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Photographer Takes Rod Stewart To Court For Recreating Her Iconic Photo

By Anthony Thurston on September 7th 2014

In photography, like any creative field for that matter, we get ideas from viewing the work of others. We all pull from each other to learn and grow as artists. That is what makes this latest lawsuit so interesting – it’s not regarding someone using a photo without permission, but rather after failing to get a license on a photo, the defendant recreated the photo.


At least, that is what is alleged in this new lawsuit between celebrity photographer Bonnie Schiffman and musician Rod Stewart. According to Schiffman, after failing to come to an agreement on a license for her photo on a billboard advertisement, Stewart had her photo recreated.

[REWIND: Getty Sues Microsoft over new Bing Image Widget]

The photo at the center of this whole ordeal was originally licensed by Warner Bros for Stewart’s 1989 anthology “Storyteller.” In 2010, Schiffman was approached by Stewart’s agent wanting to license the photo on a billboard ad, and offered to pay $1500, which Schiffman turned down.


She was surprised to see, later on, that Stewart (or his team) had the photo recreated and used in the advertisement. So, Schiffman is suing sued Stewart, calling the recreation a “replicate image, an unmistakable copy.”

Schiffman is looking for injunctive relief, and at least $2.5 million in damages. There is precedent for this: back in 1992, in the case of Rogers vs. Koons, it was found that the image had “substantial similarity” to the original. So, Schiffman may have a case here.

What Are Your Thoughts On This Schiffman vs Stewart Case?

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Personally, I can see both sides to the argument here. In most cases, simply copying another photographer’s photo/concept (while adding your own twist or flair) is just a way of life. Where this gets murky for me, is the fact that they came to Schiffman, asked for a license, and when she wanted more than they wanted to pay, they just paid some other photographer to recreate her image. That may not be where this legal fight happens, but to me, that is reason enough for Schiffman to be compensated here.


What are your thoughts on this lawsuit? Do you side with the photographer or musician in this case? Leave a comment below!

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Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Mark Iuzzolino

    After speaking to an Intellectual property lawyer, this photographer has a case. There is already case law on a similar case but regarding music. He said she may not get the $2.5 million, but after some litigation will most likely settle for $50.000 or more. Stewart was definitely in the wrong.

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  2. Ian Cummings

    The photographer was offered money for the work, she refused so they went and created their own picture using another photographer. Surely she doesn’t have copyright on all similar photographs. Lots of photographers copy other people’s work – seems crazy to me although I’m in the UK and we don’t have the same laws as the US.

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  3. Peter Nord

    One unanswered question, was the image registered with the copyright office? Would you ask a photographer for advise on your brain surgery? Why would you ask a photographer for advise on a complicated legal issue with lots of case law from the federal court? I notice there are no opinions from an intelectual property lawyer here.

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    • Mark Iuzzolino

      I do work with a lot of intellectual property lawyers. So my comments above are based on my lay opinion getting experience through osmosis. I will ask one the next time I see one and see what they say. Good point.

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  4. Mark Iuzzolino

    It all comes down to where you are in your career, life and experience level. In my line of work after 35 years, I get calls for work that I turn down all the time. Sometimes it’s just not worth my time or talent. There are some who would take that work because they are desperate or have way less experience than I do. I don’t fault the ones that take that work but many who do would not be qualified or competent enough to take the caliber of work I do.

    So regarding taking $1500 for a photo of a mega star in the music industry for some would be an easy decision. This woman is obviously in a different place of experience and competence in her life than many if not all of us. And the amount of damages is not always based on what the photo is with. That’s why they call it damages. There are many things that go into damages: what money the artist receives because of this photo/ad, what the photographer feels the photo was worth, the fact that Stewart obviously copied AFTER trying to work out a purchase price, and the fact that this image is very recognizable. Any way you look at this, she is in the right here. If this was on a smaller venue where maybe someone is just copying another photog’s work for some fun, that’s a different story. This is an iconic music artist with a VERY recognizable image. She will win. And I think she should win. And I don’t think she is a b@&$% for doing so.

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  5. Jeff Morrison

    For work that she has been paid for in the past. I am not sure what the going rate is on a old add photo design project that is 25 years old. Maybe more than $1500.00. But suing for $2.5 Mil. No that’s not right. If i had a photo that was used in a ad 25 years ago and they wanted to use it again (no work for me or cost to me….I would be all over it. Having someone coming back after that length of time to use your work again.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Jeff, you should read up on some of the prices that the likes of Annie Leibovitz has been paid to do photo shoots over the years. Theyre almost always in the millions. Just saying that legally speaking here, the photographer has a shot at those “damages”…

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    • R Stone

      If you took a photo 25 years ago, but since then had lots of trouble finding work, you might refuse to license the old photo until someone was willing to sign a contract with you for new work taking new photos. Don’t know if that’s the issue here but not everything is as simple as a one time payment, especially if you don’t have a job with recurring income and need one.

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  6. Matthew Saville

    At first glance, I feel like this is just another example of rich people looking for ways to avoid parting with their money.

    Sure, the case could be argued either way, it’s not like a photographer can trademark such a simple overall concept. But the fact that they just blatantly said “thanks for the idea, we’ll take it from here, now get lost” …is just a slap in the face to all photographers.

    The thing that gets me is that the reproduction is a piece of crap compared to the original. Really? Rod Stewart can’t even tell the difference between art and cheap stock crap? I give up…


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  7. Juric Aleksandar

    What’s going on here?! I personally don’t see what’s the point about this lawsuit. Is this woman holding a patent on all b/w portraits done from behind?! Or did she patented this wacky Rod Stewart’s hairdo?! There is also a question did she originally portrait him halfway or was it a designer’s twist when making the original cover. Whatever the case, just adding the purple background makes this new image completely different story from the original. Man was decent enough to offer the fair amount of money for the original one, but the greedy $%&# refused. I do graphic design and illustration, and in my line of business we could be suing each other for the rest of our lives for things like this. In the end, just look at the movie posters. They all look alike.

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  8. Rambo Estrada

    I would have taken the $1500

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