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On June 26, 2015, a decision of interest concerning the application of the statute of limitations and work made for hire doctrine in connection with copyright litigation was issued in the Southern District of New York. The case is Gideon Lewin vs. The Richard Avedon Foundation, docket No. 11-cv-8767 (KMW) (FM). The court dismissed the The Richard Avedon Foundation's (the Foundation) affirmative claims that photographs created by Lewin while he was acting as studio manager for Richard Avedon between 1965 and 1980 were works made for hire, since it waited too long to raise the defense. However, the work made for hire argument, ruled the court, is still available as an affirmative defense to Lewin's suit for declaratory judgment that he owns such copyrights. This article will discuss these aspects of the decision.
Disclaimer: I am counsel to the plaintiff, Gideon Lewin, in this action, which is ongoing.
Lewin had a special relationship with Avedon, which permitted him to take photographs on his own time and for his own clients, resulting in Lewin owning the copyright to such photographs (the Foundation claims such images are works made for hire.) In 2006, Lewin met with Norma Stevens, who was the executive director of the Foundation at that time, to discuss his plans to write a book about his years with Avedon. Lewin showed Stevens images that he created and that he owned. Stevens then sent an email to another director of the Foundation, which reported on this meeting. Stevens admitted in the email that Lewin had many pictures of Avedon working, and was preparing a "dignified" book. Stevens further wrote that she made it clear to Lewin that the Foundation couldn't prevent him from using his images.
Originally published on July 10 of The Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Blog, an online publication of the Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Section of the New York State Bar Association.