What is a royal wedding without a lawsuit to go with it? Days ahead of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s nuptials, a California-based photographer is taking some of the most well-known websites, television programs, and print publications to court for allegedly infringing his copyrights in yearbook photos of the American actress and soon-to-be royal.
According to the complaint that photographer John Dlugolecki filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Thursday, People Magazine, The Daily Mail and American Broadcasting Companies, among others, are on the hook for publishing photos he took without his authorization.
Dlugolecki alleges that Meredith Corp., The Daily Mail and ABC published 1990’s grade school and high school yearbook photos of Meghan Markle in People Magazine, on Daily Mail.com, and on television programs 20/20 and Nightline. As the copyright holder in the photos (since he took them), Dlugolecki has the exclusive right to publish and display the photos and any unauthorized uses of the photos run afoul of the law.
In addition to naming the various media outlets as defendants, the photographer names the Yearbook Library, the self-proclaimed “original and largest library of high school yearbooks of the stars,” and its owners/operators Seth, Danine, and Jared Poppel, in the suit. Dlugolecki alleges that the site is “in the business of collecting school yearbooks and then exploiting for profit photographs contained in them without seeking or obtaining authorization to do so from the copyright owners of those photographs.”
Still yet, the Poppels and Yearbook Library are “effectively grant[ing] to [themselves] the copyright to exploit for profit — and represent[ing] to others that they have the legal right to do so — such photos, even though they own no such rights.”
Despite their alleged lack of rights, the Poppels and Yearbook Library licensed the photos of a young Meghan Markle to ABC and People Magazine’s parent company Meredith Corp. in exchange for a royalty payment, according to Dlugolecki. It is unclear, per Dlugolecki, how Daily Mail got its hands on the imagery at issue, which includes as many as ten photos of Markle.
In lieu of federal copyright registrations for the images (which are not required for a party to establish rights in a creative work or for a plaintiff to file a copyright infringement lawsuit), Dlugolecki cannot seek statutory damages of $150,000 per image. Instead, he is seeking monetary damages, including a disgorgement of the defendants of any profits earned in connection with their publication of the imagery, a sum that will be determined at trial, assuming the case makes it that far and does not settle before then.
* The case is Dlugolecki v. Poppel et al, 2:18-cv-03905 (C.D.Cal.).