Justin Bieber Is Being Sued for His Instagram Post

Justin Bieber Is Being Sued for His Instagram Post

Justin Bieber is currently being sued over posting a photograph of himself with Rich Wilkerson.

The photographer, Robert Barbera, has filed the lawsuit on the grounds of copyright infringement. The image in question, which has accrued the best part of 4 million likes, is reportedly an “unauthorized reproduction and public display” of Barbera’s photography and no attempt for licensing the image was ever made.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, with Jennifer Lopez and Kylie Jenner suffering similar fates. The subject is divisive every time it rears its head, and a cursory look at the current state of play with Barbera versus Bieber shows little difference. To most outside of the photography industry or arts, the thought of someone getting sued for posting an image of themselves on social media is absurd. Then, for photographers, the thought that someone can use your work without compensating you is infuriating.

Honestly, I’m not sure either camp has it completely right. Yes, using a photographer’s image without their permission is wrong, particularly in the case of someone who is using it to maintain public presence and persona to an unthinkably large audience. However, what blurs the lines for me is that Barbera is paparazzi in this scenario and took the image of Bieber without his permission. That makes me uncomfortable in siding uniformly with Barbera. This then opens Pandora’s Box with questions of usage over street photography of people.

Perhaps I’m too liberal and new-age with my stance, but the thought that someone can take a photograph of someone against their will, then use that subject’s fame to make money without their permission is murky territory. Companies are regularly stomped legally for using a famous person’s likeness on products or in advertising, and this doesn’t seem much of a stretch from that.

What are your thoughts? Is Barbera in the right? Did Bieber do anything wrong by posting the image? Am I a doe-eyed liberal apologist? Share in the comments below.

Log in or register to post comments


Adriano Brigante's picture

I have an easy solution:
- The photographer took the picture without Bieber's permission, so the photographer should not be allowed to use it commercially.
- Bieber doesn't own the rights to the picture, so he should not be allowed to use it on his Instagram.

Neither should be allowed to use the picture, and the first one who does gets sued by the other. How's that? :)

Edit: I understand the copyright laws and the fact that you don't have an expectation of privacy in a public space. My comment was sort of tongue and cheek (notice the smiley at the end there). Both Bieber and this photograph suck anyway, so my "solution" was designed to protect us all from this crap. ;)

Matt Williams's picture

He didn't need Bieber's permission

Motti Bembaron's picture

And that the issue with photographers. They want people to respect their rights but they do not respect others' right. I don't want you or anyone else taking my photo without my permission.

Will you respect that? If not, don't expect any respect from me.

Lee Christiansen's picture

The problem wit the argument of "don't take a picture of me" whilst in a public place is that it suggests you own the space around you, in front of you and behind you.

It would also fall into the category of "don't look at me" with respect to protecting any privacy laws - and that just doesn't cut it in a public place.

You do realise that a photograph isn't stealing a piece of your soul, it isn't removing anything from you and it isn't seeing anything that couldn't be seen by anyone passing by...

And of course the laws haven't been written by photographers. They've been written to protect the public at large from being restricted from doing quite reasonable and lawful activities.

To suggest that every photograph requires individual permission is a crazy idea. With such in place we would have no record of times past, no images in newspapers, no visual documents of our society.

I can only assume that you NEVER take a picture where any people are in shot, (distant, close - it doesn't matter in your scenario), and without explicit permission (and that would require you to check forts on each and every shot even with friends and family). And if we're going with a requirement for permission, let's extend it to buildings, cars planes, boats, places of any sort where you are not the owner...

We don't require your respect. We just require that the law of the land is upheld.

I'm currently working on a long-form project where I've been documenting life in London. So there are a good number of images with people in the street and no, I don't walk up and ask permission because to do so would kill the shot. I'm creating a historical work, but with the Law-Of-Motti, such a work would be outlawed, and we'd never get to have anything like it.

