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Copyright Blog

Photographer's Motion for Partial Summary Judgement is Not a Slam Dunk

James Bass's motion in his dispute with Syracuse University was granted in (very limited) part and denied in part.

On May 13, 2019, James Bass ("Bass") filed a Complaint against Syracuse University (the "University" or "Syracuse"), alleging that the University had misused photographs Bass had taken of the Syracuse men's basketball team (the "Photos"). We previously reported on this case here, here, and here.

According to Bass, the University was only authorized to use the Photos on social media, but instead used them on its website, event tickets, programs, and billboards. In it's answer, Syracuse contended that the uses it made of the Photos were licensed by Bass and raised various boilerplate affirmative defenses.

After mediation failed to resolve the dispute, discovery and other procedural aspects of the case moved forward. On May 29, 2020, Bass filed a Notice of Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, along with a memo and a statement of facts in support of the motion. These documents (and a later reply memorandum in support of the motion) focused on two particular Photos, which the University used on a billboard. Bass sought to gain summary judgment with respect to the alleged infringement of the two Photos and the University's affirmative defenses. In particular, Bass emphasized that the oral agreement he had with Syracuse limited the University's licensed use of the Photos to social media.

In Syracuse's Response to the motion, the University claimed that in the conversation and communications Bass had with the University's representative, Bass never limited the scope of the University's license to use the Photos. Also, Syracuse pointed out that Bass didn't express dissatisfaction with the uses of the Photos when he initially found out about them.

After examining the briefing of both sides and considering the facts in the light most favorable to Syracuse (the non-moving party), the court decided that it could not grant summary judgement on the alleged infringement or most of the affirmative defenses. Overall, there were too many disputed facts to assume that a reasonable jury would not be able to find in Syracuse's favor. The court did grant the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment in part by dismissing the affirmative defense of laches, but this was mainly because Syracuse decided not to pursue this defense. Most of the Motion's requests were denied, and it seems that Syracuse will have the opportunity to plead its case (and most of its affirmative defenses) at trial.