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Photographer Files Lawsuit Against Chiefs

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When we toured the New Arrowhead Stadium last summer, the walls of many of the concourses and other parts of the stadium were covered with photos of Kansas City Chiefs players, executives and fans giving it a very cool old-school feel. I actually wrote a blog post about how cool some of the photos were.

Hank Young, a photographer who began taking pictures for the Chiefs PR department as an independent contractor in 1972, says in a federal complaint filed on Monday, a copy of which we've obtained and which was first reported on by The Pitch, that the Chiefs used many of his photos without permission, without compensation and tried to coerce him into giving up the copyrights to his work.

From the complaint describing his relationship with the Chiefs:

Recognizing the potential future value in his art, he retained the right to permit or refuse the use of any photographs for non-editorial purposes. The Chiefs' agreed to and understood that Mr. Young was the author of these photographs and that he retained the right to control their use - an arrangement that was honored for over forty years, paying him additional fees when, for example, they wanted to hang one of his photographs in an Arrowhead suite or use a photograph on a banner outside the stadium or hang a photograph in the concourse.

The problem, Young alleges in the complaint, is that the Chiefs didn't have permission to use many of the photos in the stadium, according to their agreement. He says the Chiefs gave him a "take it or leave it deadline of July 23, 2010" to either assign all rights in his body of photographs to the Chiefs or end his relationship with the Chiefs.

The significance of the deadline is that it's the same date that the media, and Young, took their first tour of the New Arrowhead. Upon discovering the Chiefs had used his photos -- he estimates at least half are his -- he requested a meeting with Chiefs president Mark Donovan.

At the meeting, Mr. Donovan refused to even discuss the unauthorized use of Mr. Young's Photographs and told Mr. Young that he could not pursue a request for compensation for the use of his Photographs and continue as a game day photographer. Consequently, Mr. Young's forty-year relationship with the Kansas City Chiefs came to end.

Also named in the suit are Sprint, Hy-Vee and Time Warner as the Chiefs sold them "for profit sponsorship rights" to areas of the stadium that included his photographs.

The Chiefs knew that they had a forty year history with Mr. Young. They knew that they needed his permission. And, they knew that they needed to pay him. Their attempt to coerce him into assigning all of his rights prior to unveiling New Arrowhead confirms these facts. The Chiefs did not honor tradition, ignored their obligations, and disregarded their duties to Mr. Young under the law. Mr. Young brings this action for copyright infringement in violation of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., and for breach of contract, fraud and negligent misrepresentation in violation of the laws of the State of Missouri.

The Chiefs are aware of the lawsuit but declined comment.