October 25, 2016 09:39 AM
A photographer is suing a Minnesota studio and its owner to recover about 3,000 original photographs of Prince.
According to the lawsuit, Beaulieu is a professional photographer who has been employed by Rolling Stone magazine and has independently photographed numerous musicians, celebrities and pop culture figures for decades.
Starting in 1978, Beaulieu photographed Prince, including the photos that were used on album covers and liner artwork for the records “Dirty Mind,” “Controversy” and “1999.”
He also traveled with Prince on three separate world tours and shot countless photos of Prince, including behind-the-scenes photos documenting Prince’s performances and touring life, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says Beaulieu registered his copyrights with the United States Copyright Office. Because he owns the photos, Beaulieu has been able to license the photos regularly throughout his career.
In 1984, as the movie “Purple Rain” was being introduced, Prince’s professional manager offered Beaulieu $250,000 to buy the photos and transfer the copyright interests to Prince, but Beaulieu rejected the offer.
In the lawsuit, Beaulieu said he also recognized the value of the photos and decided to supplement his photography income by licensing the photos. He intended to use that income to support himself throughout his retirement.
Beaulieu has now retired due to age and medical reasons.
Recently, Beaulieu decided to pursue a licensing project by publishing a book of his photos. While formulating the book project, Stockwell offered to help digitize and produce copies.
Beaulieu and Stockwell knew each other from high school many years ago, and Beaulieu said he decided Stockwell could be trusted with the project, according to the lawsuit.
As part of the project, Beaulieu provided 42 copies of some of his photos of Prince to be incorporated into the pitch proposal.
Because Stockwell was helping Beaulieu put together pitch materials for the book project, he had inside knowledge of Beaulieu’s ownership of about 3,000 Prince photos. He also knew Beaulieu was in poor health, according to the lawsuit.
When Prince died on April 21, it created an “unprecedented demand” for Prince’s music and photos, according to the lawsuit.
Beaulieu was constantly being contacted by media outlet and other people around the world asking to license Prince photos for news stories and commercial uses, and Beaulieu said he offered many licenses and photos in exchange for license fees.
Beaulieu said Stockwell became aware of the licensing demands and how much money came in because of them.
Within a month of Prince’s death, Stockwell approached Beaulieu and said he would be “more efficient” at making copies of the photos so Beaulieu could focus on responding to all of the inquiries he was getting for the photos, according to the lawsuit.
In May, Stockwell told Beaulieu, “I have a better scanner. I can scan your photos faster and get them all back to you within two weeks,” according to the lawsuit. Beaulieu said that if he agreed to that, the copies would still belong to Beaulieu, to which Stockwell agreed.
Beaulieu ultimately gave Stockwell his photos so Stockwell could digitally scan them and return the originals and the copies to Beaulieu within two weeks.
The lawsuit says Stockwell made copies of all the photos but never returned the originals nor the copies to Beaulieu. Beaulieu said Stockwell made excuses for returning the photos and then started to talk about his own ideas for “exploiting” Beaulieu’s copyrighted works, which Beaulieu refused, according to the lawsuit.
On Aug. 1, Stockwell told Beaulieu that he had been in contact with someone overseas for the purpose of publishing a book with Beaulieu’s photos and had met with others to talk about what to do with the photos, without Beaulieu’s authorization or approval.
The lawsuit says Stockwell also met with Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson, at the Minnesota State Fair to talk about the photos without Beaulieu’s approval.
In an Aug. 31 email to Beaulieu, Stockwell admitted he was still in possession of the photos and attached a bill to the email, implying Beaulieu would have to pay $24,000 to Stockwell or Studio 1124 before the original or copied photos would be returned, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit contends Stockwell refused repeated requests to return them.
The lawsuit says Beaulieu hired an attorney on Sept. 7, but the photos were never returned. Beaulieu took his copyright infringement concerns to federal court on Friday.
"I have seen images similar to this era being sold in series of photographs at about $1,500 to upwards of $10,000 each," said Mick Spence, an attorney with Hellmuth & Johnson PLLC, who represents Beaulieu.
"Mr. Stockwell, I understand, told Mr. Beaulieu that 'I can do anything I want with these photographs' - just completely ignoring the law and completely ignoring Mr. Beaulieu's rights," Spence said. "He has absolutely no authority to possess them or make copies or distribute copies or sell them without Mr. Beaulieu's consent."
We reached out to Stockwell for a comment, and Stockwell denied there has been any copyright infringement, saying nothing has been published.
He also says he has done more than a year’s worth of work for Beaulieu to help repair, restore, archive and digitalize the photos, and Beaulieu is refusing to pay for it.
He vehemently denied all of the allegations in the lawsuit and said he has previously offered to return the photographs to Beaulieu but hasn't been taken up on his offer.
On Monday, Beaulieu's attorneys showed up at Stockwell's home in Northeast Minneapolis to recover four boxes worth of prints. They are being counted and inspected to check on their conditions.
Stockwell has three weeks to respond to the lawsuit.
Jennie Lissarrague and Beth McDonough
Updated: October 25, 2016 09:39 AM
Created: October 24, 2016 12:00 PM
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