Photographers vs Celebrities: Do Celebs Need Permission to Post Photos of Themselves on Social Media?
Copyright protects the legal right of original creators to publish, reproduce, or sell their literary and artistic works. Others who intend to reproduce those works need to get permission from the owners.
The great thing about copyright over other IP rights is that it is not compulsory to register to get protection and the owners can automatically acquire legal protection under the copyright law upon creation, or expression of the artistic or literary work in a tangible medium.
Nowadays, everything is online and digital. Social media platforms have become an essential tool for entertainment, doing business, and branding – be it for products, services or even personal branding.
With posts sharing perspectives, feelings, experiences, photos, music, videos and everything under the sun on these platforms, many don’t give a second thought to what happens if someone copies their content without authorization from them – who owns the rights?
Photography is also considered an artistic work in copyright and who owns the copyright in photographs has been subject to some scrutiny over the years. Normally, copyright is owned by the person who creates the image. According to the Copyright Law of the United States of America, the photographer who clicks the button owns the copyright to the photograph.
Among all the interesting copyright cases in the world, let’s look at a recent one involving the “On the Floor” singer. You know who we’re talking about. Yes, Jennifer Lopez, also known as J. Lo. She was recently sued for USD150,000 for posting a photo of herself on Instagram in 2017.
Getting sued for posting a photo of herself? Sounds ridiculous on the face of it. However, the action against her and her production company was taken because she posted the photo on Instagram without the permission of New York photographer Steve Sands, who took the photo. Her millions of Instagram followers viewed the post and she received hundreds of thousands of likes. In essence, she used the image for personal branding without proper permission or licensing, as asserted by Sands. He also claimed that her unauthorized use of this photo would harm the commercial value of the original photograph.
This is not the first time she is being sued by a photographer for copyright infringement. She was previously sued in 2019 by Splash News and Picture Agency for USD150,000 in damages over a photo of her fiancé, Alex Rodriguez, sometimes known as A-Rod, which she also shared on her Instagram account in 2017.
This case raises questions on the rights in play between photographers/paparazzi and celebrities. Does this mean that celebrities need to get permission from other people to post photos of themselves on social media?
On one hand, everybody thinks that the image, style, face and body are owned by the celebrity (image/publicity right) and photographers/paparazzi need to request permission to take their photo and to sell or use this photo in publications.
However, photographs are recognized as an original work of authorship under US copyright regulations. It can be noted in this case that the person who takes the photo owns the copyright and the law protects the original creative work. What follows, then, has been a number of celebrities being sued in copyright infringement cases for posting photos of themselves on their social media accounts.
It can be noted that some countries have the right to privacy in addition to copyright law. Privacy law is involved in the taking of photos that violate the privacy or private space of the individual where there exists a reasonable expectation of privacy, and in posting the photos on social media without the approval of the said individual.
There have also been incidences where celebrities have taken action against those using their images for commercialization without their approval and there have been prominent cases won based on defamation and infringement of copyright.
That said, in some cases (such as ones discussed in this article), the photographers, as the “original creator of the photos”, take action against the celebrities/models or the person who poses in the photos. Accordingly, in the interest of both parties, one needs to make sure to get permission from the celebrities/models or the person who poses in the photos if the other party intends to use their picture, even if there is no separate privacy law in the respective country.
In summary, wherever we are around the world, when planning to use original work on social media or on any other platform, always get permission from the owner of the copyright. Doing so can prevent undesirable conflicts between creators and users of the copyrighted work. Consider the time, money, effort and original thought that the original owner needed to create the work. Copyright is copyright and not the right to copy.
TheinThein Win is an IP Executive of KASS Myanmar IP Services Company Ltd., the Myanmar branch office of KASS International, an established intellectual property firm with offices in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam. For more information, please visit www.kass.asia or drop an e-mail to email@example.com.