Google has been hit with a lawsuit alleging that it infringed copyright in photos of John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix in a promotion for its music store.
The case, quietly filed late last month in Los Angeles federal court, alleges that Google used a backdrop created by street artist Thierry Guetta to promote Google Music -- the music store that Google launched last November. But Guetta himself allegedly violated copyright with the backdrop, because it included key elements of photos taken by James Marshall, according to the lawsuit.
Marshall's estate is now suing Google as well as Guetta, also known as "Mr. Brainwash," and the subject of the movie "Exit Through the Gift Shop." Guetta is known for graphic art that appears to be based on photos of musicians.
The lawsuit says that Guetta's backdrop included large copies of his depictions of Hendrix and Coltrane. But Guetta's creations allegedly were based on Marshall's photos; therefore, the backdrop infringed copyright, according to the lawsuit.
Google "staged the announcement to the media its launch of its new service called 'Google Music' by displaying the infringing backdrop," the lawsuit alleges. The Marshall estate adds that Google (and others involved in the promotion) "held an invited commercial event that they had the right and ability to supervise, wherein they invited, directed, requested and authorized others, to photograph the infringing backdrop, for the purpose of reproducing the images."
Even if Google licensed the work from Guetta, the company could be liable for infringing Marshall's copyright -- regardless of whether Google did so intentionally.
Google said in a statement that it believes the claims lack merit and that it "will defend vigorously against them."
This lawsuit isn't the first time that Guetta has been hauled into court for allegedly basing his work on copyrighted photos. In a prior lawsuit, brought by photographer Glen Friedman, Guetta unsuccessfully argued that his art made fair use of a photo of the rap group Run-DMC.
In that case, Friedman alleged that Guetta infringed copyright in the photo by incorporating key elements of it into his art. U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson in the Central District of California agreed with Friedman, ruling that Guetta used "substantial" portions of the photo. Pregerson noted in his ruling that the subjects of Guetta's drawing wore the same clothes as in Friedman's photo, were standing in the same poses, and had the same facial expressions. "Defendant took a substantial portion of the photograph ... and the portion defendant took was at the heart of the photograph," Friedman said in a ruling issued last May.