What if a photographer complains about unauthorized use?

I self-published a travel book, first in e-book form and now in paperback. I asked my friends, in a rock group, if I could use a photograph I saw of them on Facebook, for the cover. They granted me permission. I asked if they had the rights to the photograph and they said they did. A guy who was their driver, saw that the book is now in paperback, and contacted me, ranting and raving that I stole his picture, demanding money and the threat of lawyers, etc. He knew of the e-book but said nothing.

I explained the situation to him, that I didn’t knowingly use his picture without his permission. He will not accept this, and wants money. I have received no payment as yet for any books that have been sold. I cannot afford to pay him any money. He has a copy of the picture he took on his camera, if I don’t pay him he wants the book removed. This will mean I would have to re-submit the whole thing after months of work, with a new cover and at great cost. If I had known about him before hand would have asked for his permission and credited him. Now I am not sure what to do. If I pay him one sum of money will he come knocking for more? Does he in fact own the copyright? I don’t think he has copyrighted it and therefore who is to stop someone else doing the same thing in the future? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time.

Nick Gerrard on June 2, 2012

Hi Nick. For specific legal advice you should contact a local lawyer. I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. It sounds like he is the copyright owner of the photo, particularly since “he has a copy of the picture he took on his camera.” So to “Does he in fact own the copyright?” the answer is probably yes. Even though you “don’t think he has copyrighted it” the copyright is automatic. However, this may be a significant point as, despite his “ranting and raving” there may not be much he can legally do. A copyright lawsuit can only be brought in federal court (not, currently, small claims court) and, if he did not register his copyright as you contend, then he could likely only get actual damages, which are not much if you have not made much money. So you could wait to see if he makes a legal move before you respond further, in which case you should consult a local lawyer. In the meantime, work on getting a different photo for further editions and prints. Microstock sites offer low-cost images for book covers.

infringement

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