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Who owns the copyright of a photograph?


If you are the subject of a photograph, it may seem only fair that you should have the right to be able to use and post that photograph as you see fit.

However, in reality, it is not as clear-cut as this. The copyright in the photograph lies with the photographer, and can be licensed to third parties for use. For many, this scenario may seem farfetched. For a frequently photographed celebrity, with a large social media following, this can quickly become a substantial legal issue.

In the US, there have been several recent high-profile disputes concerning celebrities’ social media posts, in cases where the allegedly infringing material are pictures of themselves.

Agency sues model Gigi Hadid

In July, one such lawsuit filed against model Gigi Hadid by a paparazzi agency was dismissed. Hadid had been sued for posting a paparazzi photograph of herself on Instagram. The agency claimed that she did not have permission to use the photograph, and her post constituted a breach of copyright. Hadid responded, arguing that posting the image was fair use as she has contributed to the creativity of the photograph with her choice of outfit, posture and her cropping of the image before posting.

The case against Hadid was dismissed on the basis that the agency did not have a copyright registration at the time of filing the lawsuit, as required under US copyright law. Whether Hadid’s arguments would have been successful had this not been the case remain to be seen.

Ariana Grande – Instagram infringement

In the same vein, it was reported in May that Ariana Grande had been sued by a photographer after posting a photograph of herself on Instagram which he had taken. The photograph reportedly received over 3 million likes before it was taken down. The photographer has claimed substantial damages, alleging that Grande infringed his copyright by reproducing the photographs and publicly displaying them on social media. As of yet, there is no report of Grande’s response. In this case, the copyright in the relevant photographs has been registered and therefore it will be interesting to see what arguments are put forward on both sides, should this case reach the courts.

While the takeaway from these cases isn’t squarely in support of either party, they raise an important point: that care should always be taken when posting and using content and photographs  that you are not the author of. By doing so, you are putting yourself at risk of potential legal action being taken against you.

If you have any questions about copyright, or any other intellectual property matter, please get in touch with a member of our Intellectual Property Team.

Disclaimer: Anything posted on this blog is for general information only and is not intended to provide legal advice on any general or specific matter. Please refer to our terms and conditions for further information. Please contact the author of the blog if you would like to discuss the issues raised.