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The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld a ruling
that a marketer had an implied copyright license to distribute
marketing materials containing digital copies of photographs of the
late musical artist Prince. Beaulieu v. Stockwell,
Case No. 21-3833 (8th Cir. Aug. 30, 2022)
(Gruender, Benton, Grasz, JJ.)
Allen Beaulieu was Prince’s personal photographer for five
years, taking thousands of photos during multiple world tours.
Beaulieu registered a copyright for these photos in 1984. In 2014,
Beaulieu decided to publish a book of his photos. He hired (and
entered into contracts with) Thomas Crouse to write and publish the
book and Clint Stockwell to assist in scanning and storing digital
copies of the photos. There was significant interest in the book
after Prince’s death in 2016. In May 2016, Beaulieu gave
Stockwell an unknown number of uncatalogued photos to be digitized.
At about the same time, Stockwell sent a press packet containing a
digital photo slideshow and press release to potential investors,
including Charles Sanvik.
The collaboration with Stockwell and the others eventually fell
apart, and Beaulieu demanded his photos back. Beaulieu’s
lawyer retrieved some of the photos from Stockwell’s home,
but Beaulieu did not make an inventory of the photos that were
returned. Beaulieu sued Stockwell, Crouse and Sanvik for copyright
infringement (among various other property torts). The district
court granted summary judgment to the defendants on all claims and
found that Stockwell had an implied license to create and
distribute the press release containing Beaulieu’s photos.
Addressing Beaulieu’s copyright claim, the Eighth Circuit
focused on the district court’s finding of an implied
license. An implied license is an affirmative defense to a
copyright infringement claim. The Court explained that a
nonexclusive implied license may be found where a person requests
the creation of a work, the creator makes the particular work and
delivers it to the person who requested it, and the licensor
intends that the licensee-requestor copy and distribute the work.
The Court also explained that such an implied license could be
implied from conduct. The Court recounted the details of the
contract between Beaulieu and Stockwell, which included provisions
permitting the use of the digital photos for “promotional and
marketing” purposes. The Court also noted that Beaulieu was
informed of the marketing plans and was sent drafts of the
marketing emails, including the digital photo slideshow, to which
Beaulieu did not object. The Court found that Beaulieu’s
receipt of these materials, along with his continuing interactions
with the collaborators thereafter, implied his approval of the
marketing plan and demonstrated an implied license to the
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