NY Fire Department Sued for Copyright Violation

A Long Island fire department is facing a rather unusual type of lawsuit for a fire department: it stands accused of violating the Copyright Act of 1976. Photographer William P. Kelly, Jr. is suing the Oceanside Fire Department alleging the department used ten of his photographs in a book about the department without his permission.

The suit was filed last month in US District Court for the Eastern District of New York. From the complaint:

  • Over the course of many years Kelly captured numerous photographs of the Oceanside Fire Department (the “Photographs”).
  • In or around August, 2018, Oceanside FD published and offered for sale a book featuring text and images about the Oceanside FD (the “Book”).
  • The Book prominently featured the Photographs.
  • The cover of the Book states that all photos in the Book “have been published with permission.” However, Oceanside FD did not license the Photographs from Plaintiff for the Book, nor did Oceanside FD have or even seek Plaintiff’s permission or consent to publish the Photographs in the Book.
  • Oceanside FD created 800 books for sale to the public.
  • Oceanside FD infringed Plaintiff’s copyright in the Photographs by reproducing and publicly displaying the Photographs in the Book.
  • Oceanside FD is not, and has never been, licensed or otherwise authorized to reproduce, publically display, distribute and/or use the Photographs.

The complaint includes two counts, copyright infringement under 17 U.S.C. §106 and a violation of 17 U.S.C. §1202 for “intentionally and knowingly” removing copyright management information identifying Kelly as the photographer of the Photographs.

Incidentally, I have 9010 cases in my fire service litigation database. This is the first case alleging a copyright violation. The closest cases I have are trademark infringement cases, and there are only two of those. In one case a fire department accused a third-party of infringing on the department’s logo, and in the other an IAFF local accused a third party of infringing on their logo. The Oceanside case would therefore be the first where a fire department is accused of an intellectual property violation.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Kelly v Oceanside Fire Department

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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