Innovation Asset Blog

Photographer awarded $1.6 million in actual damages in copyright suit

Andrew Paul Leonard is a professional photographer whose preferred subject matter is microscopic. He photographs using a scanning electron microscope, or SEM. In 1995, Leonard photographed human bone marrow stem cells.

In 2008, Leonard filed suit against Stemtech Health Services, a company that markets nutritional supplements, for "using, copying and displaying" his photos on its websites, in its publications and in video presentations. He also filed suit for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement for displaying his photos on the websites of Stemtech's distributors.

A jury awarded Leonard $1.6 million in actual damages on Oct. 11. Leonard did not register the copyrights to the photos in question until after the infringements by Stemtech began, so he was not eligible for statutory damages.

This case illustrates the importance of managing intellectual property proactively for creative professionals and other holders of copyright. Though the jury ruled in Leonard's favor, it could not award him statutory damages because of the timeline involved in the case. Had Leonard registered his work for copyright earlier, he would have been eligible for a larger settlement than that which he obtained last month.

Peter Ackerman

Peter Ackerman

Founder & CEO, Innovation Asset Group, Inc.