'Cosmos' Host Neil deGrasse Tyson Sued Over Portrait Use, 'StarTalk' Profits

The Emmy winner is being sued for copyright infringement and fraud by his former business partner.
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Renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is being sued by a photographer who says the scientist has been using his photos without permission and surreptitiously forced him out of a company he co-founded.

The story begins in 2006, when David Gamble says he approached NASA employee Helen Matsos about turning her podcast into a radio show and they together approached Tyson about hosting the show at a barbecue in the Hamptons. 

They each ponied up $10,000 in 2007 to form Curved Light Productions and produce the pilot, but afterward the StarTalk series received grant funding from the National Science Foundation. Gamble says he was responsible for hiring talent, handling bookings and ensuring the shows were produced within budget.

In 2011, Gamble was battling a genetic kidney disorder that required daily dialysis treatments. He insists he continued to meet his duties for the show, but says Matsos and Tyson began "systematically excluding" him from decisions. 

"On or about August 2012, Matsos and Tyson approached Gamble and informed him that he was spending too much time on dialysis and that, as a result, he should cease receiving his customary production fee — Gamble's sole source of income at the time — and instead, receive a monthly consultant fee of $1,000, for a term of one year only — subject to renewal only upon mutual consent of the parties," writes attorney Olivera Medenica in the complaint. "By majority vote, the members of CLP reduced his income, which previously averaged $4,500 per month, to $1,000 per month."

He eventually sold his interest in the company to Matsos and Tyson for $350,000, according to the complaint, but claims they defaulted on the payments. Gamble says in an effort to "settle" the matter, he agreed to an amended agreement which effectively lowered the amount he would be paid — which he claims he only agreed to because Tyson told him he was leaving StarTalk. Afterward he discovered CLP had signed a television deal with National Geographic. 

Gamble is also suing Tyson for allegedly using his photos without permission. In 2008, Gamble says he took a portrait of Tyson for his then-upcoming book The Pluto Files. He licensed the photo to Norton Publishing for use in the book, and gave Tyson permission to use a small electronic file on the Hayden Planetarium website, according to the complaint. He claims he later discovered that photo and others he had taken of CLP guests and at related events for his own purposes had been used to promote StarTalk.

"To make matters worse, it appeared Tyson had used the Tyson Portrait for purposes of promoting his media appearances throughout the country on shows such as An Evening with Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Neil deGrasse Tyson Live!" writes Medenica. "This includes large scale posters promoting Tyson's shows, and, incredibly, highway billboards."

He also alleges that Tyson admitted to printing out more than 1,500 copies of the portrait which he signed and sent to StarTalk donors. The photographer says his photos, which are displayed in museums around the world including the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and London's National Portrait Gallery, sell as limited-edition prints for anywhere from $3,500 to $20,000. He's suing for copyright infringement, fraud and breach of contract. 

Reps for Tyson could not immediately be reached for comment on the lawsuit, which is posted below. 

Renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is being sued by a photographer who says his photos have been repeatedly used without permission and he's been forced out of a company he co-founded with the scientist.

David Gamble says he approached NASA employee Helen Matsos about turning her podcast into a radio show and in 2006 they together approached Tyson about hosting the show at a barbeque in the Hamptons. 

They each ponied up $10,000 in 2007 to form Curved Light Productions and produce the pilot, but afterward the "StarTalk" series received grant funding from the National Science Foundation. Gamble says he was responsible for hiring talent, handling bookings and ensuring the shows were produced within budget.

In 2011, Gamble was battling a genetic kidney disorder which required daily dialysis treatments. He insists he continued to meet his duties for the show, but says Matsos and Tyson began "systematically excluding" him from decisions. 

"On or about August 2012, Matsos and Tyson approached Gamble and informed him that he was spending too much time on dialysis and that, as a result, he should cease receiving his customary production fee – Gamble’s sole source of income at the time – and instead, receive a monthly consultant fee of $1,000, for a term of one year only – subject to renewal only upon mutual consent of the parties," writes attorney Olivera Medenica in the complaint. "By majority vote, the members of CLP reduced his income, which previously averaged $4,500 per month, to $1,000 per month."

He eventually sold his interest in the company to Matsos and Tyson for $350,000, according to the complaint, but claims they defaulted on the payments. Gamble says in an effort to "settle" the matter, he agreed to an amended agreement which effectively lowered the amount he would be paid — which he claims he only agreed to because Tyson told him he was leaving StarTalk. Afterward he discovered CLP had signed a television deal with National Geographic. 

Gamble is also suing Tyson for allegedly using his photos without permission. In 2008, Gamble says he took a portrait of Tyson for his then-upcoming book The Pluto Files. He licensed the photo to Norton Publishing for use in the book, and gave Tyson permission to use a small electronic file to use on the Hayden Planetarium website, according to the complaint. He claims he later discovered that photo and others he had taken of CLP guests and at related events for his own purposes had been used to promote StarTalk.

"To make matters worse, it appeared Tyson had used the Tyson Portrait for purposes of promoting his media appearances throughout the country on shows such as An Evening with Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Neil deGrasse Tyson Live!" writes Medenica. "This includes large scale posters promoting Tyson’s shows, and, incredibly, highway billboards."

He also alleges that Tyson admittied to printing out more than 1,500 copies of the portrait which he signed and sent to StarTalk donors. The photographer says his photos, which are displayed in museums around the world including the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittshburgh and London's National Portrait Gallery, sell as limited edition prints for anywhere from $3,500 to $20,000. He's suing for copyright infringement, fraud and breach of contract. 

Reps for Tyson could not immediately be reached for comment on the lawsuit, which is posted below. 

 

Gamble v Curved Light Productions by ashley6cullins on Scribd

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