Rachel Dolezal dismisses “selfie” copyright case against Paper Mag after legal maneuvering goes awry.
NEW YORK, N.Y. — Five years after she came to national attention for identifying as black woman while being of European ancestry and having no verifiable African ancestry, Rachel Dolezal is again at the heart of a legal controversy. This time, Dolezal filed suit for copyright infringement after Paper Magazine included Dolezal’s public Instagram post as part of their news coverage.
Last summer, Dolezal announced on Instagram that she’s bisexual. Among the pop culture and celebrity media that covered the June 15 announcement was New York-based Paper Magazine, which published a story, including Dolezal’s Instagram selfie which was part of her announcement.
Three months later, a lawsuit filed on behalf of New York company Polaris Images accused Paper Magazine of copyright infringement based on an alleged “exclusive license” to market all images of Dolezal.
The Sept. 3 lawsuit was filed by New York attorney Richard Liebowitz, who was recently called a “copyright troll” by a federal judge due to his prolific litigation history — filing over 1,100 copyright infringement lawsuits over the past three years .
The lawsuit against Paper Magazine sought all profits earned from publishing the photo, plus $150,000 in damages — the maximum allowed under federal law for willful infringement of a copyrighted work.
This time, however, Robert Tauler, Paper Magazine’s Los Angeles attorney, found the way to stop Liebowitz’s deluge of copyright lawsuits stemming from social media posts.
“Our team was able to find a legal loophole in Mr. Liebowitz’s modus operandi, which forced Liebowitz to backtrack and name Dolezal as the plaintiff instead of the original plaintiff, Polaris,” Tauler said. “However, plaintiff’s lawyers can’t switch horses in the middle of a copyright lawsuit, and when we challenged Mr. Liebowitz’s second attempt he was forced to dismiss the case before our motion to dismiss was even heard by the court.”
Liebowitz dropped the lawsuit on Jan. 29, and apologized to U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Polk Failla, explaining that the switch was just a misunderstanding – an explanation Tauler expects to challenge when seeking attorneys fees for his client.
“I believe the loophole we exposed can put an end to endless filing of copyright lawsuits like this one,” Tauler said. “Some copyright attorneys make a living exploiting technical aspects of the law that do not advance any of the objectives of the Copyright Act, let alone provide any benefit to society. Lawsuits like this hurt the legal profession by flooding our courts and draining the resources of legitimate businesses.”
A copy of the lawsuit and Liebowitz’s apology letter to the court can be found here.