Two courtroom artists are suing former TV talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell for copyright infringement, accusing her of trying to pass off photographs of their sketches of her as work she produced. The drawings by Andrea Shepard and her mother, Shirley, both courtroom artists, were rendered during the $100 million breach-of-contract trial last year pitting O'Donnell against the publisher of her now-defunct magazine, Rosie. That trial ended in a stalemate, with the judge ruling in February that neither side was entitled to damages. The latest lawsuit, filed in U.S. district court in Manhattan earlier this month and made public Monday night, seeks as much as $1 million in damages, accusing O'Donnell of selling the Shepards' work as if she had created it.
According to a 33-page complaint, the Shepards gave O'Donnell digital photographs of the drawings for the purpose of helping her choose which images she wished to buy. But the lawsuit said O'Donnell instead cut the photos apart; removed the Shepards' names, address, and copyright notice; and made collages of their work, autographing them with her name. "By implication, what Rosie O'Donnell was trying to say was that it was her artwork," Joseph Tacopina, one of the lawyers representing the Shepards in the case, told Reuters on Tuesday.
"Not so," said Cindy Berger, publicist for O'Donnell. "The lawsuit is without merit." She said the courtroom gave O'Donnell contact sheets of thumbnail reproductions of their sketches because they wanted to sell the drawing to her. But Berger insists that O'Donnell "did not enlarge the sketches, nor did she pass them on as her own. She merely used the contact sheets as a small part of her own artwork that combines painting and collage to convey her emotional experience, which at the time was the trial with her publisher." According to the lawsuit, O'Donnell offered the Shepards' drawings for sale in May through Pop International Galleries, Inc., in New York City's SoHo district, and similar artwork showed up at a Key West, Fla., gallery in July.