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Legal Headache for Lighting Agent

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An Atlanta lighting agent is being sued for copyright infringement for allegedly using a trademarked photo on its website without permission.

In an ironic twist, the photo is of the Hubbell Lighting headquarters building in South Carolina - a competing manufacturer.

 

T&T Lighting Group is an Atlanta-area lighting agency that represents some residential and commercial lighting manufacturers including Elco Lighting, GM Lighting and Focus Industries. The agency covers Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee and is the subject of a new lawsuit that alleges that the agency website unlawfully utilized a trademarked photo.

Brian Dressler, a South Carolina architectural photographer, alleges that the defendants, T & T Lighting Group and Harbinger Marketing, utilized Dressler’s 2007 trademarked photo of a well-illuminated commercial building as part of numerous web pages on the agency website. Harbinger Marketing was apparently involved in the web design.

In an ironic twist, the photo in question is of the headquarters building of a lighting manufacturer that T & T Lighting competes against: Hubbell Lighting.  With South Carolina as part of the agent’s territory, it’s likely that agency principals drove by Hubbell Lighting’s iconic building many times – as the building can easily be seen from Interstate I-85.

This is the second time in recent months that a lighting agent is being sued for trademark infringement relating to photos on an agency website. In 2020, Force Partners was sued by a British photographer for copyright infringement relating to an agency website photo.  That case is still being contested. Both cases seem to be shining a light on third-party website developers’ selection of photographs – which also may bring any indemnification clauses to the forefront when potential financial liability is being assigned.

We spoke briefly with T & T Lighting Principal, Howell Turner. He hadn’t yet been served with the lawsuit and politely declined to comment, indicating that he would await receipt of the lawsuit and discussions with his attorney. 

We received the following statement from Brian Dressler’s attorney, Joel B. Rothman of SRipLaw:

“Our client Brian Dressler is an accomplished architectural photographer who received his Bachelor of Media Arts from the University of South Carolina in 1979. He is a member of the ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers), AIAP (Association of Independent Architectural Photographers), and IAAP (International Association of Architectural Photographers). Mr. Dressler has 35 years experience in advertising, architectural, corporate, industrial and product illustration photography. He has won numerous local and regional South Carolina photography “Addy” awards, local “In Show” awards, and a prestigious “Andy” award from the New York Art Directors Club. Mr. Dressler’s work has been featured in prominent marketing campaigns and publications nationwide, including AT&T, Sears, and many more.

When companies like T&T Lighting use Mr. Dressler’s work without permission this violates the copyright laws. It is unfortunate but this type of thing happens often because many people think that if they find images on the internet those images are free to use. This is false, and the victims are twofold: the photographer or visual artist loses control of their valuable images when others use them without permission, license or fee, and the user is subjects themselves to claims for copyright infringement including substantial penalties.

Despite lack of knowledge and good intentions, unauthorized users of images online are still liable for infringement because there is no requirement of knowledge or intent to commit infringement. You copy, you are liable. That rule levels the playing field for copyright owners who are victims of rampant infringement online.

We hope to be able to resolve the matter with the defendants, and we attempted to do so prior to filing suit, but our attempts were unsuccessful. In fairness to the defendants and our client we do not discuss the value of claims outside of court. “

 

Read the lawsuit >>

 

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Above:  Excerpt from Exhibit 3 of the Complaint.

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Above:  Excerpt from Exhibit 3 of the Complaint.

 

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February 26, 2020

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