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In her 20-year career, talk show host Oprah Winfrey has appeared before many people, both big and small. But perhaps among the most important will be the three men and five women sitting in the jury box and hearing the testimony Tuesday in the federal trial on charges that she knowingly infringed upon the copyrights held by two Chicago photographers who took thousands of pictures on the set of her popular television show. Paul Natkin, et al. v. Oprah Winfrey, et al., No. 99CV5367. Dressed in a cream-colored suit, Winfrey sat at the defense table with her battery of high-priced attorneys. At times, she looked at the jurors. At other times, she looked intently at the screen upon which was projected some of the documentation her attorneys would use to show that photographers Paul Natkin and Stephen Green knew that her company, Chicago-based Harpo Productions, owned at least some of the rights to their pictures. “Oprah is here out of respect for you and out of respect for the judicial system,” lead defense attorney Charles Babcock told the jurors, “But she does not respect this lawsuit.” The courtroom of U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo had attracted some celebrity-watchers, although the number was less than those who turned out in May to gawk at former Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan when he also appeared at the Dirksen Federal Building for a civil trial involving a contract dispute. While on a lower rung of the local celebrity ladder, Natkin has made a name for himself as a veteran photographer on the local and national concert scene. Green is employed with the Chicago Cubs, and his assignments at the near West Side Harpo Studios were freelancing jobs. Winfrey’s fame — as talk-show host, movie actress and New Age self-help promoter — was not lost on lead plaintiff attorney Elliot R. Zinger, who told the jurors in his opening statement they were not there “to determine an issue of celebrity.” But the credibility of each party was clearly at stake. Indeed, the central issue before the jurors was which side was most accurately portraying the agreement reached years ago, said Zinger, a name partner of Elliot Zinger & Associates in Chicago. Zinger’s opening was the shorter of the two statements, during which he employed simple demonstrative exhibits to show that his clients took photos of Winfrey for limited publicity purposes and that she was not allowed to use 11 pictures in her weight-loss book, “Make the Connection.” Critical testimony in the case would come from “the defendant’s own employees that what Natkin and Green were doing there (at Oprah’s show) was to take photos for Harpo for publicity and promotions,” Zinger said. Natkin and Green seek compensation for the use of the photos in the book and to have all their photos — estimated at 60,000 — returned to them. Assisting as plaintiff’s counsel during the trial are sole practitioners Mark Barinholz and Melinda Schramm. Babcock, a lawyer out of Dallas who represented Winfrey two years ago in the Texas beef libel lawsuit, spoke with a slight Texas accent as he took the jurors through his side of the case, projecting onto a movie screen the documentation that Green and Natkin knew just who owned the photographs they took between 1986 and 1995. Harpo Studios paid $500,000 for the film and development of the pictures and also for storage, Babcock said. But, Babcock cautioned the jurors, there was another agenda being followed by the photographers; they wanted to void an agreement to get Harpo’s permission to sell the photos themselves. “They want to parlay, at best, a minor dispute to get out of their obligation,” Babcock added. “They don’t want to ask our permission to sell the pictures.” The two veteran photographers wanted to sell their photographs to “tabloids” and “rumor-mongers,” Babcock told the jury, although he later appeared to contradict himself by saying evidence would show that “there is no market” for Oprah pictures. Joining in the defense team are David Sanders, David Eric Jimenez-Ekman, and Darren H. Lubetzky, of Chicago’s Jenner & Block. Natkin and Green went into the start of the trial with a preliminary victory under their belts in that Castillo ruled last month that they were the sole owners of the photographs and their copyrights, and that Winfrey was not a joint owner just because the photos were taken at her studio.

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