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Cramer v. Cecil Baker & Partners, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 1, 2019

BILL CRAMER, Plaintiff,
v.
CECIL BAKER & PARTNERS, INC., and HIDDEN CITY PHILADELPHIA, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          Schiller, J.

         Bill Cramer commenced this copyright infringement action after Hidden City Philadelphia posted an online publication that included a photograph Cramer took of Cecil Baker. Before the Court is Hidden City's motion for summary judgment and for sanctions. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Hidden City's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Cramer, a professional photographer working for Wonderful Machine, Inc., photographed Baker, an architect. (Cramer Decl. ¶¶ 2, 4.) The photograph was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to Wonderful Machine in October 2008. (Id. Ex. B.)

         After taking the photograph, Cramer emailed Baker in December 2008, providing a link to “all of the photos from the Residential Architect photo shoot.” (Def.'s Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. E.) Baker asked for copies of the photograph around January 2009, and someone named Jess Dudley sent Baker correspondence on Wonderful Machine letterhead, enclosing prints and “lo res images, for personal use.” (Cramer Decl. Ex. C.)

         Seven years later, in January 2016, Hidden City used the photograph in an online publication about an architectural project. (Id. Ex. D.) As a result, Cramer claims that Baker and Hidden City infringed on the copyright because he did not grant Baker the right to sublicense the photograph and Hidden City did not have authorization to republish the photograph. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the admissible evidence fails to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, ” and it is material if, under substantive law, it “might affect the outcome of the suit.” Id. at 248.

         When the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof, “the party moving for summary judgment may satisfy Rule 56's burden” by “submit[ting] affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim” or “demonstrat[ing] . . . that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 331 (1986).

         When considering a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmovant and draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmovant's favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. The court may not, however, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in considering motions for summary judgment. Boyle v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Hidden City moves for summary judgment on three bases, including a lack of standing. It also requests an additional hearing for Rule 11 sanctions against Cramer and his counsel. The Court will grant Hidden City's motion for summary judgment because it concludes that Cramer neither owns the photograph nor suffered an individual injury and, thus, lacks standing.[1] However, the Court will deny Hidden City's request for sanctions because it is procedurally inadequate and lacks merit.

         A. Cramer Lacks Standing Because He Does Not Own the Photograph.

         Standing to sue for copyright infringement is governed by 17 U.S.C. § 501. The statute provides that “[t]he legal or beneficial owner of an exclusive right under a copyright is entitled . . . to institute an action for any infringement of that particular right committed while he or she is the owner of it.” 17 U.S.C. § 501. “[A]s the party asserting a copyright infringement claim, [plaintiff] bears the burden of proving standing by demonstrating its ownership of the subject copyright.” Clarity Software, LLC v. Fin. Indep. Grp.,51 F.Supp.3d 577, 587 n.12 (W.D. Pa. 2014). A company's ownership of a copyright does not confer standing on the company's executives. See Wallert v. Atlan,141 F.Supp.3d 258, 276-77 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (rejecting a business owner's argument that he had standing to sue for a copyright owned by the business). But see Jules Jordan Video, Inc. v. 144942 Canada Inc.,617 F.3d 1146, ...


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