Artist Steven Cogle Sues Disney for Using His Paintings in TV Show Without Permission

Artists are always fighting to be properly recognized for their work, but imagine: What if you were sitting on your couch one day watching TV and recognized your painting in the background of a scene without approving its being there? That’s exactly what the artist Steven Cogle is saying took place. On Oct. 28, Cogle

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Artists are always fighting to be properly recognized for their work, but imagine: What if you were sitting on your couch one day watching TV and recognized your painting in the background of a scene without approving its being there?

That’s exactly what the artist Steven Cogle is saying took place. On Oct. 28, Cogle filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against The Walt Disney Company in which he alleges that the Fox Network, which is owned by Disney, featured some of his artwork in a medical drama series called The Resident without first obtaining his permission.

In the scenes in question, the actor Morris Chestnut checks out two paintings, Cogle’s Basketball and Paparazzi, in an art gallery. According to the artist, in July of 2019, he received an email from Consuela Schofield-Morrison stating that she was the principal of the production company Reel Girls Films, and that the company was looking for an artist to have work featured in The Resident.

Morrison’s business partner Daphne Pittman Hayes then was established as the interim buyer for The Resident, but according to Cogle, he never signed any documents provided by Hayes or anyone else related to the project authorizing that his artwork be used in the show. The Daily Beast reached out to Hayes, who had not previously been aware of the lawsuit and who declined to comment on the record.

Hayes “asked for and received work from Mr. Cogle, but the understanding that he reasonably had was that before a decision was finally made to use the work, he would be sent some paperwork, and the compensation and the terms under which the work was going to be used would be discussed, and he never received that communication,” Brian Robinson, Cogle’s attorney, told The Daily Beast.

Scenes from “The Resident” featuring the art in question.

Courtesy Steven Cogle

Instead, the complaint alleges, someone named Muneer Pittman, who may be a relative of Hayes, represented himself falsely as Cogle’s agent and received payment once he’d licensed the artist’s paintings to Disney without his consent, payment which Cogle says he has yet to receive. The Daily Beast reached out to Cogle, Disney, and The Resident for comment.

After discovering that his work was used without his final approval, Cogle reached out to Disney to try to resolve things, the complaint states. At the time of this initial contact, Cogle’s work had not been registered with the U.S. copyright office.

The Resident has gone into syndication, and is aired on Hulu, and that is really the thrust of our claim that the copyright is being infringed upon, because they continue to show his works without his permission

After Cogle’s first dispute with Disney, which ultimately proved inconclusive, he registered his artwork with the U.S. copyright office.

The Resident has gone into syndication, and it currently is aired on Hulu, and that is really the thrust of our claim that the copyright is being infringed upon, because they continue to show his works without his permission,” Robinson explained.

“If the artist had registered his work with the copyright office before the infringement occurred, he would be entitled to statutory damages and attorney’s fees,” Jane C. Ginsburg, the Morton L. Janklow Professor of Literary and Artistic Property Law at Columbia University, told The Daily Beast. “Unfortunately for the artist, even though Disney is allegedly continuing to infringe his work even after he registered it, if they started infringing his work before he registered it, he’s stuck. Courts are pretty clear that if you register the work that was already infringed and it’s a continuing infringement, you can’t collect statutory damages or attorney’s fees.”

Steven Cogle describes the current status of some of the art.

Courtesy Steven Cogle

Plus, fighting a company as vast as Disney will likely be an uphill battle. “If all you can get are statutory damages, it’s almost certainly not going to be as much as it will cost you to get the case rolling in federal court, and unfortunately most small copyright owners don’t understand this. They should register the work as soon as it’s published, because otherwise, they just can’t afford to bring a copyright action,” Ginsburg said. “There’s now a new Copyright Small Claims Board that gives up to $30,000 in damages for claimants who can’t really afford a full-blown copyright action, but that’s a whole different story.”

Original work by Cogle that he provided to Hayes called Redface and 3 Generations is also missing, Robinson said.

Robinson declined to comment on the dollar amount in damages Cogle is seeking.

The Walt Disney company is no stranger to lawsuits: in August, the company was sued by a consumer rights group over Disney+ price increases.

In September, the company settled another copyright infringement lawsuit filed in 2017 by writers Arthur Lee Alfred II, E. Ezequiel Martinez Jr. and Tova Laiter, who claimed that they’d pitched Disney the original idea for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and that the studio ripped off their spec screenplay without crediting them.

The terms of the Pirates settlement were not disclosed.

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