See the pic above? It's not a particularly flattering shot of Ranaan Katz, the real-estate magnate and minority owner of the Miami Heat. Katz is not a fan of the photo. In fact, he's spent the past three years in court trying to force Google and a local blogger to stop using it.
Embarrassing tongue-wag or not, an appeals court has handed Katz a resounding loss in the case, ruling that the blogger had "fair-use" rights to use the pic and that Katz's claims of copyright infringement weren't valid. Why? For the simple reason that Katz bought the copyright with the express intent to wipe the photo off the internet.
"The photo is merely... a candid shot in a public setting," the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals writes. "Katz took the highly unusual step of obtaining the copyright and initiating this lawsuit specifically to prevent its publication."
But Katz's attorney says it's a mistake to read this situation on its surface. Katz went after the blogger only because — in the posts that used the embarrassing pic — she repeatedly defamed him, says lawyer Alan Kluger.
"It's just not as cut-and-dried as rich guy for vanity purposes files a lawsuit," Kluger says. "This was all part of his constant battles to fight her defamation."
The story of the pic and its legal fight traces back to 2011, when Katz sued in Miami-Dade Civil Court a woman named Irina Chevaldina, a disgruntled ex-tenant from a shopping center Katz owned. Chevaldina took out her rage on the landlord in a blog called rkassociatesusa.blogspot.com, which accused the Heat owner of various alleged nefarious schemes.
The next year, Katz took a new tack by filing another suit, this time in federal court, against Google and Chevaldina. While the state case argued she'd defamed him, the federal case claimed copyright infringement over that glamour shot seen above.
It was a novel argument, as the 11th Circuit Court notes, because Katz had bought the rights from an Israeli photographer who'd initially sold the photo to Israeli news site Haaretz. The court has some fun with whether the photo is indeed as embarrassing as Katz seems to believe. (Katz even blacked out his own face in one legal complaint, noting that "it has been partially distorted due to its unflattering nature.")
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"Katz considers the photo unflattering and embarrassing," the 11th Circuit writes in its judgment. "We make no independent determination as to whether the photo is unflattering or embarrassing... [but] we accept Katz's own characterizations of the photo as aesthetically displeasing."
That doesn't mean Chevaldina can't use it, though. The court ruled that because she'd paired the photo with posts criticizing Katz — and because there was no evidence she'd made any money off the pic — he had no case.
Kluger says this doesn't mark the end of the legal fight, though. Back in state court, Katz has had better luck, winning a judgment for defamation against Chevaldina. She's appealed that ruling, and a hearing on the matter is scheduled for October 9. (Chevaldina's attorneys in that case didn't immediately respond to messages from New Times.)
"This is not a case about censorship or vanity; this is a woman who unrelentingly harassed Mr. Katz," Kluger says. "He's trying to stop this woman."