Volvo Could Be on the Hook for Willful Copyright Infringement
July 17, 2020
In a lawsuit filed on June 9, 2020 in California federal court, a photographer and a model sued Volvo for willful copyright infringement for unauthorized use of images from a photo shoot featuring the Volvo S60 sedan. The allegations in the complaint begin with Volvo’s initial request for a free license to use the images from the photo shoot, which the photographer declined. Schroeder v. Volvo Group North America, LLC, No. 2:20-cv-05127 (C.D. Cal. June 9, 2020), ECF No. 1. After the photographer reached out to negotiate a license, Volvo failed to engage in negotiations and elected to use the images in a marketing campaign. See id. After discussions about this unauthorized use broke down, Volvo allegedly attempted to “bully” the photographer and model into dropping their claims. See id. If these allegations prove to be accurate, Volvo may have a difficult time avoiding liability for the plaintiffs’ copyright infringement and unfair competition claims.
In April of 2019, photographer Jack Schroeder organized a photo shoot with model Britni Sumida to take advantage of the “super bloom” of wildflowers in Southern California. Schroeder culled about 100 photos from the shoot and posted a few of the images on Instagram. Schroeder received a positive response, including an Instagram comment from Volvo that requested permission to use the images in its advertising. Schroeder responded that he does not license his work for free, but he was willing to negotiate a license. Despite failing to respond to this offer to negotiate, Volvo allegedly ran a global advertising campaign on Instagram and Pinterest that primarily consisted of these photos from the shoot.
After uncovering this unauthorized use by Volvo, Schroeder immediately demanded that Volvo remove the images from Instagram and Pinterest. After a follow-up demand, Volvo removed the images from Instagram, but left the images on its Pinterest page. Volvo finally removed the images from Pinterest after receiving a follow-up letter from Schroeder’s counsel.
After some additional back and forth, Volvo sent a letter to a production company that Schroeder works with threatening to sue them for trademark infringement for creating a 20-second video using footage from this photo shoot that included the Volvo S60 sedan. According to Schroeder, this was a clear attempt to “bully” Schroeder and Sumida into dropping their copyright and unfair competition claims.
While Volvo has yet to respond to this complaint, these allegations may form a strong case of copyright infringement. The complaint alleges that Volvo was interested in using the images created by Schroeder in a marketing campaign, but it was not interested in paying for a license, so it posted the images without authorization. While Volvo’s actions may have avoided paying for a license, it may have also created liability for willful copyright infringement. If Schroeder’s allegations are true, RegitzMauck does not recommend taking the actions that Volvo took in this case.
Dustin Mauck focuses his practice on intellectual property and technology disputes, counseling, and licensing.
RegitzMauck PLLC is an intellectual property boutique based in Dallas, Texas. The firm focuses on providing value-based legal services to cost-conscious clients seeking high quality legal representation in intellectual property and technology matters and disputes.