Hope you never watch TV, because there are lots of programmes with people passing by where they've not signed a release. It's not needed of course because they'd be in a public space, but your views would have you refusing to watch.

Hope you never by a magazine or a newspaper, because the same would apply there.

Society breaks down when people start "owning" the space around them and controlling every action of others.

If I'm pointing my camera through your window then fair enough. If you have a reasonable expectation of privacy, then fair enough. But take a walk through town and I have the same rights as you do, and I'll not stop you looking my way whether it is with a lens or not.

Eric Mazzone's picture


Jeron Parry's picture

Amen! You said everything that needs to be said. Permission is not needed in public. That’s ridiculous!

Kieran Stone's picture

You don't own the space around you. But you certainly own your own face and image. There is a difference between a crowd and an obvious focus on one person.
There's a lot of things you can do in public that is legal but still makes you a jerk.
But do what you want and refuse to show any empathy because your rights to do what you want at the expense of others is more important.

MV Peters's picture

Honestly, the laws for this should be simple while protecting both parties:
- Anyone can take a photo of anybody in all public spaces
- Neither the photographer nor the subject can use the photo commercially unless BOTH the photographer and the subject have an explicit agreement.
- Both the photographer and the subject should be able to use the photo on their personal projects and social media (with credit to the photographer), but NOT commercially unless they have an agreement.

The agreement can prevent the other party from using it on the personal projects, while the other uses it commercially, and vice-versa. Whatever the parties agree negotiate and agree too. And if either of them use the photo improperly without or against the terms of the agreement, the other party can sue.

Also, Instagram should have a proper post share functionality. Yes, you can share posts to Stories, but people constantly screenshot images and re-post without giving credit to the original poster. The things people do for clout.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

What is « commercial » for you?

Ted Mercede's picture

Sounds good on the surface, but social has become business and commercial. And then you will have a lot of lawsuits trying to determine when a case becomes no longer a "social" usage and a commercial usage. And at what level does it become commercial from social? As soon as someone receives a free sample for talking about it, or how about getting paid $50 to get shot with a product and then getting sued for $$$?

No, I believe the laws are correct the way they are, public space is public space and open game.

Eric Mazzone's picture

Okay, then Beibs STILL can't use that image as EVERY use by him WOULD count as commercial.

John Lind's picture

Justin Bieber is a *newsworthy* celebrity. The photographer who took this photo of him in a public space where there's no expectation of privacy has even more First Amendment protections because of that, and Bieber much less protection for libel or slander. When it comes to the rights to the photograph, the photographer's claim becomes even stronger as he is *legally* photographing a newsworthy public personality in a public place. Bieber has no usage rights to the photograph and I hope he pays dearly for it. Yet another of the filthy rich celebrities living in their own La La Land who think they're entitled to do whatever they want to with no consequences - just because they're filthy rich celebrities.

Matt Williams's picture

I agree with the principal idea, however I have no compassion for paparazzi. And I generally don't give a damn about them.

The problem is, you have to protect them to protect legitimate photographers too.

Motti Bembaron's picture

You do not have to protect them. Legitimate photographers take photos with permission and make a living out of it. They do not lurk in aley ways and haras people.

Matt Williams's picture

Tell Henri Cartier-Bresson and thousands of other street photographers that. Good luck.

Fritz Asuro's picture

But Mr. Bieber was in a public place right? And in most places, you actually don't need permission to take photos of someone. So technically, the paparazzi didn't violated Bieber's privacy.

John Lind's picture

Bieber has even less expectation of privacy than an unknown Joe Public because he's a newsworthy public figure, and a very highly recognizable one internationally.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

The copyright clearly belongs to:

Vladimir Vcelar's picture


Jonathan Bruck's picture

I could be wrong, but I don't think the photographer needs Bieber's permission as Bieber is a celebrity, and if the photographer is taking a picture in a public place, where Bieber has no reasonable expectation of privacy.

