Elite Daily, the viral news website aimed at millennials, is being sued by a noted photojournalist who claims it lifted more than two dozen photos from his years-in-the-making book and reposted them without his permission.
In a scathing legal complaint filed Wednesday, lawyers for Peter Menzel -- a photojournalist with credits in National Geographic and Time -- blasted the self-appointed “Voice of Generation Y” for what they call a business model “predicated on the unauthorized exploitation of others’ artistic work.” They called the alleged copyright violations “willful, intentional and malicious” and are seeking up to $150,000 for each alleged violation, as allowed by the 1976 Copyright Act.
The lawsuit revolves around a 2014 post on the Elite Daily website, which, Menzel claims, consisted almost entirely of photos from his book “What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets.” The lawsuit cites more than 25 photos and said some of the images were altered to remove Menzel’s copyright information.
Published in 2010 by Ten Speed Press, the book explores the diets of people from around the world. Menzel and his wife, Faith D’Aluisio, traveled to more than 30 countries taking photographs and documenting stories, and the lawyers say their hard work was devalued by being shared online.
The lawyers proceed to frame the complaint within a broader context representative of the never-ending conflict between content aggregators and intellectual-property owners:
“This is the struggle of the modern artist -- you spend years traveling the world, conducting research, taking spectacular photographs, meticulously documenting compelling subject matter, and then thoughtfully publish your work, only to have that work copied and reposted by a website that is too focused on racking up page views to respect your rights or comply with copyright law. Links to the site are posted on Facebook and Twitter, those posts are liked and retweeted, driving even more traffic to the offending site (and away from your original content).”
The Elite Daily post cited in the lawsuit was titled, “See the Incredible Differences in the Daily Food Intake of People Around the World.” It appears to have been deleted, although a cached version was still accessible as of Thursday, indicating that the removal was recent. The post credits Menzel and D’Aluisio, but finding the original source material requires enduring a labyrinth of aggregation: The post links to a post from Urban Times, which links to a post from Amusing Planet, which links to posts from NPR and the Village Voice.
Elite Daily did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The young website reportedly has experienced rapid growth over the last few years and has been compared to an early incarnation of BuzzFeed Inc., whose signature listicles have also attracted accusations of copyright theft. Menzel’s lawyers describe Elite Daily as a “ ‘clickbait’ website that primarily publishes short articles misappropriated and unoriginal content.”
In January, Elite Daily was acquired by DGM Media, the U.K.-based publisher of the highly trafficked DailyMail.com, which is no stranger to accusations of theft. The lawsuit does not name DGM, but instead names Elite Daily LLC and 10 unnamed defendants.
Read the full legal complaint here.