Early last week, it came to light that a National Geographic photographer named Louis Psihoyos is suing Apple for $2 million in damages because an iPhone app called “i.TV” uses one of Psihoyos’ pictures without permission.
The image in question is called “The Information Revolution, 500 Monitors” and shows a person sitting in a chair surrounded by hundreds of monitors. The image itself was copyrighted in 2005, so there’s no issue of contention there. What’s interesting, though, is that Psihoyos is suing Apple and not the actual developer of the i.TV app.
Psihoyos’ lawsuit alleges that Apple is not a “tacit participant in applications on its iPhone”and that it “functions as a partner, reviewing each application and removing those applications that do not conform to Apple’s standards.”
Those are valid points, but they don’t address the implied requirement that Apple must ensure all photos used on the iTunes App Store don’t run afoul of copyrighted material. Apple revealed late last week that it receives over 8,500 new iPhone applications every week, a figure which would make it impossible to thoroughly review each app for copyrighted images and/or sounds.
We should point out that this isn’t the first time an iPhone app has been accused of using copyrighted material. In previous instances, Apple was notified of the offending app by the copyright owner, and subsequently removed the app from the app store. Most recently, a Nintendo DS emulator was removed from iTunes, though the infringement in that case was obviously much more overt.
Still, Psihoyos’ lawsuit raises an interesting question – To what extent is Apple liable for the content of iPhone apps?
While much of copyright law operates on a case to case basis, this particular case seems to fall in Apple’s favor. Suing Apple for $2 million without first contacting the actual offending party, and without first notifying Apple of the infringement doesn’t work in Psihoyos’ favor at all.
We can only hope that this lawsuit isn’t a money grab, but merely a means to direct Apple’s attention to the matter as quickly as possible. If it is a money grab, Psihoyos’ will most likely lose, and waste a lot of money on legal fees in the process. That said, we’d be surprised if the offending pic or app isn’t removed sometime this week.