Playboy Claims ‘Fair Use’ in Copyright Infringement Case

Rhett Pardon
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Calling the complaint “vague and ambiguous,” Playboy Enterprises last week denied that it violated copyright protection laws by publishing a picture of Placerville, Calif., resident-turned-Playmate Colleen Shannon.

Last month, Playboy and Shannon were sued by photography studio owner Carla Calkins, who shot Shannon’s high school portrait in 1996.

Shannon gave Playboy the high school portrait included on her biography page in the 50th anniversary edition of the magazine in 2003, according to the suit, but she did not have permission to reproduce the photograph for public distribution.

Calkins, who owns Mother Lode Photography in Shingle Springs, Calif., is seeking damages, attorneys fees and profit related to the alleged infringement. The suit also asks that Playboy destroy all copies of the issue still in its control.

Calkins' suit alleges Playboy demonstrated “a pattern of willful disregard” for the copyrights of professional portrait photographers.

Playboy, in its rebuttal to the U.S. District Court in Sacramento, said that Playboy is protected by federal “fair use” statutes, allowing material to be used without permission for purposes of illustration or comment.

It also said that neither Calkins nor her studio sustained any financial losses from the photo's use and that Calkins is not entitled to recover damages or legal fees under federal copyright law.

Playboy, represented by counsel from the San Diego law firm Cooley Godward Kronish, called for a jury trial to decide the matter.