The famed Menjos in Detroit, Mich., has been accused in a federal lawsuit of copyright infringement for the allegedly unauthorized use of a picture depicting a shirtless male model in its advertisement.
California photographer Michael Stokes filed suit in federal court on Tuesday against the iconic gay bar — which is reportedly one of the oldest and most frequented in the city — saying he never approved the use of the picture showing the shirtless and fit model JR Bronson by Menjos Entertainment Complex.
Menjos used the picture to promote events on Facebook, according to the Detroit Free Press, which reviewed a copy of the lawsuit. Stokes's suit states that the photographer does not want the events to be associated with his work.
“The advertisement created by the defendant not only exploits an American service uniform for liquor sales but also implies patriotism and a celebration of country,” the Free Press quoted from the lawsuit.
The photo, taken in 2013, was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2015. The lawsuit claims the photo was used twice without permission. The first alleged unauthorized use came in 2017 for a Military Might Night promotion with “shot rations specials.”
The lawsuit was initiated after Menjos used the photo a second time in a more recent Facebook promotion for a July 4 event, the paper reports. That more recent post no longer appears on the Menjos Facebook page.
The lawsuit claims Stokes has grown “more selective in the use of his photos since he now works extensively portraying injured British and American veterans of war.”
“The general public familiar with the plaintiff’s work may assume that this image is a veteran of war, and that the (photographer) licensed the image to an entity that makes profit from liquor sales,” the lawsuit states.
Bronson is not an active or former member of the military, according to the lawsuit. "(Stokes) also tempered the use of models partially nude in uniform — when photographing his veteran subjects," the lawsuit reads. It adds that "photographing veterans in partial uniform is controversial and within the armed forces community is often frowned upon."
Stokes has not previously shied away from celebrating the male body. His Instagram feed is filled with pictures of partially naked men in homoerotic settings and situations. His work also does not shy away from depicting the injuries suffered by members of the military in time of war.
"Mr. Stokes is a very unique photographer," Craig Sanders, the New York attorney representing Stokes, told the Free Press via telephone. “This is really more so about controlling the distribution of his images than anything else.”