Historian suing Islip Town
Plaintiff Thomas Santorelli, who is suing Islip Town over copyright infringement, also runs the Long Island Film Festival. He is pictured here in an earlier photo presenting awards.

Photo by Juanita Rahaman

Historian suing Islip Town

Story By: RICK CHALIFOUX
11/19/2015


ISLIP TOWN—A Bay Shore resident recently filed a civil action lawsuit against both the Town of Islip and the Bay Shore Historical Society seeking injunctive relief for copyright infringement over informational material published on the Town of Islip website that he claims was posted without his permission or consent.

The plaintiff, Thomas Santorelli, is a historian of early American cinema and has written extensively about aspects of film. 

“My work is known for its high quality, and my knowledge is so extensive that I have been cited in many history books,” said Santorelli. “I was also involved as an expert to assist in the renovation of the Vitagraph Studio in Bay Shore, which was once a branch production location in 1916. Vitagraph was one of the pioneer movie studios that began about the same time as Thomas Edison and Biograph, about 1896.”

The lawsuit states that just prior to Oct. 30, 2013, Town Councilman Steven J. Flotteron initiated an online Historic Islip Trail on the town’s website under the section “Tourism and History.” Around that time, Santorelli said that he discovered that a large portion of a story he wrote, named “American Cinema’s Forgotten Pioneer: Ralph Ince – A Prolific Writer, Actor, and Director”—a two-part series published in the Islip Bulletin and Suffolk County News on April 9, 2009 and April 30, 2009—was published on the town website without his knowledge or permission. Part of that story is found in section five, named “Vitagraph Studios.”

“I’ve never seen or heard of a local government taking someone else’s stuff and calling it their own,” said Santorelli, who also runs the Long Island Film Festival. “You feel like somebody is stealing a part of your brain when they do something like that.”

After seeing his work online, Santorelli immediately appeared at a town board meeting to get his complaint on the record and demanded that the parts of his story be removed from the town website, but it was to no avail. Ensuing efforts—including a Verified Notice of Claim and a Demand for Examination—were also unsuccessful, and the material still remains on the website today.

“Despite my many attempts to have my copyrighted material pulled down from the town’s website, it still exists without my permission,” said Santorelli, who retroactively copyrighted and registered the story with the U.S. Copyright Office. “Therefore, the act of infringement is willful and intentional, in disregard of and with indifference to my rights as a copyright owner.”

Santorelli also noted that the section is not even credited to him. Instead, it cites the Bay Shore Historical Society, with its contact information listed below the text for further inquiries. He has since demanded that the organization contact the town and Councilman Flotteron to have its name and information removed from the story.

However, Bay Shore Historical Society President Barry Dlouhy said that the society has no control over the content on Islip Town’s website, and that there is no reason for them to be mentioned in the lawsuit at all.

“The fact that we’re mentioned for more information simply indicates that we have information available on the subject,” added Dlouhy. “We are a repository and a museum. We gather material and maintain extensive records that are available for people to obtain information.

“The entire action is without merit,” added Dlouhy. “The society did not engage in any publication of Mr. Santorelli’s copyrighted work, and there is no plausible basis for naming the Bay Shore Historical Society in this lawsuit. It’s confusing, and unfortunately we have to spend time on this.”

Islip Town Attorney Rob Cicale declined to comment on the matter, stating that it was “too premature in the process” to make a statement at this time.

The scheduled hearing is set for April 2016, giving both parties ample time to prepare their respective cases.

“I have a valid claim, and they don’t have a verifiable defense that’s going to save them,” said Santorelli. “It’s going to be embarrassing for them.”