French famous comedian's portrait creating copyright dispute

Published onSeptember 2013

French famous comedian and actor Coluche (Michel Colucci) died in 1986 shortly after initiating and founding the “Restos du Cœur” (literally Restaurants of the Heart), a charity which collects food, money and clothes for the needy and the homeless. His portrait became the symbol of the charity.

Almost thirty years afterwards, a few weeks ago, the photographer Gaston Bergeret who made the portrait filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

Contrary to some rumors, he did not suddenly realize that his work had been used by the charity and wanted to take some financial advantage. He was well aware of that fact for he had initially given for free his authorization that his photograph be used to promote the association. But he claimed that over the years the charity had exceeded what he had authorized, which was especially noticeable during the last yearly fund-raising campaign.

Essentially the photographer claimed that his moral rights had been infringed by the association and its partners or affiliates. Whereas he had agreed (and still agreed) that the portrait be used to promote the charity itself or its activities, he claimed that he had never authorized that it be transformed or altered, that it be reproduced or represented without his name being mentioned, or that it be sublicensed to commercial companies and used to generate profit.

Considering French copyright law provides that the author’s moral rights (right to respect for his name, his authorship and his work) are perpetual, inalienable and imprescriptible, there was little doubt on the issue of such a lawsuit.

Luckily for the charity however, it seems the parties came to an agreement. According to their declarations, the charity undertook to be more vigilant in their using of the photograph and the author decided to abandon all damage claims for the past.

Charity requires charitable people…

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