Celebs Face Copyright Lawsuits Over IG Photos


By now, most celebrities are used to being captured in photos by the paparazzi and other professional photographers. But something that celebrities may not be used to is facing copyright infringement claims for reposting such photos to their personal Instagram accounts. The Houston Texans’ QB Deshaun Watson is the latest in a string of celebrities to be sued for copyright infringement by posting photos of himself to his official Instagram account.

Copyright Rights Belong to the Photographer

Being sued for copyright infringement for posting a photograph of yourself seems somewhat illogical, but copyright rights lie with the individual taking the photograph, rather than the individual featured in the photograph. So, while celebrities are often able to rely upon their right of publicity to claim ownership of content featuring their name and likeness, copyright law does not work in celebrities’ favor.

Photographers Need a Registered Copyright to Sue

Not too long ago, the Supreme Court ruled that, in order to sue for copyright infringement in federal court and collect statutory damages, the plaintiff must possess a certificate of copyright registration at the time of filing, rather than just have submitted a copyright registration application. Supermodel Gigi Hadid successfully defended a copyright infringement lawsuit wherein the photographer did not have a registered copyright at the time of filing.

Other Celebrities Who Have Been Sued

Beyond Deshaun Watson and Gigi Hadid, other celebrities have been the subject of copyright infringement lawsuits based upon unlicensed Instagram photo posts. Such celebrities include, but are not limited to:

  • Jennifer Lopez was sued in April 2020 over an Instagram photo that she posted in 2017 taken by photographer Steve Sands. Separately, Jennifer was also sued in October 2019 for posting an unlicensed paparazzi photo of her and husband Alex Rodriguez on her Instagram account.
  • Amy Schumer was also sued in April 2020 for posting paparazzi photos of her and her son, Gene, out for a walk in NYC.
  • LeBron James was sued in March 2020 for sharing a photo of himself dunking during an NBA game.

The Debate Continues

While Copyright Law is generally on the side of the photographers, copyright lawsuits such as the ones referenced above have been met with mixed responses. Clearly, photographers hold the position that celebrities should have to pay licensing fees to share photos belonging to the photographer. However, others (typically fans) feel that photographers such as the paparazzi are invasive and celebrities should thus be allowed to share such pictures of themselves.

As these types of lawsuits continue to rev up, the law may eventually create an exception allowing people like celebrities to share photos featuring themselves. Since that may be unlikely, its wise for celebrities to obtain consent or pay for a license before posting a photo taken by someone else.

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