Judge Allows Lawsuit Over Risque Melania Trump Photos

According to the Florida judge, it's enough to allege ownership despite a copyright registration that credits the photographers as the owners.
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Despite a challenge about who really owns the copyrights on a half dozen photographs of first lady Melania Trump in various states of undress, a Florida federal judge on Thursday chose to allow a lawsuit brought by Lickerish, Ltd., a photo-syndication service.

Lickerish is suing Z Lifestyle (WorldLifeStyle.com) and alleging the human interest entertainment website used the photos, which, according to the complaint, have never been licensed. Lickerish further contends the defendant distributed the works on the internet to promote the sale of goods and services.

In reaction, the defendant pointed to the copyright registration.

"This Certificate of Registration states that the photos were created in 1999 by Antoine Verglas, that they were not a work made for hire, and that the copyright claimant — the owner — is the author Antoine Verglas," stated the dismissal motion. "Lickerish is again listed as the Rights and Permissions contact, but not as a claimant or other rights holder."

Lickerish replied that it had satisfied pleading requirements and that it was the exclusive licensee of the copyrights with standing to sue. Z Life retorted that information wasn't in the complaint and that Lickerish "cannot both own the copyrights and be the exclusive licensee; ownership of a copyright and exclusive license to a copyright are different rights and are not interchangeable."

U.S. District Court Judge William Dimitrouleas has decided that the fight over old risque photos of the first lady must continue.

The copyright registration, he writes, "only demonstrates that the photographers were the initial owners of the copyright. The fact that the photographers were the initial owners of the copyrights does not contradict the allegation that Plaintiff was the owner of the copyrights at all times relevant to this copyright infringement claim."

The judge continues, "Defendant argues that if Plaintiff acquired legal or beneficial ownership of the copyright through a transfer, it must allege the transfer occurred. While Plaintiff may need to provide evidence of such a transfer to prove it has standing to enforce the copyrights, at this stage it need only allege ownership."

So the case proceeds. Currently, a jury trial is scheduled for February 2019 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.