CBS Sued for Airing Unlicensed Photos of John Edwards' Mistress

John Edwards - Campaigns Across New Hampshire - 2007
Robert Spencer/Getty Images

CBS has been sued by a celebrity photographer who claims the network's The Insider and The Early Show featured without license his images of Reille Hunter, the mistress of former presidential candidate John Edwards, and her child.

Alan Zanger, a paparazzo noted for his stakeout abilities, filed the copyright infringement claim in New York federal court on Friday.

According to his complaint, Zanger struck an exclusive licensing deal in October 2008 with The New York Post to publish photos of Hunter and Edwards' love child. After the photo was published, Zanger began contacting other media to gauge interest in further licensing of his collection of Hunter photographs. Among the outlets said to have taken a license were Inside Edition and US Weekly

He says that The Insider expressed some initial interest, so he delivered two of his photos for evaluation purposes. There allegedly was no immediate communication after that, and CBS is said to have gone ahead with displaying the photos on its shows.

Zanger says the alleged copyright infringement caused him harm.

"These photographs and the event generated great publicity and is of great interest to the public at large," says Zanger's complaint. "Plaintiff has zealously and deliberately licensed his Reille Hunter with Baby Collection to various news outlets so that Plaintiff and his licensees can maximize the public distribution of plaintiff's Reille Hunter with Baby Collection..."

News that Edwards was having an affair was first revealed by The National Enquirer in 2007 and interest slowly started to build, wrecking the former senator's reputation. He's scheduled to face a jury trial next year for using political donations to hide his affair.

Meanwhile, in recent months, photographers have been more aggressive in going after television networks for featuring their work without license.

In one example, Fox News is being sued for violating the copyright on an image of Assata Shakur during The O'Reilly Factor. In September, Fox News responded to the allegations by claiming fair use, estoppel since the image was allegedly obtained through the FBI, that the use of the image was fleeting and therefore a de minimus non-infringing use, and that the plaintiff's claims were a violation of Fox News' right of free speech and free press under the First Amendment.

Fox News says that the copyright registration on the Shakur photo was made only after the airing, which would foreclose statutory damages. In Zanger's claims, he notes that he was issued a copyright registration in January 2009. Nevertheless, Zanger is seeking damages for willful infringement and enhanced damages for failing to provide him with proper credit. He's also seeking an injunction and disgorgement of profits. 

Zanger is represented by attorney Nicholas Penkovsky.

A CBS News spokesperson gave us this statement:

"We haven’t yet seen the lawsuit and can’t comment on its particulars. We have great respect for copyright protection as a general matter, and it is our practice to ensure that our use of copyrighted material is either authorized by the copyright holder or well within the bounds of fair use.


Twitter: @eriqgardner