Artist sues the Maryland environment department for allegedly using his fish illustrations

An example of Joseph Tomelleri's illustrations as provided in court records.

An artist and biologist from Kansas has filed a $1 million copyright infringement lawsuit against the Maryland Department of the Environment for using his fish illustrations on their website.

Joseph R. Tomelleri accuses the state Environment Department and an unidentified “John Doe” of reproducing and displaying “at least seven” of his illustrations on the state website without his permission.


Jay Apperson, a spokesman for the environment department, said in an email, “we will review the complaint and respond appropriately.”

The complaint, filed last week in the U.S. District Court in Maryland, alleges the environment department modified and created derivative images from Tomelleri’s work. Those images were then reproduced and displayed on the website to be viewed by “individuals all over the country,” the suit says.


"As a result of [the environment department’s] above-described acts of copyright infringement, [Tomelleri] has sustained damages including lost licensing revenue in an amount not yet ascertained, and profits that should be disgorged to [Tomelleri],” the suit says.

The complaint describes Tomelleri as a “preeminent" illustrator who has spent more than three decades collecting, studying, and illustrating North American fish species. He has reportedly created over 1,000 hand drawn illustrations of fish in various life cycles, including over 900 illustrations of unique species.

Tomelleri uses a website to license his fish drawings for advertisements, magazines, guides, books, websites, posters, signage, and clothing, among other uses. He spends “many hours” researching fish in the field before he spends “many more hours” drawing them, the suit stated.

Tomelleri’s copyright information is prominently placed in at least two locations on his works, the suit stated. The complaint alleges the environment department used images that are “substantially similar” to Tomelleri’s works.

Tomelleri’s suit also lists John Doe as a “currently unidentified individual who caused infringing images to be displayed on Maryland Department of the Environment’s website.” Tomelleri is asking the court to make the department either pay him for any profits made from the images, or to pay him “up to $150,000 per work infringed.”

The complaint is also asking the court to stop the environment department from using his works, and to destroy any of the images used in relation to the allegations.

Neither Tomelleri nor his attorneys responded to requests for comment over the weekend.