On behalf of a pair of photographers, a California law firm known for aggressive enforcement of copyright claims sent demand letters to Erik Anderson, a resident of Northern California who operates a web site at awardswatch.com devoted to writing about the Academy Awards and similar competitions for film and drama. The letters complained that users of a discussion forum on the website had posted deeplinks to photographs taken by Mark Seliger and Steven Hirsch, thus enabling other forum users to see the photos without the payment of license fees. The letters demanded the payment of roughly $20,000 in statutory damages.
After receiving repeated threats of litigation, Anderson sued the photographer in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California seeking a declaration of non-infringement on the twin grounds that deeplinking is not infringement and, in any event, that the host of an online discussion site is not liable for infringements by discussion site users where the host neither engaged in any volitional act that caused the infringement nor derived a direct financial benefit from the infringement. The photographers told Anderson that they would not sue him for the specific deeplinks over which they had previously threatened him and moved to dismiss his complaint on mootness grounds. Anderson opposed that dismissal because it did not protect him from potential additional suits by the photographers over the deeplinking of others photograph. In March 2020, the district court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss. The photographers then gave Anderson a broad, irrevocable license for deeplinking of all of their photographs, thus ensuring that they could not sue him in the future on infringement grounds based on linking on the forum.