Photographer and Model Sue Volvo for ‘Willful and Wanton’ Copyright Infringement

Photography News

Automotive photographer Jack Schroeder and model Britni Sumida have filed a major lawsuit against car maker Volvo, accusing the automotive giant of doing significant damage to both of their careers by willfully using Schroeder’s images without permission, after he explicitly denied the company’s request.

The story told by the plaintiffs is problematic for Volvo to say the least. According to court documents, the story begins in April of 2019 when Schroeder enlisted Sumida to come out to the high desert in Southern California for a “superbloom” photo shoot featuring the Volvo S60. This was a portfolio building shoot for both parties, and neither was hired by Volvo to do this.

After the shoot, Schroeder posted some of his photos to Instagram, at which point Volvo’s account reached out twice with a message asking for permission to use the images for free.

The photos are clearly high-quality, professional work, and Volvo was interested in using them for advertising purposes. The first comment posted to Schroeder’s Instagram reads:

We love your post and would like to share it! To accept comment with #yesvolvousa you can read T&Cs at http://live.storystream.it/Volvo-car-us/

The second, posted a week later, said much the same thing:

@jackschroedercreative We think your post is great and would love to share it on our website! To accept mention us in a comment with #YesVolvoUSA. T&C’s at http://live.storystream.it/Volvo-car-us/rights

The problem is that these Terms and Conditions basically allow Volvo to use the images in all media, in perpetuity, for free. Obviously, Schroeder declined, choosing instead to reach out to Volvo over email and offer to license the images on Instagram and several more from his website for commercial purposes.

Schroeder allegedly never received a response from Volvo, and assumed the company wasn’t interested… until he saw his images, including two that never appeared on Instagram, being used on Volvo’s Instagram and Pinterest accounts in November. The images shared to Volvo’s Instagram were posted as Stories, with credit, while those shared on Pinterest included no credit and were even used in the company’s Pinterest account header.

You can see examples of both uses below:

There are two issues with this. First and foremost, the company was explicitly denied permission to use the images. But, perhaps more problematically, Sumida was already in the midst of a campaign for a different car maker, and her contract prevented her from working on any competing campaigns. Schroeder can claim (and is claiming) lost income and the devaluing of his work via willful copyright infringement; but Sumida claims that the unauthorized use of her likeness in Volvo advertising put her career in jeopardy, leaving her in violation of an active contract.

Worst yet, according to the lawsuit, Volvo was anything but apologetic when Schroeder reached out asking that the images be taken down.

After emailing the company twice to point out the infringement and call out the damage being done to Ms. Sumida’s career, it allegedly took Volvo “months” to remove the photos from both Instagram and Pinterest, which only happened after the plaintiffs filed suit. While this was being hashed out, Volvo allegedly sent “an aggressive and intimidating letter” to a company that had worked with Schroeder, threatening to sue them for using images from the test shoot in a 20-second video.

The lawsuit calls this move “nothing more than a transparent attempt to bully Schroeder and Sumida into dropping their claims,” and points to it as proof that Volvo was trying to “strong arm” Schroeder and Sumida into dropping their claims.

We won’t dive into any further details, but you can read the full demand for jury trial below:

“I am doing this for myself and for our entire community,” Mr. Schroeder told PetaPixel when we reached him earlier today. “We have to stand up for our rights and protect our livelihoods.”

To that end, Schroeder and Sumida are now suing Volvo for a combination of “intentional, deliberate, willful, [and] wanton” copyright infringement, unfair competition, and misappropriation of Ms. Sumida’s likeness. A specific dollar amount is not listed, but the plaintiffs are seeking actual and punitive damages, all profits that Volvo made as a result of these advertisements, attorney’s fees, and an order preventing Volvo from using these images again.

If Schroeder can prove that the infringement was indeed “intentional, deliberate, willful, [and] wanton” he would be entitled to damages up to $150,000 per infringed image. That doesn’t include punitive damages, attorney’s fees, or profits that Volvo made as a result of the unauthorized ads.


Image credits: All photos and screenshots by Jack Schroeder, and used with permission.

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