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University City Photographer sues NBC, Bravo over photo flap

Michael Eastman says a Bravo reality show contestant made an unauthorized copy of a popular photograph.

University City photographer Michael Eastman filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against NBC Universal claiming the company made an oversized reproduction one of his works for the Bravo television show Million Dollar Decorators without his permission.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Missouri alleges the show documented the unauthorized reproduction of Eastman’s Isabella’s Two Chairs 1999, a photograph Eastman made during a trip to Cuba.

“For perhaps the first time in history, the physical act of infringement – namely, the unauthorized reproduction of a work of art and its massive enlargement into a floor-to-ceiling ‘mural’ of inferior quality – has been captured on film, broadcast worldwide, and featured as the pièce de résistance in a network television show,” Eastman's 19-page complaint says.

Life imitating art

The lawsuit names NBC Universal Media, LLC, Bravo Media, LLC, production company Goodbye Pictures, Inc., Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard as defendants.

Eastman is seeking compensatory damages in excess of $75,000, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees. He also wants Bravo to stop airing the episode.

Bravo's Million Dollar Decorators “gives viewers an unprecedented look into the exclusive and affluent world of high-end interior designers,” according to the show’s website.

Goodbye Pictures, based in Los Angeles, Calif., produces Million Dollar Decorators along with other documentary-style television shows. The company's roster includes the first five seasons of Project Runway and Lifetime’s On The Road With Austin and Santino.

A man who answered the phone at the Goodbye Picture’s Los Angeles office said no one there would not comment on Eastman’s lawsuit.

Credit gets cut?

Bullard, one of the featured designers in Million Dollar Decorators, was tapped to redesign a wall for model and former MTV personality Daisy Fuentes. He’s also worked with the likes of musicians Kid Rock and Elton John.

Jim Marden, Bullard’s assistant, gave a statement Thursday from the designer saying that he gave full credit to Eastman during the show, but that producers edited it out.

“He is a huge fan of Michael Eastman’s work. He has purchased five or six pieces over the years to include in various clients’ projects,” Marden said. “He wanted to highlight Michael’s great talent. He was sad to see that all of the credit he gave to Michael was cut out in the editing process.”

Eastman said Bullard contacted him on Jan. 31 seeking permission to include of one of his pieces in the Fuentes segment to evoke her Cuban roots. Eastman gave Bullard permission to use the work, but said he believed the designer would only use a small black-and-white version of the piece.

Lost in translation

In the Fuentes segment, Bullard shows Fuentes a small color version of the Isabella work and doesn’t say where he obtained the image “which appears to have been downloaded from the Internet and printed in color," the suit says.

The next scene shows Warner Bros. representatives at a Burbank, Calif. Studio where they used an image-enlargement machine to create a 15 feet by 8 feet reproduction of Eastman’s piece, the lawsuit says.

Eastman is also seeking the removal of the enlarged image from Fuentes’ home.

The lawsuit says the unauthorized use of the image has caused harm to Eastman’s reputation within the art world by creating a false impression that he doesn’t honor the obligations attached to the limited edition labels on his works, including the Isabella piece.

“The trust he has built with collectors and potential collectors over the past four decades has been shredded by the willful misconduct of these defendants,” the lawsuit says.

Limited editions

Eastman created 60 signed and numbered copies of Isabella’s Two Chairs 1999 including four large-scale versions that are 8 feet tall by 6 feet wide. All but one of them has been sold, and the piece is expected to be a featured exhibit which opens in September at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.

Reached for comment Thursday, Eastman forwarded all questions to his attorney.

Michael Kahn of the The BrickHouse Law Group in St. Louis said “the complaint pretty much speaks for itself.”

Eastman released a statement on his website dated July 9 just days after the June 28 airing of the episode that featured his piece.

“I never authorize any reproduction of my work outside my limited editions,” he wrote. “I truly appreciate all of your concern and support while I work toward a resolution of this matter.”

Eastman’s work has been featured in Time, Life and American Photographer. His work is also installed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the International Center of Photography, The Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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