Monday, August 07, 2006

Couples Get the Pictures, Photographer Gets Jail

Paparazzi aren't the only photographers whose antics can land them in trouble with the law, as Mark Roob found out in Wisconsin by preying on couples wishing to have their wedding photographed. He ended up in jail on eight felony counts of fraud and with a criminal restitution order to turn over the originals and negatives; an appeal to copyright was unsuccessful. Here is the opinion. Roob has also been the subject of other litigation; here is an August 1, 2006 appeal from a damage award in a civil case.

Roob's M.O. appears to have been to get couples about to be married to sign a contract for 8o pictures. At the wedding he would prevent anyone else (even the couple's parents) from taking pictures. After the wedding, he would have the couple in for a "design" session, at which he presented the couple with far more than the 80 pictures they had contracted for and insisted they purchase all of them, at a higher fee; he refused to sell them the 80 unless they paid "a la carte" also at a much higher fee. He usually ended up receiving far more than the original agreement since he was the only source for the wedding photos.

A few couples had too much and eventually got him criminally prosecuted. A jury found him guity of four counts of felony fraudulent representations and four counts of felony fraudulent writings. He was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment served concurrently on two of the fraudulent writings charges and 5 years probation on the other two, and fined $100 on each of the fraudulent representation charges. As a condition of the probation, he was ordered to pay restitution, and to turn over to the couples all proofs, photographs, and negatives.

In his appeal, Roob argued that Section 201(e) of the 1976 Copyright Act, added to prevent the Soviet Government from expropriating dissident's copyrights, barred the turn over order. The court of appeals rightly noted that Section 210(e) only bars involuntary transfer of copyright ownership, and does not refer to the physical object. Still without negatives, a photographer can't exploit his or her copyrights, which in Roob's case was quite fine. The only similar case I am familiar with in the civil context of recent is the CCNV v. Reid case, where on remand from the Supreme Court, the parties settled the matter with the sculptor (Reid) owning all three-dimensional rights and CCNV and the sculptor jointly owning two-dimensional rights. Reid however forgot one important fact: CCNV had physical ownership and possession of the work of sculpture and without access to it, Reid could not exercise his 3D rights. CCNV denied him access. The district court took care of the matter by simply declaring it had authority under the All Writs Act to order CCNV to give Reid access.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, it's unfortunate for that guy that wedding photographers apparently don't have as powerful a cartel as the music and movie industries, or else it might be his victims who ended up paying damages and risking imprisonment instead of the guy who conned them!