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Judge dismisses case against Illustrators’ Partnership of America

I knew there was an organization that collected and distributed orphaned royalties, but wasn’t aware of the legal tussle between the Graphic Artists Guild (GAG) against the Illustrators’ Partnership of America (IPA) – both trying to control the $1.5 million of royalties. A New York Supreme Court has dismissed the case brought by GAG against IPA. I’m posting the press release which can explain things better than I. I should also note that both the AAEC and NCS belong to IPA.

Last week the New York State Supreme Court, New York County, dismissed all claims in a million dollar lawsuit brought by the Graphic Artists Guild (GAG) against the Illustrators’ Partnership of America (IPA) and five named individuals.

In the lawsuit, GAG asserted claims for defamation and interference with contractual relations, alleging that IPA had interfered with a “business relationship” GAG had entered into that enabled GAG to collect orphaned reprographic royalties derived from the licensing of illustrators’ work. GAG alleged that efforts by IPA to create a collecting society to return lost royalties to artists “interfered” with GAG’s “business” of appropriating these orphaned fees.

In her decision, Judge Debra James ruled that statements made by the Illustrators’ Partnership and the other defendants were true; that true statements cannot be defamatory; that illustrators have a “common interest” in orphaned income; and that a “common-interest privilege” may arise from both a right and a duty to convey relevant information, however contentious, to others who share that interest or duty.

Regarding a key statement at issue in the lawsuit: that GAG had taken over one and a half million dollars of illustrators’ royalties “surreptitiously,” the judge wrote:
“Inasmuch as the statement [by IPA] was true, [GAG]’s claim cannot rest on allegations of a reckless disregard of whether it was false or not. Truthful and accurate statements do not give rise to defamation liability concerns.”

And she noted:

“The plaintiff Guild has conceded that it received foreign reproductive royalties and that it does not distribute any of the money to artists.”

Labor Department filings provided as evidence to the court document that between 2000 and 2007, GAG collected at least $1,581,667 in illustrators’ reprographic royalties. GAG admitted to having collected similar royalties since 1996. GAG’s officers have repeatedly refused to disclose how much money their organization has received to date or how the money has been spent.

DUTY AND COMMON INTEREST
The judge concluded that this situation justified an assertion of common interest by IPA. This means that “the party communicating [relevant information] has an interest or has a duty” to convey that information truthfully to others “having a corresponding interest or duty”:

“The duty need not be a legal one, but only a moral or social duty. The parties need only have such a relation to each other as would support a reasonable ground for supposing an innocent motive for imparting the information. Here the plaintiff Guild’s factual allegations demonstrate that the defendants’ statements were both true, and fall within the parameters of the common-interest privilege.”

We hope this decision will end the two and a half years of litigation during which GAG pursued its claims against IPA and artists Brad Holland, Cynthia Turner and Ken Dubrowski of IPA, as well as attorney Bruce Lehman, former Commissioner of the US Patent Office and Terry Brown, Director Emeritus of the Society of Illustrators.

Community Comments

#1 Ted Slampyak
April/28/2011
@ 11:08 am

Wait a minute — the Graphic Artists’ Guild has been receiving foreign royalties on behalf of illustrators — presumably its members — since 1996, and none of that money went to the illustrators?

Am I reading that correctly? Was that part of the agreement between the GAG and the illustrators involved? Or does the GAG have some back payments and a big ol’ apology due to lots of its membership?

#2 Jonathan Lemon
April/28/2011
@ 12:21 pm

As a member of the Author’ Coalition since 2002, the Graphic Artists Guild collects non title specific money by foreign RRO’s through mass photocopying of works copyrighted in the US. The IPA and many other organizations also relieve money from this fund which is essentially royalties with no names connected with them. As a non-profit group the Graphic Artists Guild uses their portion of the money for advocacy on behalf of their members. Members themselves do not receive payouts.

Also, note that the lawsuit was not about distribution of this money. It was about defamatory statements made by the IPA. The Graphic Artists Guild is appealing this decision.

Full statement from GAG regarding the lawsuit here:

http://www.graphicartistsguild.org/typeroom/assets/uploads/Guild_appeal_4.28.11.pdf

#3 Dave Stephens
April/28/2011
@ 3:29 pm

True statements are NOT defamation – cool!

Advocating the rights of artists with money culled from abuse of artists? PRICELESS!!

#4 Daniel Vasconcellos
May/3/2011
@ 4:27 pm

Jonathan Lemon, and fellow artists,

Having followed this case from the start I feel very strongly that artists should read the facts presented by both sides for themselves.

Here’s the link to all the Ecourt documents submitted in this case. (Except those blocked by the Graphic Artist Guild’s attorney)

http://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/webcivil/FCASJcaptcha?forward_url=/webcivil/FCASSearch%3FtxtIndex%3D109149/2008%26cboCounty%3D30%26from%3DY

Enter the code.

Click on “Index Number: 109149/2008”

Click on “Filed Documents”

Read for yourself… straight from the plaintiffs (Graphic Artists Guild leadership) and the defendants (Illustrators Partnership of America leadership, etc.)

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