Singer/songwriter Dua Lipa is facing a copyright infringement complaint (Integral Images, Inc. v. Dua Lipa, 2:21-cv-05470, C.D. Ca), claiming she posted an image of herself on her own Instagram account. And Lipa isn’t alone – in the past five years, celebrities including Khloe Kardashian, Gigi Hadid, Deshaun Watson, Jennifer Lopez, Victoria Beckham, as well as others, have been accused of copyright infringement for posting photos of themselves on social media.
It may seem strange that she could violate someone’s rights by using a photograph of herself, but in photographs, like every other creative work, the creator owns the work, unless there’s an agreement otherwise. So, if a photographer takes a picture of a celebrity (or anybody!) in the street, the photographer owns the copyright, even if the subject might have a right in the use of their image for commercial purposes.
Some subjects have tried to get around the photographer’s rights. Gigi Hadid (in Xclusive-Lee, Inc. v. Jelena Noura “Gigi” Hadid, 1:19-CV-00520, S.D.N.Y.) claimed that, by cooperating with the photographer’s taking of her picture, she had both contributed to the creation of the work (making her a co-author) and earned an implied license from the photographer to use the photograph she had participated in the creation of. Hadid won for a different reason (the photographer had failed to register their copyright), but courts have been generally unwelcoming to arguments that would make every model a co-author of the photographs they appear in.
Paparazzi are an occupational hazard for celebrities, but everyone who works with photographers or uses social media for marketing needs to keep the issue of copyright ownership in mind. Whether you’re a business owner using a photographer to create promotional images, or you need to make sure you’re able to use client photographs on your social media, the first step is making sure you have the rights you need. An intellectual property lawyer can help you with a services agreement that protects your rights or a license that prevents a lawsuit down the line.
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