Pennsylvania Record

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Photographer sues textbook company for copyright infringement

By Jim Boyle | Aug 12, 2014


A New York City-based photographer claims that one of the world's top textbook distributors infringed on his copyrights with photos reprinted in millions of copies of the company's books, according to a suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

According to the complaint, Joel Gordon granted limited licensing rights to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Co. between 1990 and 2008 for the publishing of a selection of his photographs. The licences were limited by number of copies, distribution area, language and duration, the suit says.

Gordon says that the publishing company, which produces educational textbooks ranging from pre-kindergarten to the 12th grade for 50 million students in 150 countries, repeatedly violated the licenses by printing more than the permitted number of copies, distributing them outside the authorized areas and publishing them in overseas markets without his permission.

The suit says that the entire scope of the alleged infringement is still unknown because only Houghton Mifflin has the full circulation records. According to the suit, however, this is not the first time the publishing company has taken advantage of licenses. The suit cites a similar case in Colorado, where the court found that Houghton Mifflin signed an agreement to use a photographer's pictures in no more than 40,000 copies of two separate textbooks, but went on to publish a combined total of more than one million copies, a clear violation of the license's scope.

According to the complaint, there are 25 more copyright infringement suits filed by separate photographers throughout the country. The claim alleges that Houghton Mifflin was properly enriched by the unauthorized use of Gordon's photos.

The plaintiff is represented by Maurice Harmon of Harmon & Seidman in New Hope, Pa.

The federal case ID is 2:14-cv-04703.

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