This is a wild tale about the perils of renting your house, copyright infringement, and why you should always change you bedsheets after guests stay over. After seeing her home being used in porn videos, an artist copyrighted things that appear on film but does her lawsuit have a happy ending?

When Martha’s Vineyard artist, Leah Bassett, signed an agreement with defendant Joshua Spafford in October 2014 to rent out her home for seven months while she was out of the country, she had no idea that it would be used for much more than the originally agreed to “residential uses.”

Months later in March 2015, Bassett discovered, through promotional emails, that her property was used as a set for up to 14 pornographic videos and countless photographs,  as well as housing for the cast and crew of the adult film company, Mile High Distributions Inc. Needless to say, Bassett never consented to these “alternative” uses of the space, and brought down a 10-count lawsuit against Mile High. Some of the counts include breach of contract, trespass, civil conspiracy and fraud, inflection of emotional distress, and most surprisingly….copyright infringement.

Around September 2016, Bassett filed three certificates of registration with the U.S. Copyright Office regarding unpublished collections of 53 pieces of artwork, including drawings, paintings, photographs, handsewn slipcovers and pillows, wall hangings, collages, painted tabletops, and pottery items. Bassett claims that she never previously registered her works because she “never knew that there was a possibility [she] would have to file a lawsuit.” …Let this be a lesson to other artists out there who are questioning whether to register their works.

On the basis of the copyright claim, the collective group of defendants tried to move for summary judgment using several arguments: invalid registration of “unpublished” items, lack of originality to qualify for copyright protection, the use of the works being de minimis, the defense of fair use, and the fact that plaintiff (Bassett) stated no recoverable damages.

On the first claim, defendants argued that Bassett’s registrations should be invalid because her items were not “unpublished” due to Bassett having a website and an Etsy store. However, defendants did not show any evidence that the copyrighted works themselves were ever displayed on the websites. As for the works’ protectability, copyright law has a low originality standard that owners must meet. The court determined that Bassett’s works did indeed meet this, aside from a few items that would no longer be considered part of the case.

Regarding the next argument, defendants claimed that the use of the works were de minimis based on how little they are displayed throughout the films. The court was unable to determine whether or not the uses were de minimisbecause they had no analysis that measured how long each work was displayed within the films. Shockingly, the court refused to review the films for themselves. For this reason, Bassett, holding the burden of proof, has 45 days to provide an analysis that describes which works appear in which films and for how long.

Next, defendants lost on the defense of fair use. The court determined that Bassett was found favorable for the first three factors (purpose and character of the use, nature of the copyrighted work, and amount and substantiality). The defendants’ use of her works were not transformative, commercial in nature, and displayed substantial amounts of her work in full. However, regarding the fourth factor, potential market impact, defendants were favored because Bassett never intended to sell her copyrighted works, so there wasn’t a potential market being hindered by these uses.

Overall, the court found in favor of Bassett on the majority of these claims except for the de minimis claim until further evidence is provided. Any and all damages are being held until such evidence is provided. So Bassett may wind up with some money from this lawsuits but it probably a big pay day wont be...coming.

Author, Shelby Shilatz-Lewis, is a second year student at Florida State University College of Law with an interest in intellectual property and entertainment law. She is currently a legal intern with Lee Law, PLLC. Crude jokes added by Michael Lee.