McCordsville attorney Richard Bell claimed he owned a 20-year-old photo of the Indianapolis skyline, but a federal jury determined he didn’t own the photo. In the past, Bell has used the photo to extract payment from more than 100 businesses and individuals who were unaware Bell claimed to have a copyright on the image.
Bell claimed to be a professional photographer, but it was found he had only been paid one time by his sister for taking pictures.
Indianapolis-based Carmen Commercial Real Estate Services challenged Bell in federal court in 2016 after he attempted to collect $5,000 in payment from the real-estate firm to settle what Bell claimed was copyright infringement. In 2011, when Bell began filing the copyright infringement suits, he was demanding $200 but by 2016, he demanded $5,000 from Carmen Commercial Real Estate Services. In 2018, he was demanding $10,000. This year, Bell filed 22 copyright lawsuits.
Bell claimed to have taken the photo in March 2000, Paul Overhauser, a Greenfield attorney for intellectual-property infringement, said that couldn’t be true because the photo depicted a fountain operating in the Indianapolis canal. An affidavit from the City of Indianapolis proved the city didn’t turn the fountain on until April of each year.
“The jury determined Mr. Bell did not own the photo, which now means all of the defendants he has sued across the country should be able to use this jury finding to get their cases decided in their favor,” Overhauser stated. “And because a prevailing defendant in a copyright suit can usually recover its attorney’s fees, Mr. Bell could be ordered to pay the attorney fees for all of those defendants.”
Bell had sued more than 100 defendants, so his fees could be more than $20 million. According to the American Intellectual Property Law Association, the median cost for defending copyright infringement litigation is approximately $200,000. As Bell has sued well over 100 defendants, his exposure for defendants’ attorney’s fees could be more than $20,000,000 if all defendants move against Bell for the attorney fees and costs incurred in defending the lawsuits he filed against them.