Florida District Court Sides With Creativity

Florida District Court Sides With Creativity

Florida District Court rules that a dentist's photos of his patient's teeth are not protectable by copyright laws because they lack creative spark. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturns the case.

IPWatchdog.com recently reported on a case involving the image copyrights of before and after photos Dr. Mitchell Pohl took to showcase his work. The Dr. performed a reverse image search on one of his images and found them being used without his consent on seven different websites being run by the same health care marketing company. So he sued for copyright infringement. The circuit court decided that the image lacked originality and a creative spark. "There is nothing remotely creative about taking close-up photographs of teeth" and "No pair of eyes on a reasonable jury [could] find any modicum of creativity or originality in these photographs.” I am surprised by this pointed language. It makes you wonder if the Judge who presided over this case is an internet commenter. 

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (known for handling copyright cases) stated that the district court did not consider all of the evidence. They specifically mentioned the fact that "The photographs need only possess some minimal degree of creativity. And it cannot be said that Dr. Pohl's pictures are 'slavish copies' of an underlying work."  For this, the court threw out the case. The images were taken down from all seven websites. 

To me, this seems like a ridiculous waste of time and money. I don't think before and after images of teeth would be worth my time. I guess Dr. Pohl feels very strongly about copyright laws. There is something honorable about that. 

Copyright law can be tough to understand, but also fundamental for our community to follow. If you have any experience with copyright law, I would love to hear your take on this case. 

Lead photo used under Creative Commons: Danjhon 

Martin Van Londen's picture

I am a vintage millennial content creator with experience in and passion for cinematography and photography. I live in Portland, Oregon, where I work in the marketing industry. When I'm not behind a camera or deep diving into the creative cloud, I am reading, enjoying art, and nature.

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I have to admit, as a judge, I would more likely be concerned about misleading advertising practice of the said company than the copyright infringement. Although you can probably buy stock photos like that anyway.
I kinda understand Dr. Pohl's stance here: he took a picture of his work and another company is using it as advertising their services.

That makes sense to me. I would think that he could have a claim on his work in the photo. He created the teeth in the photo.

If the images didn't have any "creativity and originality", why did so many others take them and use them? There are a lot of stock images out there that also lack creativity and originality, however they help the marketer get their point across, so they do have value. I absolutely agree with Dr. Pohl's stance. His work is his work - don't steal.

I agree with him too. I'm glad he appealed the first ruling.

Dental photographer Lester A. Dine invented the ring flash in 1952. So, getting the subject well-lit is clearly not a trivial matter.

I call this a good ruling on appeal. If the creativity of the photo has to be judged to enforce copyright, who is going to draw the line and where will it be drawn to decide what is creative? Short of a photo of a blank white or colored background, where would the line of "not sufficiently creative" be drawn and by whom?

My (possibly naive) opinion is that the vast majority of copyright issues are the illegal use of an image, not whether the image is creative enough to be copyrighted in the first place.