More than 30 copyright infringement suits have been filed against Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the past five years after photographers, artists, and photo agencies learned that HMH had been violating the terms of its licensing agreement, reports PDNOnline.
The textbook publisher had signed licenses limiting the usage of photographs and other media to 40,000 copies, then used the images in print runs of a million or more copies without paying the creators any more—or even notifying them of the change.
Attorney Chris Seidman of Harmon & Seidman LLC has represented most of the plaintiffs and won settlements for about 20 of them.
“The scheme that Houghton employed was to license for the lowest amount it thought it could get away with, and then print whatever it wanted,” Seidman told PDN Online.
In a response to one of the infringement claims, a HMH senior executive told the court that the 40,000-copy limit “became a sort of boilerplate number” and “just an industry convention” that didn’t limit HMH to anything at all.
The judge called that argument “nonsense.”
Then HMH said that all it owed in that case was the price difference between the 40,000-copy license and the 1 million-copy license.
“The judge also rejected the argument, ruling that HMH was liable for not only the license fee but damages in the form of its profits from the infringing publications. HMH’s response to that was that [the photographer]’s pictures contributed nothing to the profits because they were insignificant and added no value to its publications.”
If that was the case, the judge said, why did you bother paying for them in the first place?
Incidentally, HMH has now changed its contract so that new contributors are agreeing to an unlimited license of their work. Watch what you sign.