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Copyright Blog

Copyright Law Goes to Law School

Photographer alleges that Pepperdine University used his photograph on the cover of a law school academic planning guide without permission

On May 18, 2022, Dr. Elliot McGucken ("McGucken") filed an Amended Complaint against Pepperdine University and associated parties ("Pepperdine"), asserting that Pepperdine infringed McGucken's copyright in a photograph (the "Photo") he had taken. The Photo, which is included with the Amended Complaint as an exhibit, appears to show a beach at sunset.

The Amended Complaint claims that McGucken, an acclaimed photographer, created the Photo and disseminated it through his website and other avenues. Sometime after this, Pepperdine allegedly took the Photo without authorization, cropped it, and used it as the cover of "The Orange Book: 2021 Academic Planning Guide" (the "Guide") a publication of the Pepperdine Caruso School of Law. The Guide was made available online and widely distributed to current and potential Pepperdine students.

McGucken asserts that this use of the Photo was a violation of his rights to reproduce, display, distribute, and create derivative works. The Complaint characterizes the action as (1) basic copyright infringement; (2) vicarious and/or contributory copyright infringement (since Pepperdine likely had the right and ability to supervise the infringing conduct and a financial interest in the conduct) ; and (3) a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (since Pepperdine would have removed McGucken's copyright management information from the Photo before using it).

In addition to a jury trial, the Amended Complaint seeks numerous forms of relief, including an injunction against ongoing infringing use of the Photo, removal of any content incorporating the Photo, actual damages, statutory damages, enhanced damages, a constructive trust over any revenue created by the infringement, attorneys fees, and litigation costs.

Pepperdine has not yet filed an Answer to the Amended Complaint, but we will provide updates going forward.