An Atlanta commercial photographer is suing the Georgia Republican Party and Gov.-elect Brian Kemp’s campaign, contending they used a copyrighted photo of Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams in a negative campaign ad without permission.
Photographer Kevin Liles—the team photographer for the Atlanta Braves—said in a complaint filed Thursday in federal court in Atlanta that the GOP and Kemp for Governor campaign infringed his 2017 photo of Abrams. The photograph appeared in The New York Times accompanied by the story, “Young Black Democrats, Eager to Lead From the Left, Eye Runs in 2018.”
Liles contributes regularly to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and Sports Illustrated, according to the federal complaint.
Last September, Kemp’s campaign and the GOP began running a black-and-white video campaign ad entitled “Abrams Too Extreme for Georgia” that “prominently featured” a screenshot of his Abrams photo, Liles said in the suit. Neither the GOP nor Kemp’s campaign were licensed to use the photo and used it without Liles’ permission and without including a photo credit originally published with the photo in The New York Times. The suit suggests that Liles’ name was omitted from the Kemp ad in an effort to conceal the alleged infringement.
Attorney Joel Rothman of SRipLaw in Boca Raton, Florida, and an adjunct professor at Emory University School of Law who is representing Liles referred questions about the specific damages Liles is seeking and when he first learned of the apparent infringement to co-counsel Long Island copyright attorney Richard Liebowitz. Liebowitz couldn’t be reached for comment.
Political use is sometimes difficult to value, Rothman said. “That’s one good reason statutory damages are part of the [federal] Copyright Act,” Rothman said. “This looks like it could potentially be willful infringement. Statutory damages for willful infringement could be potentially up to $150,000 per work.”
The suit also seeks an award of attorney fees and profits Kemp and the state GOP may have realized from their use of Liles’ photo.
Vincent Russo, an attorney with Atlanta’s The Robbins Firm who is deputy counsel to the GOP and was counsel to Kemp’s gubernatorial campaign, was in a meeting Friday afternoon and not able to comment on the case.