Battle Brewing Over Knight Ridder Paper’s Use of Book Review Photos

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By: E&P Staff

A federal judge has ruled against the San Jose Mercury News’ motion to dismiss a copyright case brought against the paper by Trial & Technology Law Group on behalf of photographer Christopher Harris.

Harris, who has shot for The New York Times, Time, and Newsweek, is suing the Knight Ridder owned newspaper for using one of his photographs in a book review.

The San Jose Mercury News filed a motion for summary judgment, which argued that taking copyrighted photographs to accompany book reviews is a common practice at other major newspapers and that the action was legal under the “fair use” defense.

District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer, brother of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, wrote in his ruling: “The Court cannot say as a matter of law that use of a copyrighted photograph in a book review, in which the book clearly states that the photograph is copyrighted, constitutes fair use.”

Calls placed to Knight Ridder and the Mercury News were not immediately returned.

Robert A. Spanner, lead counsel for Harris, said in a statement, “The notion that a newspaper can override [copyrighted photographs] and freely reproduce and distribute — without a license or fee — photographs which the photographer had licensed to a book publisher for a fee, would obviously be a matter of grave concern to the photographer’s profession.”

The two parties are set to meet with Judge Breyer on Jan. 20 to set a date for trial.

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