evening in May 2018 was no different, except that when Cardi B was spotted in New York City, she was enveloped in a floral bouquet of a jacket from Jeremy Scotts Spring/Summer 2018 collection for Moschino. As usual, the paparazzi swamped, snapped their photos, and swiftly licensed them to websites like the Daily Mail, which published them within a matter of hours.

In addition to celebrity-centric websites running the images of a Moschino-clad Cardi B, Splash New asserted in a lawsuit filed several months later that Moschino, Jeremy Scott, and Cardi B also made use of the images. Despite reaching out to Moschino to notify the brand about the photos and offering [it] a license for internal or social media use, Splash News claims in its October 2019 complaint that Moschino and its creative director copied the images from the Daily Mail almost instantaneously and posted them on social media to promote their wares.

Meanwhile, Cardi B similarly posted one of the photos to her Instagram a month later without licensing it from the Los Angeles-based photo agency or otherwise receiving authorization to use it.

As a result, Splash News lodged copyright infringement claims against each of the defendants, arguing that they ran afoul of federal copyright law, which grants it as the copyright holder of the images the exclusive right tocopy the images, display them, and/or authorize others to do so, among other things. Now, instead of quietly settling the case, which has been the most common course of action in these paparazzi v. celebrity/fashion brand lawsuits, Moschino has responded by waging a copyright fight of its own.

In its 28-page answer to Splash News suit, Moschino not only denies that it is in the wrong for posting the Splash News-owned photo (and sets forth a whopping 45 affirmative defenses), the Italian brand claims that, in actuality, the photo agency is the one that is on the hook for copyright infringement.

As it turns out, the floral Moschino jacket that Cardi B was wearing in the photos is a visual material, entitled When Spring Is In Bloom, according to Moschino, which claims that it registered the design with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2018. Due to the copyright-protected status of the Moschino coat, the brand has a bundle of rights of its own that cover how it may be used or depicted. This includes Moschinos exclusive right to reproduce the copyright-protected work, display it, and/or create derivate works based on it. And thanks to its registration of the design, the brand has the ability to sue for infringement if/when any of those rights are infringed, which is precisely what it claims is going on here.

Splash News photo (left) & Moschinos jacket design (right)

Splash News photo (left) & Moschinos jacket design (right)

In furtherance of its copyright infringement counterclaim, Moschino asserts that by way of photos taken by Splash-affiliated photographer Elder Ordonez, Splash News reproduced, distributed, and publicly displayed copies of the [jacket design] (or materials substantially similar thereto), and/or prepared derivative versions thereof, by, among other things, further licensing photos [of the jacket design] to third parties for commercial purposes and profit.(Derivative works are those based on or derived from one or more already existing, copyright-protected works).

The brand claims that neither [it] nor Scott ever licensed any rights in the [jacket design] to Splash or provided it with any authorization or permission to make any use whatsoever of the [jacket design]. As a result, the photos at issue unlawfully depict the [jacket design], thereby rendering [them] unauthorized derivative works that, among other things, lack their own copyright protection and constitute copyright infringements. So, now, the parties have rival copyright infringement claims against each other.

While Splash News infringement cause of action against Moschino, Scott, and Cardi B is straightforward enough (the Copyright Act prohibits the unauthorized reproduction of anothers image in a commercial capacity), save for any potential right of publicity arguments or co-authorship claims that could be made, which has happened in similar cases in the past, Moschinos claims against Splash News are a bit murkier.

Just as in the case of photos, the unauthorized depiction of another partys copyright-protected work can give rise to infringement liability even when that work consists of the creative aspects of a garment. Moschinos copyright infringement claim against Splash is a particularly interesting one, though, given that "there is a provision in the Copyright Act that allows people to photograph buildings that are visible in public without running afoul of the copyright protection that exists in the design of those buildings,Mark McKenna, an intellectual property professor at Notre Dame Law School, told TFL.

However, that exception which explicitly shields those that make, distribute, or publicly display pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of public buildings from infringement liability is not applicable for the case at hand, as McKenna states, There is not a similar provision for fashion.

With that in mind, [Splash News photos are] probably a violation of the reproduction or derivative works right to photograph a protected design, at least as an initial matter, according to McKenna. That does not necessarily mean that Splash News will not be able to escape potential infringement liability on different bases.

I cant help but think a court would have a hard time with that claim when its a person wearing the design in public, McKenna says. Maybe they would find it to be fair use, or impliedly licensed.

*The case is Splash News and Picture Agency, LLC v.Moschino S.P.A., Jeremy Scott,and Belcalis Marlenis Almanzar p/k/a Cardi B,2:19-cv-09220(C.D.Cal.).