Judge Rules Photographer Can Sue University Claiming 'Sovereign Immunity' in Copyright Case

Judge Rules Photographer Can Sue University Claiming 'Sovereign Immunity' in Copyright Case

In a case spanning more than two years, a landmark decision has been made after a judge ruled that a photographer is allowed to sue a university who previously tried to claim sovereign immunity after they were caught stealing an image.

Back in January we reported the details of the developing case which saw Jim Olive discover one of his aerial photos had been taken and used by the University of Houston C.T. Bauer College of Business without permission, payment, or credit. The University had even issued the image to a print magazine, for which Olive invoiced $25,000, on top of the $16,000 for their own use of the image. The University counter-offered $2,500, which they say was “fair market value.” Insulted, Olive looked to sue the school, only to find that as a state school, it was protected by sovereign immunity, a legal principle protecting the state and its affiliates from lawsuits, including over copyright disputes.

Things heightened when even Forbes ran an advert for the College of Business using the image in question, but gave credit to the college instead of Olive.

However, a new ruling by State District Court Judge Caroline E. Baker in Harris County has seen the University’s claim thrown out. They had previously argued immunity from “unlawful ‘taking’ under the Texas Constitution,” since it “prohibits government agencies from taking private property without adequate compensation.”

Olive can be quoted as saying: “If we win this case, it opens the door for others photographers to go after the state if it takes their photos.”

However, despite an initial win for Olive, it appears there’s no conclusion in sight yet. A spokesman for the University revealed they plan to appeal Baker’s ruling. The case continues.

Lead image by Clarisse Meyer via Unsplash.

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4 Comments

Nathan Klein's picture

Hopefully the photographer comes out on top. I’d imagine it would be hard to get paid even if they won

Just can't get over the repeated irony. Comment I posted just 2 days ago applies here...
"Irony is an article about one photographer dead set on protecting his copyright while a photograph is used by another photographer who couldn't care less about hers, all on a website trying to grow the photographic community. The only entity compensated is the website while the other two entities worked for free."

How about that - a THIEF claiming the law protects them.
Hope he goes on with the suit and names specific individuals as well.
WHY not try a formal complaint with the FBI - after all, they will do the investigation for DisneyCorp if you try to use Mickey Mouse for anything. If they do it for the big boys, why not You?

Simon Patterson's picture

Well the university now potentially has a very recent precedent to argue "fair use". I wonder if they cropped the photo, which may strengthen their case?