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Minimal appearance of photos in film insufficient for suit

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SECOND CIRCUIT--Plaintiffs suing for the unauthorized use of photographs and artworks in films must show that the use was more…

SECOND CIRCUIT–Plaintiffs suing for the unauthorized use of photographs and artworks in films must show that the use was more than minimal before courts will even consider “fair use” and other claims, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City (2nd Cir.) unanimously ruled in early July.

The ruling arose from a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by Jorge Antonio Sandoval, a photographer and artist from California who claimed that New Line Cinema had used a series of his photographs, without his permission, in the movie “Seven,” starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman.

At one point in the movie, reproductions of several of Sandoval’s photos are visible on an apartment wall for approximately 90 seconds.

New Line Cinema conceded that it had not obtained permission to use the photos. However, the trial court dismissed the claim, finding that the scene was a “fair use” of the copyrighted works.

Writing for the appellate court, Judge Michael Telesca stated, “where the unauthorized use of a copyrighted work is de minimis, no cause of action will lie for copyright infringement.” He noted that the images were out of focus in the film and not displayed with sufficient detail to be easily identified. (Sandoval v. New Line Cinema Corp.; Media Counsel: L. D. Prutzman, New York)