A U.S. appeals court decision in a case involving Louis Feraud, Balmain and an Internet site could have major implications for fashion and the media.

U.S. appeals judge Rosemary S. Pooler kicked back a lawsuit last week that was filed in a lower court on behalf of two French designers against Viewfinder Inc. over the use of fashion runway images that appeared on firstVIEW.com.

Pooler said the U.S. district court, which received the complaint via the Hague Convention on the Service of Extrajudicial Documents, needed to conduct further analysis of the case, which centers on intellectual property rights as well as the First Amendment.

The plaintiffs in the case are design firms Sarl Louis Feraud International and S.A. Pierre Balmain. The original case was filed in a Paris court, in early 2001. Viewfinder did not respond to the complaint, and was then served the lawsuit in New York via the extrajudicial service. The company failed to respond to that complaint, and the French court issued a default judgment against the Web site, saying that Viewfinder was not authorized to publish the images.

Viewfinder was ordered to remove the images, and the plaintiffs were awarded over $100,000 each in damages in addition to fines.

Viewfinder appealed the ruling as the plaintiffs filed separate lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in late 2004. Viewfinder asked the court for a summary judgment and a motion to vacate the prior order, which the district court granted.

In her opinion of the case vacated by the district court, Pooler said, “The district court found that enforcing the French judgments would be repugnant to the policy of New York because it would violate Viewfinder’s First Amendment rights….The district court found that the fashion shows at issue were public events and Viewfinder has a First Amendment right to publish the photographs at issue.”

Pooler said in the discussion portion of her opinion that a key question in the case was whether the French judgments were unenforceable under New York law. The judge also said the record “is unclear as to the manner of protection afforded plaintiffs’ fashion shows by French law as well as the protections afforded to alleged infringers generally, and photographers, specifically, under French law.”

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