The ultimate dream of every concert photographer out there is to be presented with the opportunity to become a tour photographer for a big band. However, it seems that dreams can also turn into nightmares if we are to believe the details exposed in a lawsuit unleashed by ex-Guns N' Roses photographer Katarina Benzova.
The legal battle involves claims of copyright infringement and unsettling workplace sexual harassment. Benzova contends that the band and its management, Team Brazil, falsely asserted ownership over a substantial number of her photographs, unleashing a storm of unauthorized uses across various media platforms. The lawsuit alleges not only copyright infringement but also a workplace environment "completely devoid of any sexual harassment policy, sexual harassment handbook, sexual harassment training, and human resource department", that left Benzova vulnerable to unwelcome advances from Guns N' Roses's manager, Fernando Lebeis.
Benzova's lawsuit comes to light after Guns N' Roses filed their own lawsuit against Benzova in the Central District Of California on Oct. 24 for declaratory relief. Metal Injection was provided with a copy of the document which states: "Ms. Benzova was initially contracted to provide tour photography services for Guns N' Roses in 2010. She worked with the band for 12 years and was paid and treated extraordinarily well. It was only after her services were discontinued in 2022 that she attempted to claim ownership in photos which her contract clearly states are owned by the band. The band takes these types of claims very seriously however all evidence establishes these accusations are categorically and unequivocally false. This response from her comes after the band initiated suit against Ms. Benzova for falsely asserting ownership in the photos of the band."
Benzova's lawsuit – on the other hand – paints a picture of her 12-year stint as a freelancer for the band, emphasizing the lack of formal contracts during substantial periods. She contends that, during these uncontracted periods, she was the sole owner of her photographs and secured 180 Copyright registrations for her work. However, during those same periods, the band and Team Brazil shamelessly "commercialized at least 145 of her photographs" without authorization, leading to widespread infringement across diverse mediums. In addition, she is also seeking a court order that will declare her "the sole owner" of the images she took since 2010, the period she wasn't bound to a written contract.
Benzova claims that Guns N' Roses and Team Brazil made a habit of routinely infringing upon her copyright and that of others, adding that Lebeis once admitted to "knowingly and intentionally infringing upon" her copyrights, "stating that he knew but was too lazy to give her credit," or allegedly going even further to say "she didn't need credit because everyone already knew that she was the photographer of Guns N' Roses."
Adding a darker note to the legal symphony, Benzova alleges a disturbing pattern of sexual harassment by Lebeis, involving unwanted advances, explicit messages, and even unsettling attempts to force himself onto her "trying to force her to kiss him." Benzova asserts that her rejection of Lebeis's advances resulted in a series of retaliatory actions, including financial repercussions – lowering her compensation, withholding money owed to her – and demotions; booking her in cheaper hotels; demanding she would pay for flights Team Brazil had allegedly already agreed to pay for; and more. Benzova's claims portray a toxic dynamic where attempts to assert her rights were met with stonewalling, gaslighting, and psychological manipulation.
Whether this legal clash will be the crescendo to Guns N' Roses' legacy or a mere backstage drama remains to be seen. The allegations, if proven, could tarnish the band's reputation and prompt a reevaluation of the industry's treatment of photographers and freelancers. In the era of #MeToo and heightened awareness, the spotlight on workplace harassment and copyright battles may force Guns N' Roses to confront not just legal consequences but also a potential shift in public perception.