Philadelphia’s top prosecutor stands accused of copyright infringement in a civil action
filed late last month in federal court by a city-based photographer.
R. Bradley Maule, individually and on behalf of his company, PhillySkyline.com, filed suit July 31 against Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams over allegations that Williams used a copyrighted photo taken by the plaintiff as a backdrop on the defendant’s Twitter webpage.
Maule, who calls himself a “well-known and highly respected Philadelphia photographer” whose talents documenting the city’s neighborhoods, people, culture, and architecture, has made him a go-to source for a variety of Philadelphia media, claims that Williams unlawfully reproduced a photo of the Philly skyline that Maule took from a city high-rise in the spring of 2005.
The photo, which the plaintiff posted to his website, phillyskyline.com, days after the image was taken, was discovered in the background of the district attorney’s Twitter page in early April of this year, according to the complaint.
Later that month, Maule mentioned the unlawful reproduction of his panoramic photograph in an interview he gave to the local news and gossip website Philebrity.com, but nothing was done to address the situation on Williams’ end, the suit alleges.
The suit goes on to state that during Primary Election Day this past May, the plaintiff, while having lunch at a Philadelphia delicatessen with his lawyer, J. Conor Corcoran, ran into Williams, at which time Corcoran informed Williams that the defendant had been using Maule’s photo on the district attorney’s Twitter page.
Corcoran, the suit says, told Williams that he was unsure “who to ask to prosecute you for theft!,” according to the civil action.
Maule then explained to Williams, “in an absolutely friendly and respectful tone and manner,” that Williams had been using the plaintiff’s photo without permission.
Williams then allegedly flat-out denied using Maule’s photograph.
Corcoran phoned Williams at the D.A.’s Office late last month to remind him of the continued unauthorized use of his client’s photograph, after which Williams informed Corcoran that the image had been taken down from the Twitter page.
Days later, however, the photo was once again discovered to be on Williams’ Twitter page, the suit claims.
During another exchange between the two lawyers, Williams allegedly told Corcoran that any claim of copyright infringement in this regard was “silly [expletive],” the suit states, and the district attorney went on to suggest Maule might as well “go ahead and file this lawsuit for copyright infringement.”
The suit was eventually filed on July 31 at U.S. District Court.
“The Defendant intentionally stole the Plaintiff’s photo and/or intentionally maintained it on his Twitter webpage, as Defendant was notified of the theft on at least one occasion by the Plaintiff himself at Famous 4th Street [Deli], as aforementioned, and the Defendant nonetheless continued to use Plaintiff’s photograph without permission,” the lawsuit reads.
The suit then goes on to state that “at best, the District Attorney of Philadelphia has no idea how to use a computer, a smartphone, a Twitter account and/or a Twitter webpage.
“At worst,” the suit continues, “the Defendant lied and/or misrepresented to the Plaintiff, on no less than three separate occasions … that he either did not have Plaintiff’s picture on Defendant’s Twitter webpage, or that he removed the Plaintiff’s photograph from his Twitter webpage.”
Williams, Maule claims, has intentionally and unlawfully stolen and reproduced the plaintiff’s photograph, which infringes on Maule’s copyright and ability to recoup profits and/or publicity from the image.
Maule never gave Williams consent or permission to use the photo, the suit claims.
Attached to the complaint is a screen grab showing a shot of the district attorney’s Twitter page with the plaintiff’s photo in the background.
Visible on the photo are words “Visit philly skyline dot com.”
Reached by email, Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, said Williams continues to maintain that the plaintiff’s photo and the image used on the D.A.’s Twitter account are two different pictures.
Nevertheless, she said, Williams removed the photograph that was on his Twitter page from the site last week after he was contacted by the plaintiff’s attorney.
She had no further comment.
The complaint contains both federal and state law claims of copyright infringement.
Maule seeks declaratory relief that the district attorney engaged in unlawful conduct as well as monetary damages in excess of $150,000 and attorney’s fees.
The federal case number is 2:13-cv-04428-TJS.