CBS has sued a photographer for copyright infringement for doing something that's practically ubiquitous in the news and entertainment business—publishing still images from a television show.
The lawsuit against New York photojournalist Jon Tannen, filed on Friday, is essentially a retaliatory strike. Tannen sued CBS Interactive in February, claiming that the online division of CBS had used two of his photographs without permission. Now, CBS has sued Tannen back, claiming that he "hypocritically" used CBS intellectual property "while simultaneously bringing suit against Plaintiff's sister company, CBS Interactive Inc., claiming it had violated his own copyright."
"Without any license or authorization from Plaintiff, Defendant has copied and published via social media platforms images copied from the 'Dooley Surrenders' episode of GUNSMOKE," write CBS lawyers.
CBS is asking for $150,000 in damages for willful infringement. The case was reported earlier by TorrentFreak.
The lawsuit is striking, because using still images from television shows online is so commonplace in a variety of contexts, and is often considered fair use. Cultural critics and news writers illustrate their writing with such images. So do non-professionals who are commenting or discussing video works on blogs or social media.
The exact nature of Tannen's alleged infringement isn't clear from the complaint, which doesn't identify the "social media platforms" that Tannen used, or describe the images.
A CBS spokesperson wouldn't identify the exact nature of Tannen's alleged infringement. The company offered only this statement via e-mail: "Matt, Doc, Chester and Miss Kitty are part of the CBS family. Anybody who tries to do them dirt will end up on boot hill."
Twice angered on Twitter
The legal tiff between Tannen and CBS began earlier this year. In January 2017, the CBS-owned website "247 Sports" published an article titled "Massoud could be the next great one from New York City," about Sofian Massoud, a star football players at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx.
According to Tannen, the article used two of his photographs without permission. Tannen had photographed Massoud on September 20, 2016 and December 7, 2016, publishing both photos on Facebook.
In February, Tannen sued CBS (PDF), seeking, seeking $150,000 per work. The article remains up, but Tannen's photographs have been stripped out.
It wasn't the first time Tannen got angry about 247 Sports' alleged use of his photos. In May 2016, Tannen complained about the same 247 Sports writer, Alex Gaitman.
"To Alex Gleitman: You're violating copyright law!" Tannen tweeted, saying that a photo in another story about the same Bronx high school was his.
After the January article about Massoud, Tannen blew up again on Twitter, writing: "@alexgleitman You've used my photos illegally again! REMOVE THEM NOW! Never asked my permission! Your own logo! Are you stupid?"
"#1 did not know they were yours were given by player thought his. #2 gave you photo credit once again underneath picture," responded Gleitman.
"Please remove them asap in any case," Tannen wrote back.
Less than a month later, Tannen sued Gleitman's employer.
Tannen's lawyer didn't respond to requests for comment about the case. Discovery is ongoing in the Tannen v. CBS case, and a pre-trial conference is scheduled for next month.