Airbnb Sued for Alleged Infringement of Photographer’s Copyrighted Work

On Wednesday, photographer Alexander Bayonne Stross filed a complaint in the Northern District of California against Airbnb Inc. and Dan Klores Communications LLC (DKC), alleging that the defendants used his copyrighted photographs in Airbnb advertisements without his consent or a license.

According to the complaint, the plaintiff “is the owner and principal photographer of Stross Stock,” whereby the public can license his work. However, Stross averred that Airbnb and DKC copied his copyrighted works “from the internet in order to advertise, market and promote its business activities.” Reportedly, these purported violations were for advertising and sales promotion purposes done within the scope of the defendants’ businesses.

The plaintiff proffered that the defendants copied 10 copyrighted works. Stross alleged that, when he created the works, he “applied copyright management information to the Works consisting of a copyright symbol, and his name, Alexander Stross, written in faint white writing at the bottom right corner of the images.” Stross purportedly registered each of these works, such as the Modern Guesthouse.

Stross claimed that Airbnb “has never been licensed to use Modern Guesthouse and the Works in this action for any purpose.” However, between when Modern Guesthouse and the other works were created and this lawsuit was filed, Airbnb allegedly copied Modern Guesthouse and the other works without Stross’ permission. Moreover, after Airbnb copied these works, “it made further copies and distributed the Work on the internet to promote the sale of goods and services as part of (its) home rental and vacation platform.”

The plaintiff asserted that his works are copyright protected “but are not otherwise confidential, proprietary, or trade secrets.” The plaintiff included exemplary images of Airbnb’s alleged infringement. The plaintiff proffered that he never permitted Airbnb to “copy, distribute or display Modern Guesthouse and the Works at issue in this case.” Additionally, Airbnb allegedly removed Stross’s copyright management information from the works. The plaintiff also noted that Airbnb distributed these works, including to a media company SFG Media Group that claimed it obtained them by emailing Airbnb’s press email; DKC purportedly provided the works to the media company. Thus, “Airbnb copied and distributed the Works to DKC who then further copied and distributed them to SFG. … SFG then used the eight of the Works on its website.”

Plaintiff Stross stated that he first notified Airbnb of its alleged infringement in April 2019, after which Airbnb did not respond nor remove these copyrighted works, prompting the plaintiff to send another notice, to which Airbnb responded asking for additional information, which the plaintiff provided. The plaintiff claimed that on Aug. 14, 2020, Airbnb stated that it would take down the works; however, on Nov. 6, 2020, the plaintiff again found his unauthorized works on Airbnb’s website, which Airbnb allegedly has not taken down. The plaintiff noted that he then found the Modern Guesthouse photograph again on Airbnb as of April 13, 2021, as well as on various blogs or websites.

The defendants are accused of violating the Copyright Act via willful copyright infringement, removal of copyright management information, as well as vicarious and contributory copyright infringement.

The plaintiff seeks to preliminarily and permanently enjoin the defendants from further infringement; an award for damages, costs, and fees; pre- and post-judgment interest; and other relief.

Stross is represented by SRipLaw.