BuzzFeed's rise to social content supremacy is largely attributable to the engaging photos and videos that populate its posts, but this popularity has attracted new questions as to how the website sources some of the visual media it publishes. Most notably, BuzzFeed is facing a $3.6 million copyright infringement suit from an independent photographer claiming images were lifted from his online portfolio without consent and repurposed by the news site.
According to paidContent, the plaintiff insisted that BuzzFeed's unique social media savvy effectively constituted "contributory infringement" as the image was reposted by readers on a total of 64 separate websites. Company officials have previously stated that their royalty management protocol contains licensing agreements with media properties including Reuters and Getty, but practices concerning Flickr, Tumblr and other consumer-focused image archives remain somewhat unclear.
BuzzFeed's defense may hinge on the concept of fair use, as the site contends that its incorporation of the single photo into a broader media montage can be considered transformative action - and thus exempt from copyright infringement.
While the plaintiff has already been derided by certain media outlets for the extent of damages sought and frivolousness of the subject matter, Scientific American suggested that the headline-grabbing legal motion may be the only way to draw attention to the broader issue of digital copyright abuses taking place across the web.