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Award-Winning John Lennon Photographer Sues Universal Music For $150,000

Award-winning photographer Allan Tennanbaum has filed a copyright infringement complaint against Universal Music in New York. Known for his iconic images of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the photographer says that Universal used his work without permission on one of its websites. He is demanding up to $150,000 in damages.

As part of the RIAA, Universal Music is known for being the aggressor in dozens of copyright infringement complaints concerning the unlicensed use of its music.

Now, however, it now finds itself on the other side of the fence, following a copyright infringement complaint filed against it in the United States.

The man behind the action is Allan Tannenbaum, an award-winning photographer known for his works depicting the New York art, music and nightlife scene in the 70s and early 80s.

Tannenbaum’s portfolio contains many iconic photographs of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, including a very well known one that depicts the couple in bed laughing. (shown below)

“John Lennon cracks a joke while he and Yoko are nude in bed filming a video for ‘Just Like Starting Over’ in a SoHo studio, November 26, 1980,” says a description of the image on Tannenbaum’s site.

“Tannenbaum is the author of the Photograph and has at all times been the sole owner of all right, title and interest in and to the Photograph, including the copyright thereto,” Tannenbaum’s complaint reads.

According to the complaint, filed under Section 501 of the Copyright Act, Universal Music is the operator of uDiscoverMusic, a website that takes an in-depth look at “some of the most influential music in the world – and the artists that created it.”

At issue is an article published on the site titled “John Lennon – Milk and Honey” which ran Tannenbaum’s image alongside to the right, as shown in the screenshot below.

Screenshot from uDiscoverMusic/complaint

According to the Universal-owned site, the article was first published during July 2015, but Tannenbaum says that he only discovered the unlicensed use of his work in May 2019. The article is still live at the time of writing.

“Universal Music infringed Plaintiff’s copyright in the Photograph by reproducing and publicly displaying the Photograph on the Website,” the complaint notes.

“Universal Music is not, and has never been, licensed or otherwise authorized to reproduce, publically display, distribute and/or use the Photograph.”

It further alleges that Universal’s actions were willful, intentional, and purposeful, in “disregard of and indifference to Plaintiff’s rights.”

Demanding a trial by jury, Tannenbaum says he is entitled to damages and profits generated as a result of Universal’s “unlawful conduct”. Alternatively, he demands statutory damages of up to $150,000 for the infringed work.

The complaint, obtained by TorrentFreak, was filed just yesterday so Universal Music has not yet responded. It can be viewed here (pdf)

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