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Matteo v. Rubin

December 3, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall


Plaintiff Steven Matteo ("Matteo"), owner and operator of Steve Matteo Photography, contracted with Daryl Rubin to take photos of her daughter's wedding. When the proofs came back after the wedding, the bride was extremely upset with the photos, and as a result, her father, Howard Rubin ("Rubin"), posted many of the photos to a website where he commented disparagingly about the photographer's skills and urged others not to engage him. The wedding photographer, Matteo, now brings this action for copyright infringement under 17 U.S.C. § 106, along with various other claims under Illinois law. First, Matteo alleges that Rubin committed copyright infringement by posting Matteo's pictures to various internet sites. Second, Matteo alleges that Rubin committed defamation by posting the harmful captions along with the photos on the internet. Third, Matteo alleges that Rubin committed invasion of privacy by placing him in a false light by posting the pictures along with various comments about the pictures. Finally, Matteo alleges that Rubin interfered with his prospective economic advantage because Rubin discouraged other potential customers from using his services. Rubin has moved to dismiss this action under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, Rubin's motion to dismiss is denied.


I. The Parties

Plaintiff, Steven Matteo is a citizen of the United States, and a current resident of Illinois. He is a professional photographer, and he is the owner of a sole proprietorship, Steve Matteo Photography which is located in Chicago, Illinois. Defendant Howard Rubin is a citizen of the United States, and is a current resident of Illinois.

II. Matteo's Allegations

In December 2005, Steven Matteo was contacted by Melanie Rubin to photograph her wedding. Compl. ¶ 5. About a month after that conversation, Matteo entered into a contract with Daryl Rubin, Melanie's mother, to photograph her wedding. Compl. ¶ 6. The contract granted a right to reproduction to Daryl Rubin, but Matteo specifically retained all other copyright privileges for himself. Ex. B. The wedding took place in August 2006, and Matteo took about 1,500 digital pictures. In September, Matteo gave an unedited copy of all of the images to Melanie Rubin. Compl. ¶ 7.

Shortly thereafter, Howard Rubin, the father of the bride, contacted Matteo with complaints about the quality of the wedding photographs. Matteo attempted to contact Melanie Rubin about the complaints, but he never received a response. Compl. ¶ 9. On November 9, 2006, Howard Rubin lodged a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. The Better Business Bureau, after investigating the complaint, closed the matter. They found that Matteo had made a reasonable offer to resolve the issues, but that Howard Rubin would not accept that offer. Compl. ¶ 10.

During January 2007, Howard Rubin began to create various websites dedicated to defaming Matteo. The web pages were entitled "Why Not to Hire an Inept Photographer," and they used, reproduced, displayed publicly, and disseminated at least eleven of the wedding photographs. Compl. ¶ 11-13. The pictures that were uploaded also contained various captions used to describe the photographs in a derogatory manner. Compl. ¶ 14. The pictures and captions intended to defame Matteo and to cause him harm. Furthermore, Matteo alleges that Howard Rubin stated that his express purpose was to harm Matteo's business, and he communicated that message publicly over the internet. Compl. ¶ 16; Ex. E. By way of these harmful acts, Matteo alleges that Rubin has infringed his copyrights, has defamed him, has committed false light invasion of privacy, and has interfered with Matteo's prospective business advantage.


The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the legal, not factual, sufficiency of a complaint. See Szabo v. Bridgeport Machs., Inc., 249 F.3d 672, 675-676 (7th Cir. 2001). In general, a complaint filed in federal court need only provide enough detail to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007). Though, the allegations therein must be able to demonstrate that the plaintiff's entitlement to relief is plausible. Id. Although "complaints do not have to anticipate affirmative defenses to survive a motion to dismiss, an exception occurs where. the allegations of the complaint itself set forth everything necessary to satisfy the affirmative defense, such as when a complaint plainly reveals that an action is untimely under the governing statute of limitations." United States v. Lewis, 411 F.3d 838, 842 (7th Cir. 2005) (internal citation omitted). For the purpose of a motion to dismiss, we accept all well-pled allegations as true. MCM Partners, Inc. v. Andrews-Bartlett & Assoc., Inc., 62 F.3d 967, 972 (7th Cir. 1995).

I. Copyright Infringement

To state a claim for copyright infringement, Matteo needs to show: "(1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work that are original." Wildlife Express Corp. v. Carol Wright Sales, Inc., 18 F.3d 502, 507 (7th Cir. 1994), citing Feist. Publications, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 361 (1991). By examining Matteo's allegations as true, Matteo has sufficiently pled that the 1,500 pictures he took in documentary style were original works. See Compl. ¶ 5-7, 20-21. Further, Matteo has sufficiently alleged that Rubin copied his work by posting the original creations onto the internet without his permission. See Compl. ¶ 12, 22-23.

Rubin responds to the complaint, primarily by alleging that "there are no issues to the material facts in dispute" which suggests that he is responding using the summary judgment standard, rather than alleging that Matteo has failed to properly plead a case for copyright infringement. First, Rubin asserts that his wife, who had a right to reproduction under the contract, granted him a sublicense to reproduce the material. Although this response suggests a factual defense, the right to reproduction is one of the rights granted to the owner of a copyright. See 17 U.S.C. § 106. Under Section 106 of the Copyright Act, Matteo retains exclusive rights to reproduce the works, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies of the works, and to perform or display the copyrighted works publicly. 17 U.S.C. §106; see Chicago School Reform Bd. of Trustees v. Substance, Inc., 79 F. Supp. 2d 919, 925 (N.D. Ill. 2000). Matteo never granted a license to the copyrighted material to Howard Rubin according to the allegations nor is such a license claimed in Rubin's response. Even assuming arguendo that Matteo did grant a right to reproduce to Daryl Rubin, the contract, as alleged explicitly stated that he retained all other rights under copyright law for himself. Compl. ΒΆ 6, see also Ex. B. The scope of Matteo's copyright is not limited to the right to reproduce. Matteo alleges in the ...

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