Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was sued on Wednesday by award-winning wildlife photographers who say the potential GOP nominee is using their copyright-protected image of an American bald eagle without permission.
Attorneys for Wendy Shattil and Robert Rozinski filed the civil complaint in federal court this week after watching a presidential rally for Mr. Trump on television and noticing that an attendee was holding a campaign sign that incorporated one of their photographs of the national bird.
After investigating further, the Denver-based photographers determined their work was being used “prominently and extensively to promote Mr. Trump’s candidacy,” according to the lawsuit, and that his campaign has offered supporters the option of purchasing promotional materials from its website that include their image of the eagle.
“Plaintiffs never authorized Defendant Trump for President, Inc. or the other Defendants to use the Photograph for any purpose,” their attorneys wrote in the complaint.
Instead, the photographers say the Trump campaign deliberately ripped off their work of art to compliment “the direct and unflinching persona that Mr. Trump seeks to project to the American public,” albeit without their permission.
Mr. Rozinski photographed the eagle in 1980, and his attorney wrote in Wednesday’s filing in the Southern District of New York that he had captured a “piercing, intimate, eye-to-eye moment with this majestic creature with near-perfect symmetry against a flawless sky blue background.” The photo earned Mr. Rozinski honors from the BBC in 1986, and five years later, he registered the image with the U.S. Copyright Office.
“The effect of this iterated unauthorized reproduction and redistribution is the rampant viral infringement of Plaintiffs’ exclusive rights in their Photograph,” the complaint continued. “On information and belief, many thousands of individuals across the United States are now reproducing, publicly displaying, transmitting and otherwise using the Photograph as part of Mr. Trump’s campaign materials without Plaintiffs’ authorization. Such uses occurred nearly daily on national campaign coverage via network and cable television broadcasts and across Internet websites and mobile content, print media and other media.”
“Presidential campaigns are financed, engineered and executed to induce as many people as possible to nominate and elect its candidate. Especially in the Internet era, viral promotion of candidates is invaluable,” the complaint said.
Attorneys for the photographers claim they reached out to Mr. Trump’s campaign in February to express their concerns, but they were unable to resolve the matter amicably. Now they’re asking for a District Court judge to find Trump for President liable for direct and indirect copyright infringement and prevent his campaign from using the image any further. They’re additionally seeking compensation for related damages, requesting upwards of $150,000 for willful infringement.