NFL

Deshaun Watson and Lebron James Have This in Common … and It’s Not Good

A freelance photographer is suing Houston Texans star Deshaun Watson, accusing the quarterback of copyright infringement by posting pictures on Instagram without permission. The suit filed in federal court is similar to one that Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James currently faces.

A photographer alleges DeShaun Watson infringed on his copyright

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Unless he bought a car or home in the past week, DeShaun Watson’s first big expense since signing a four-year, $160 million contract extension with the Houston Texas is going to be lawyers’ fees. Freelance photographer Aaron Sprecher is suing over three photographs on Instagram, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Sprecher’s suit filed in federal court in the Southern District of Texas on Sept. 14 alleges a loss of royalties from his licensing of photos, primarily to the Associated Press. The photographer says the pictures Watson posted are from 2017-20. His lawsuit says Sprecher registered the images with the U.S. Copyright Office, and he seeks damages under the Copyright Act.

The lawsuit states the Texans and league confirmed that they did not provide Watson the photos, the Morning Consult reported.  

Watson’s representatives declined to comment on the lawsuit.

There are parallels between Sprecher’s action against Watson and one that LeBron James faces. Photographer Steven Mitchell accused James and two of his companies of using a photo on Facebook without permission. The suit, in which Mitchell is seeking $150,000, was recently transferred to federal court in the Central District of California.

What is the actual damage over the photos?

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Photographer Aaron Sprecher’s lawsuit against Deshaun Watson does not specify how much he is seeking in damages. The $150,000 sought by Steven Mitchell in his dispute with LeBron James may be an indication of where Sprecher is heading.

If the case reaches court and Sprecher wins, the question becomes how much actual damage was done to him financially. His lawyers would point to the 1.4 million people following Watson on Instagram. They argue that those were all potential customers who could have paid to purchase copies. One-tenth of 1% of the followers still amounts to 1,400 sales on each of the pictures in dispute.

“(Sprecher) and his licensing agency, AP, are always happy to license images to NFL players for personal uses such as this,” the photographer’s attorneys said in a statement. “But as a freelancer, he can’t allow players to just take photos without payment or even giving him proper credit, since this is how he earns his living.”

Sprecher’s representatives likely would also contend that Watson’s dissemination of the images made them so commonplace that he would be unable to sell them to book or magazine publishers and commercial websites that might otherwise pay a premium to use them.

“I think most people think, ‘Wait a second, that’s DeShaun’s picture, why would anyone be able to sue him for anything?’” said KPRC-TV legal analyst Brian Wice. “What the federal copyright law says it may be DeShaun’s picture, but it’s the photographer’s intellectual property, and that’s the basis of this federal lawsuit.”

Sprecher faces a hurdle in his immediate future. The TV station reported that the Houston Texans have denied him permission to shoot photos at future home games.

Deshaun Watson and LeBron James aren’t alone

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The growth of the internet in general and social media specifically has contributed to more copyright infringement claims like the ones facing Deshaun Watson and LeBron James.

According to Morning Consult, American fashion model Gigi Hadid successfully defended herself in a case last year by arguing that the plaintiff failed to obtain copyright registration for a photo before filing the lawsuit.

In addition, a photographer filed a $150,000 lawsuit against entertainer Jennifer Lopez over the use of a picture on Instagram.