Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard Wins Dismissal of International Copyright Infringement Suit in SDNY


arch 31, 2023 — Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Getty Images, represented by Nancy E. Wolff and Benjamin S. Halperin of Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLP (CDAS), have defeated an international copyright infringement suit that was filed against them in New York federal court.


The plaintiff, a photographer who worked for AFP for years in Portugal, accused AFP and Getty Images of “willful” infringement of the copyrights in approximately 35,000 newswire photos he took while working for AFP. The plaintiff sought damages potentially amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars under U.S. copyright laws given the volume of photos at issue.


On March 30, 2023, SDNY Judge Jennifer L. Rochon issued a decision dismissing the case on jurisdictional grounds. Judge Rochon agreed with CDAS that the plaintiff’s claims should be litigated in Portugal rather than New York because the central dispute over copyright ownership depends on Portuguese law and events, summarizing that “[t]his case has little to do with New York and a lot to do with Portugal.”


Judge Rochon found that the lawsuit had been filed in New York to attempt to gain a tactical advantage, and that it would be inconvenient and unfair to force the defendants to litigate the Portugal-centric dispute in New York. She held that these and other issues warranted dismissal under the forum non conveniens doctrine and for lack of personal jurisdiction over AFP.


This result came after CDAS had extensively briefed and argued the issues to Judge Rochon and Magistrate Judge Sarah L. Cave, including oral argument by Benjamin Halperin in December 2022. Judge Cave issued an initial decision in January 2023 recommending dismissal, which Judge Rochon has now adopted in full.


CDAS and the defendants are thrilled with the result and believe that it has major implications both for the news media and for international copyright litigation. The U.S. is a potentially attractive forum for international copyright disputes due to the potential availability of statutory damages, and this ruling will be a strong deterrent to those who would seek to file lawsuits here without any real connection to the U.S. The result also is important for the newswire industry, which maintains databases of historic images, since allowing copyright suits over the ownership of widely circulated newswire photographs would be hugely disruptive to the way the news is covered and distributed in today’s media.


The case is Paulo v. Agence France-Presse, et al., No. 1:21-cv-11209(JLR)(SLC) (S.D.N.Y. filed Dec. 30, 2021).

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March 31, 2023