Too Much, Too Soon? Perfect 10 Sues Tumblr for Copyright Violations

By Devon Glenn 

In what could be a definitive case in the battle for copyright protection against photo-sharing sites, Perfect 10 has sued Tumblr for failing to remove unauthorized nude images from the blogging site. Paid Content had some compelling details on how this lawsuit might succeed where others have failed, but does Tumblr make enough revenue to make the suit worthwhile?

Previously, the publishers of the pornography site and magazine Perfect 10 sued Google for allowing paywall-protected photographs to turn up in the search engine’s results.  The district court ruled in favor of Google in 2006, reasoning that the thumbnail images, which had been resized from the original photographs, constituted fair use of the copyrighted material under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998.

This act also released Internet companies from liability for copyright infringements committed by users. Because the vast majority of users typically share photos for fun rather than for profit, many were concerned when critics suggested that they could be sued for using copyrighted images on sites like Pinterest and Tumblr.

Pinterest’s user agreement was especially controversial, prompting the company to adopt a new policy that gives users a clear method for publishers to report violators and give them a chance to remove the offending material before getting the court system involved.

According to Paid Content, Perfect 10 President Norm Zada claims that his company tried to contact Tumblr about the matter six times, but did not receive a response.

There is even evidence to suggest that Tumblr employees might have posted some of the offending content.  In January, a letter from a Grooveshark employee who claimed to have pirated entire albums was subpoenaed as evidence in a copyright suit between Grooveshark parent company EMG and all four major record labels.

And because Tumblr’s images are not thumbnail-sized, the publisher might be able to prove that they were lifted from the site without alteration.

But how much will Perfect 10 be able to collect from Tumblr? The company’s biggest win in recent memory was when the FBI busted the founders of the file-sharing site, who had made an estimated $175 million in profits from copyrighted material through advertising revenue and premium memberships. But much of the publisher’s lawsuit against the file-sharing site was later dismissed.

Until recently, Tumblr’s sole sources of revenue have been premium blog templates and highlighted posts (and the latter only sold for a dollar.) The company didn’t commit to an advertising revenue model until last week, when it started selling ads on Tumblr Radar and Tumblr Spotlight.

Perfect 10’s lawsuit, though better targeted than its last, might still be premature.

Image by markrhiggins via Shutterstock.