Firooz Zahedi, the photographer behind the iconic pulp Fiction movie poster, saw his copyright infringement lawsuit against Miramax, the production company behind the film, dismissed because he waited too long to file it. In a very 2021 twist, the key evidence against Zahedi was a six-year-old Instagram post from his stepson.
Here’s what happened and how you can prevent it from happening to you.
20 years later …
Zahedi took the pulp Fiction shot of Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace smoking a cigarette in her private studio on April 7, 1994. Later that year, when the film was released, Miramax registered copyright to the poster.
And it was kind of like that for 20 years. Zahedi has sold prints of the image through a number of galleries. He also used it on the back cover of a book of his works. Miramax slapped him on any pulp Fiction-related products they could.
The story resumes in 2015, when Zahedi received a Mia Wallace action figure from her stepson; the packaging highlighted its famous image. Then, again, in 2019, when she was given a pair of socks with the photo on them. These freebies are what prompted him to ultimately sue Miramax.
Who owns the photo?
In his lawsuit, Zahedi claimed he owned the copyright to the image. While Miramax retorted that Zahedi took the photo under a pay-for-work contract, which means he will own the copyright. However, everything got a bit messy.
Miramax could not find documents from 1994 showing that there was a work-for-pay agreement in place. And they credited Zahedi as the copyright holder on the cover of the script. In ruling on the lawsuit, District Judge Dolly Gee concluded that Miramax’s copyright filing in 1994 did not repudiate Zahedi’s claim of ownership “because the Miramax copyright registration could presumably be interpreted as covering only the poster, not the underlying photograph ”.
While this appears to have been good for Zahedi, it all ended up being an entirely moot point.
Canceled by Instagram
When Zahedi’s stepson gave him the Mia Wallace action figure in 2015, he posted a photo on Instagram of Zahedi holding it with the caption: “Happy Birthday to my stepfather @fitzphoto. Turns out he didn’t receive any toy royalties for his famous picture of Uma TM… But at least he has the toy now… ”Zahedi then commented:“ Thanks… Sometimes it’s better. be content with the little things in life. “
Unfortunately for Zahedi, Miramax’s attorneys found the message and used it to show that Zahedi had knowledge of Miramax’s “outright repudiation of his property” in 2015. However, the statute of limitations for such a violation is three years, which means Zahedi had to file his complaint by 2018 in order to protect his copyright.
He waited too long, so the judge issued summary judgment against him. According to Hollywood journalist, the judge ruled that:
Zahedi’s receipt in 2015 of an action figure highlighting the iconic photo, bearing the copyright notice of Miramax and not crediting Zahedi is undisputed proof of his actual knowledge of the clear repudiation and Miramax’s express of its ownership… Although it is true that Miramax has changed its stance on its copyright claim over the decades since 1994 – Zahedi is correct that Miramax has credited Zahedi as the owner of the photograph on the cover of his 1994 script, and the record is not clear when Miramax stopped crediting Zahedi – it is clear that Zahedi understood in 2015 that Miramax was claiming more rights to the photograph than Zahedi did. believed.
What’s next for Zahedi?
Technically, the trial is not over. Miramax has counter-attacked Zahedi for his alleged violations of his copyright in the image. Considering how the decision turned out, it’s probably safe to assume that the counter-suit will quietly go away. Miramax hardly scored a resounding victory – rather, it was because Zahedi failed to protect its copyrights in time.
What this means for you
I talked in depth about copyright in pictures in my article on how to keep your photos stolen from the internet, but the bottom line is that the US system is “mostly toothless” if you don’t also save it. work with the United States. Copyright Office, according to Coco Soodek, a lawyer at Seasongood Law, Inc. You should check out this article for more tips on protecting your copyrights, although there isn’t much good news.
Like Zahedi, if someone infringes on your copyright, you have to fight them in court to get somewhere. However, unlike Zahedi, you shouldn’t have to wait five years to file a complaint.