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City of Aiken insurance handing over thousands of dollars following copyright lawsuit

December 12, 2018 GMT

The City of Aiken’s insurance will pay a local photographer thousands of dollars after he accused the city of using his work improperly, allegedly violating copyright law.

On Nov. 16, the city offered judgement to Lance Knowles, the photographer, in the amount of $6,250. The offer is not an admission of liability or guilt.

Three days later, Knowles accepted the offer. A Nov. 27 court filing, signed by the court clerk, states Knowles will recover $6,250 plus interest post-judgement.

On Tuesday, Aiken City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh issued a statement on the matter.

“Our insurance carriers settled the case with Mr. Knowles for $6,250,” Bedenbaugh said. “We are pleased that the matter was resolved, and steps have been taken to ensure something like this will not occur again.”

Knowles sued the city — and named Visit Aiken, SC, as well as the city’s tourism division — in late July. The complaint was filed in federal court.

Knowles alleged the city repeatedly and knowingly used his work, a photo titled “Romantic Walks with Santa Claus,” without his authorization.

Knowles posted the photo, which depicts Mr. and Mrs. Claus walking through The Alley, to his Instagram account, @aikenphotographer, in December 2016, according to court documents and supporting screenshots.

At the time, Visit Aiken, SC — @visitaikensc on Instagram — commented: “What a perfect scene @aikenphotographer.”

About 11 months later, the city used the photo to promote Night of 1,000 lights; in a paid Facebook ad; on the Visit Aiken, SC, Instagram page; and in both a mass email and a mass mailing, according to court documents.

Knowles was given photo credit in some uses by way of an Instagram tag, according to the same information. Knowles, in his complaint, stated this proved his point.

Night of 1,000 Lights is an annual holiday tradition in downtown Aiken; Santa is often seen sweeping in and out of shops, which stay open later than usual to accommodate shoppers.

In his complaint, Knowles demanded a jury trial and requested the court issue a permanent injunction preventing the city from further using his work. Knowles also requested a laundry list of damages and compensation.

The $6,250 offer was inclusive of all damages and legal reimbursement sought, according to court documents.

Knowles is a resident of Aiken County.