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Gawker Sued For Posting Illustration that Inspired Video Game

When Gawker was sued last month for publishing an advance excerpt of Sarah Palin's new book, it was settled so quickly that we hardly had time to comment on it. 

Lost in the hullaballoo, and missing from Vanity Fair's subsequent roundup of Gawker lawsuits over the years, was another copyright lawsuit filed against Gawker last month. This one is still pending...

Lindsay McCulloch, a noted visual artist, is suing Gawker for posting one of her signature works -- a three foot by four-and-a-half foot pictorial illustration of Hell as described in Dante Alighieri's famed La Divina Commedia, "Inferno."

Last February, in an effort to promote the Electronic Arts video game Dante's Inferno, the game's producer Jonathan Knight conducted a chat on Gawker's video game website Kotaku. During the chat, Knight said the following:

"The real 'ah ha' moment for me was seeing this really cool map that someone created of the 9 circles of hell...I just looked at that map and said, 'that's a level-based game waiting to happen.'"

Later in the day, Kataku posted a picture of McCulloch's work as the inspiration for the EA video game. According to the plaintiff, the site put 12 versions of the illustration online. (Only a shrunken version remains.)  For doing so, Gawker has been slapped with a copyright infringement lawsuit. 

Sounds like a pretty clear case of "fair use" to us, which is surprising, since McCulloch is represented by Shourin Sen, who runs a decent copyright blog called Exclusive Rights.

Perhaps just as head-scratching is McCulloch's decision to target Gawker in a copyright case instead of video game giant EA, which is now on the record for admitting the game was based, in part, on her artwork. Then again, her work was in turn based on Dante's, who we hear reserved the fourth level of the underworld for copyright sinners.