Copyright and the Mantei T’eo Case

By now, every sports fan has heard about the hoax apparently perpetrated against Notre Dame linebacker Mantei T’eo. And though most of the discussion has revolved around whether T’eo can credibly claim to be a victim, a few people have begun discussing whether the perpetrator of the hoax bears legal liability for what he’s done. Most of these discussions talk about the difficulty of holding the perpetrator liable.

Now, I realize that for a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Nevertheless, what about a copyright action against the perpetrator for taking the photos from someone else? Granted, it’s not the most traditional use of copyright, but it doesn’t seem so far-fetched to me. Maybe there wouldn’t be a lot of provable damages, but willful statutory damages (up to $150,000 per infringement – and I believe the perpetrator used multiple photos) could get large enough to really hurt, especially since the perpetrator isn’t a wealthy man.