Firooz Zahedi will always have a place in Hollywood history thanks to the way he shot the iconic pulp Fiction poster of the film, but a judge ruled that if the photographer is claiming ownership, he should have taken legal action much sooner. It didn’t, so Miramax got summary judgment in a poster image copyright battle.
Zahedi, a renowned photographer who has shot for numerous magazines and whose work has been done in galleries in Los Angeles, photographed Uma Thurman in her private studio on April 7, 1994 and sued Miramax for using the image on “thousands of consumer products”. The case is ultimately due to Zahedi’s long delay in bringing legal action. The crucial proof turned out to be a post one of Zehedi’s relatives made six years ago on Instagram.
Miramax insisted that for pulp Fiction, Zahedi was working on a pay-for-work contract, but the studio was unable to locate any documents that would prove it. The important thing, however, is that Zahedi’s complaint and Miramax’s defense have presented a dispute over ownership. If ownership of the image was not in dispute and it was simply Miramax’s continued use of Zahedi’s work, the photographer could have sued for infringement for the past three years without delay. But as Dolly Gee notes, “where the basis for a claim is property, the statute of limitations will preclude a claim if (1) the parties are in a close relationship and (2) there has been an ‘express disclaimer.’ of the claimant’s claim to property.
In the 1990s, when the film was released, Miramax registered a copyright for the poster. The judge agrees with Zahedi here that this does not constitute a repudiation of Zahedi’s ownership claim “because Miramax’s copyright registration could presumably be interpreted as covering only the poster, and not the underlying photography “.
But the analysis does not stop there.
In 2015, as lawyers for Miramax discovered, Zahedi’s stepson posted a photo of Zahedi holding a Mia Wallace figurine on Instagram, with the caption: “Happy birthday to my father-in-law @fitzphoto [emojis] Turns out he didn’t receive any toy royalties for his famous Uma TM photo… But at least he has the toy now… ”
Zahedi commented, “Thank you… Sometimes it’s better to be content with the little things in life. “
Oops, that turned out to be a big mistake.
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 evidence of his actual knowledge of the clear repudiation and express of Miramax from its property, ”writes Judge Gee. “While 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 its script from 1994, and the record is unclear at what point. point Miramax has stopped crediting Zahedi – it is clear that Zahedi understood in 2015 that Miramax was claiming more rights to the photograph than Zahedi believed.
This means that if the clock started at that point, Zahedi’s window to file a complaint closed in 2018.
The Supreme Court discussed the limitation period for copyright claims in a 2014 ruling involving Angry bull rights, but did not rule out strict time limits for property claims. These delays have been a trend lately. See, for example, that appeal win for Jerry Seinfeld last year. The subject continues to generate controversy and may soon receive renewed attention from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. This is because of an ongoing legal battle between Starz and MGM over the exclusive rights to various blockbuster films, with an appeal pending attracting interest from various Hollywood guilds to reduce barriers to enforcement. .