Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James is being sued for posting a picture of himself on his social media accounts.
Steve Mitchell, who is a seasoned photojournalist, has had his work published in Sports Illustrated and ESPN among other places. He is in the business of taking photographs and licensing them online and he took a masterful photo of James during a contest earlier this season.
Mitchell captured LBJ dunking over Meyers Leonard in the Lakers-Heat game earlier this season. James (or whoever is running his accounts) posted a cropped version of the photo back in December and still has not taken the photo down off of Instagram. (Facebook has taken down the photo as a result of violating its terms and conditions).
Mitchell’s legal team is seeking damages of up to $150,000 per infringement. and has lawsuits pending James as well as several of the companies he owns, per Sports Illustrated’s Michael McCann.
Mitchell demands a jury trial to assess whether Section 501 of the federal Copyright Act was violated. He seeks damages that would reflect profits, income, receipts and other benefits derived by James and his co-defendants or, in the alternative, damages of up to $150,000 per infringement
James, who turned 35 during the 2019-20 season, was experiencing an MVP-level campaign prior to the coronavirus pandemic forcing owners to shut down the league.
Legal Expert Weighs in on LeBron’s Defense
McCain details the story of the ongoing lawsuit in his piece. McCann explains that James’ attorneys may argue that Mitchell is the rightful owner of the photo but James’ use of a cropped photo is permissible.
James’ team could also contend that the use of the photo wasn’t to earn any income among other defenses.
On the other side of things, Mitchell could argue that the post expands James’ brand and that’s worth something. James has clearly used his brand in the past for marketing purposes. He’s endorsed products on his timeline previously, such as Nike. James also markets products and services related to his many businesses.
Mitchell’s legal team is likely to downplay the fact that LBJ cropped the original photo, McCann explains. It simply cropped out other players in the picture and didn’t alter James at all.
Coronavirus Delaying the Hearing?
McCann notes that the litigation could take some time to play out. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many court hearings to be postponed.
It’s possible that both sides attempt to work out a settlement that pays Mitchell a licensing fee. James’ net worth is upwards of $500 million. Judge Ronnie Abrams is presiding over the case.
Perhaps this all could have been avoided with photo credit, though that is simply speculation from a writer without a law degree.
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