Bruno Mars Being Sued By Photographer for Posting Childhood Shot of Himself

Bruno Mars Being Sued By Photographer for Posting Childhood Shot of Himself

Singer Bruno Mars is facing legal action from a photographer who took an image of him as a child in 1989.

Posting on his social media channels, Mars took advantage of the ‘Way Back Wednesday’ craze to share a photo of himself as a young Elvis impersonator, aged 4. Mars was famously the world’s youngest ever Elvis impersonator as a child, and to the very day, still cites Presley as his inspiration behind becoming involved in music. But now, the 32-year-old musician is facing a legal battle, as the photographer behind the image, Catherine McGann, is filing a suit on the grounds she owns the copyright. The photo was posted to Mars’ Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, with the latter acquiring over 1.2 million likes alone.

McGann has apparently filed the suit against both Mars himself and his record label, Warner Music, for damages and any profits they have seemingly made from the photo’s usage. McGann claims she wasn’t contacted regarding permissions to post the photo before it was used. In the age of historical lawsuits, one has to wonder whether McGann has ended up herself profiting from selling this image on the back of Mars’ fame. Who is in the wrong here? Does Mars have a right to post an image of himself?

Lead photo by Matthias Zomer, used under Creative Commons.

[via Daily Mail]

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user-156929's picture

Did she send a C&D letter? We don't know.

user-156929's picture

There's way too much about this case, we don't know. Since he was a child at the time, did Mars even know it was copyrighted? Did the photographer contact him or a lawyer, first? How do you prove he made a single nickel off it or, conversely, that he didn't. People are too ready to sue as a first action. All things being equal, if that was the case, and I don't know if it was, she gives a bad name to all photographers. Again, we just don't know.

Anonymous's picture

The legality of it all aside, this is a pretty ridiculous lawsuit and this kind of thing is EXACTLY why people roll their eyes at us when we start talking about copyrights. If I have a family photo taken at Sears a few decades ago and decide to scan the print and share it on Twitter, should the photographer or Sears (not sure who owns the copyright in that arrangement) be able to come after me for money? I think we can all see that the only reason this is even happening in the first place is because Bruno Mars is a fairly high profile figure with deep pockets. The guy shared a freaking childhood photo of himself on social media. He didn't use it as an album cover or make a t-shirt of it to sell. Let's get real. This isn't about protecting copyright. This is about getting a payday.

For everyone mentioning that copyright is protected from the moment the shutter is pressed, that's all nice in theory, but proving that you're the one who pressed that shutter can be a different matter altogether—especially if you're talking about something that happened decades ago. That's one of the reasons it's pretty important to actually register your copyright. If this photographer hasn't done that, sure she might have the negatives, but there have been plenty of instances where people acquire the original negatives to photos they didn't take be it from auctions, estate sales, accidental finds, etc. In reality, without solid documentation like you would get from registering the copyright, it's a difficult thing to actually prove. So I guess if you're a photographer aspiring to sue a celebrity in a few decades, make sure to register that copyright...

It will be interesting to see where this goes. Frankly, I suspect it will just be settled out of court for some paltry sum because I doubt that either party really wants to deal with this nonsense—Mars less so than the photographer. He'll just throw money at the problem while the photographer will go into hiding or maybe write an sob article about persecution as the inevitable scorn and death threats start to flood in from Mars' fan base.

So maybe I'm wrong here. Clearly, if she's willing to endure what she will now have to, I guess she really did care about that copyright more than the money... because I can't imagine the type of money you would have to throw at me for having to go through what she's probably going to experience if the general behavioral pattern of rabid fans in these types of situations holds true. It probably won't be as bad as poking Beyonce or Taylor Swift, but this is going to be a hell of a lot worse than poking that dude from Queen.

Nomad Photographers's picture

IMHO it all stands on the context in which the photograph was taken. If the photograph was taken as a family shot at the time with no commercial purposes, he should be entirely free to do whatever he feels right with it including commercial promotion as if it had been shot by any member of his family. Then if it was shot as a commercial shot thus properly limited in terms of copyrights, the photographer obviously has a case and she's in her right. Of course some people would sue their own kids if it could land them a few bucks but let's not get there...

Mr Hogwallop's picture

That is all well and good but your opinion does not count. He did not take the photo, He used the photo.

