By Sean Fitzgerald
Did you know that state governments are immune from suit for copyright infringement? In Allen v. Cooper, the United States Supreme Court recently ruled that state governments are immune from suit for copyright infringement and that existing statutes eliminating that immunity failed to pass constitutional muster. As a result, state entities now have a free pass when it comes to using the work of a photographer outside of an existing contractual relationship.
This is not a hypothetical situation. For example, the University of Houston took an image by photographer Jim Olive off the internet and used it in multiple publications. Despite his dogged efforts, the University got away with it, quite brazenly. Olive uncovered at least 17 other similar infringements by Texas state entities in the course of his lawsuit.
NANPA has signed amicus briefs on the issue on behalf of Mr. Olive and others and supports efforts to pass new federal legislation correcting the problem. The Copyright Office has also asked for information regarding the experiences of artists who have dealt with state entities in order to determine the scope of the problem.
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