Back in 2007, photographer Lara Jade Coton discovered that a self-portrait she took was being used as the cover of a pornographic DVD being sold by TVX Films. Coton, who was 17 when the photo was taken, sued TVX Films and others involved in the DVD.
Well, three years later, Coton finally got her day in court.
However, it was probably a bit of a disappointment.
The case has been fraught with delays and false starts over the years. These issues were largely caused by the defendants, which have now been found to be in default due to failures to appear and file motions in a timely manner. As a result of this, the trial, which was held last week, was on the issue of damages alone after a default judgement had been entered against TVX Films and its owner Robert Burge.
However, no one for the defendants showed up for the trial. Instead, Coton’s attorney, Richard Harrison pleaded his case for damages including admitting nearly 50 items into evidence and having Coton testify on the stand. According to Harrison, they are seeking damages for copyright infringement, statutory and common law misappropriation of her likeness for commercial purposes, defamation by implication (also called “false light” defamation) and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
All of the other defendants in the case other than Burge and TVX films were dismissed from the case. This includes Cyber Services LLC and Tricon Interactive Inc. which were dismissed voluntarily the same day of the trial.
What’s next for the case is that the judge gave Coton 15 days from the trial, to file a memorandum on the damages issue, which Harrison has said they will file, and a ruling on damages is expected shortly after that.
While the case is clearly far from over, especially if either Burge or TVX decides to appeal any judgment against them, it should be a relief to many artists and photographers that Coton got her day in court and that the issue at hand was how much, if any, damages should be awarded.
However, the way Burge and TVX have battled this case, ending up in default, won’t exactly be satisfying to those who wanted to see an in-depth review of the legal issues. Still it has proven that artists can take on these cases and, though it is early to call it a victory, it is clear that the courts do take these issues seriously and respond appropriately.
I’ve embedded the (admittedly brief) clerk’s minutes from the trial below. I will post another update once a ruling on damages has been entered and we know whether TVX and Burge plan on appealing the case.
In the meantime, I think artists and photographers who were watching this case should breathe a sigh of releif that the case has made it to this point and seems to be steaming its way to a very positive resolution.