Nomad Photographers's picture

neither does yours for that matter or anyone else's on this website well unless the judge who will have to rule this thing finds inspiration here

Mr Hogwallop's picture

True, but when there are questions about the law some things are clear. As long as it is provable that McGann took the photo, and Bruno used it without permission I don't see a lot of wiggle room there. Just negotiation of $

Listen to what you're saying... essentially "you take a professional photo of me (perhaps for free even) and then I use it to promote/sell product... for my benefit and the financial benefit of some company and you're ok with that BECAUSE you didn't expect it to be used commercially." That's just silly! In that case every company/brand should just have "non commercial" shoots done of their music (or other) artists and then turn around and use them commercially saving themselves thousands. 😏

Nomad Photographers's picture

How many years ago did the shooting take place ? If you can prove the photoshoot was intentionally taken back then with intents to use it commercially decades later you stand a point otherwise I stand on my grounds (and I feed my large family working as a pro photographer). I can tell you that if someone was to use a photograph I shot even 3 years ago as a family shot or a private shot for commercial purposes and was successful, I would feel far too ashamed to claim any right. What a terrible world we live in

That's not how it works. That's NOT how the statute is written. Sorry. You can have your humble opinion but its really doesn't count for anything if you don't have the facts to back it up.

Daniel Jones's picture

All he has to do is credit her when posting the photo, right?

Pawel Paoro Witkowski's picture

No, crediting someone else does not solves legal problems, yet there is a lot of people that thinks it's ok to "borrow" someone else image and it's "ok" just by crediting them.

Daniel Jones's picture

If he also wrote Photo: Ivana McGavin or whatever her name is and attached the link to the original image?

Pawel Paoro Witkowski's picture

It's also not ok (at least on legal side). There is no other 'legal' way other than getting it agreed with photographer to do so.

Many of you people are speaking out of your ass.

No you dont need to file copyright. No, not even to make money.

No she doesnt need a release because she wasnt making money off of it. She still holds copyright.

Absolutly is Mars'es job to know who owns the copyright. Im sure his lawyers know where his songs are used...

Its not her job to ask for propper credit. She may never wanr the photo used. It doesnt matter if it was of a child, if its good enouvh to post, its good enough to get the copyright

(If he didnt know who took it he could have said so in the post and tried to find them. Or not use it.)

user-156929's picture

All of the comments are conjecture. We don't know any of the relevant information. What we do know is...given the information provided in the article, she looks bad for her actions. The author should have done more research before asking our opinion.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

"She's just looking for a payday!" So what? She has something that is now valuable, that wasn't valuable 2o years ago. He is famous and using the picture as promotion, now it's a business situation. I would have contacted him and come up with a reasonable fee (use + using without asking penalty)for using the photo. His legal team would pay the "go away money"

By making a federal copyright case out of it she will be in a spending match against Warner Bros. I doubt she can afford a drawn out case. She probably has an attorney to take the case on contingency and she will give up 1/3 to the lawyer..There will probably be a settlement for an undisclosed amount.

I struggle with the whole "he's using it for promotion" argument. So, in essence you are saying that a public figure/celebrity is unable to, or not permitted to post a photo just as a private citizen? People post photos of themselves as children all the time, but because he's a celebrity he's not permitted to do so without being sued? If this photo was posted to the Record Label's social media sites by Bruno Mars, then yes, that is a promotional use situation. I just think that there's too many questions left unanswered at this point.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Public figures and private figures have different rights to privacy and publicity.
Pretty much everything a celebrity puts out on a public IG or FB group is for promotion of their brand. What fan WOULDN'T want to see a cute photo of him as a tiny Elvis impersonator. I would if I was a fan.
If Bruno has a private IG or FB group open only to friends and family they there would be less of a reason for a lawsuit.
IMO she is overreaching but that is a common lawyer tactic. Ask for alot and settle for a little.

Jason Lorette's picture

This is literally a ridiculous lawsuit. Yes, it probably would have been better if he'd said "Photo by:" (yes I know this does not counter copyright) but did he even know who took it, he was "four"!
As others have said, based on the article, not enough information. This is a slippery slope...I think some photographers are getting a wee bit "sue happy".

It's curious when websites ask readers for their opinions on legal matters.