Javier Gutierrez's picture

you are correct, but being a celebrity makes no difference. For a street photographer this is a big deal though as was stated in the story.

liliumva's picture

You do not have a right to privacy in a public setting. There is no line that is blurred, it's been drawn in the sand for quite a while.The photographer, while very slimy, is well within his rights to sue Bieber for infringement. Bieber does not have to give the photographer permission, nor sign a release because, again, he's in a public setting. These celebrities need to really grasp, much like brands that take photos from fans, that it's not ok to use someone's work without permission regardless of his likeness being used. The paparazzo are hella shady, and they give the community a bad name, but they are still afforded the same rights as every other photographer.

Motti Bembaron's picture

You do in Quebec, one of the few times Quebe got it right. It's also a very sensitive issue in Europe, photographers cannot just take photos of people in public and claim rights.

liliumva's picture

This wasn't taken in Canada or the EC though, so that's irrelevant for this situation. I imagine if this happened in either place outside of the USA it would be a totally different story. But with this one, as it is right now, you have no right to privacy in public spaces.

Javier Gutierrez's picture

This one sentence you penned says it all for me. <b>''This then opens Pandora’s Box with questions of usage over street photography of people.''<b/>) Secondly in the ''Autotune'' world we live in now and these stupid lawsuits that are nothing more than money grabs need to stop. I was honored to have one of my street pictures stolen for Garry Jules Mad World video and I posted it on my Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/B047CqdnimU/ and was surprised at some of the comments. Me I am happy someone would think well enough of one to use it.
I am on the Biebs side on this one. It is his picture that got stolen.

liliumva's picture

Except that he didn't 'steal' your work, that is not the official video from them. That's a FAN MADE video, FYI. So, you're ok that some random schmoe stole your work and made money off of it from views, and think that the actual singer did it.... hah

Ian Oliver's picture

You may be fine with someone else using your work and I may be fine with it in some circumstances but many people are not OK with it nor should they be. If someone wants to use my or your or anyone else's work then they should ask.

You then are welcome to tell him that's fine for no compensation. As am I. Or Crystal. Or to say give me credit and I'm good. Or to say that will be $10 or $10,000. A photo I took of Chuck Levell that someone wanted to use got me a couple of great tix to a Stones concert. If I know I'm not going to make money off an image otherwise and that the user is likely not interested in paying then I'm frequently good with credit.

And the subject matter DOES NOT MATTER. If Bieber wants to use a photo I took of my wife or of my ugly neighbor or of Justin Bieber there is zero difference in right of use.

They should ask first!

Kieran Stone's picture

If you're the subject of the photo you should be allowed to share it for your personal use, no matter how big of a celebrity you are. I understand this may not align with legalities.
The photo is nothing without the subject and a photographer should know that.

Lee Christiansen's picture

Wouldn't it be lovely if we could just re-write the laws when it suited us.

Heck then I'd have clients using images outside there licensing agreements, celebs could "borrow" images from any publication if they were in it... no one would own anything anymore.

The photo is nothing without the subject, that's what makes it interesting. But the actual ownership goes to the one who owns the picture, not the one who'd like to use it - commercially or for personal use, (which in the case of celebs, is the same thing when posting on social media).

Kieran Stone's picture

The laws are rewritten all the time. Why not give the people in the photo more rights for how their personal image is used? At least for sharing it themselves.

Christian Santiago's picture

The problem with this logic is that it provides a slippery slope for the infringement of other rights. If I take a photo of someone wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt, can Disney claim they can use the photo at will because they’re the subject ? You don’t think their expensive lawyers would make that argument until they win by outspending you ?

Photo belongs to the creator. It’s really not a hard system to understand.

Kieran Stone's picture

I understand the need to protect copyright and the ownership of a photographers creative and professional images. I'm just saying for argument sake, trying to see it from the point of view of a person who is very clearly the subject of a photo, who has thousands of photos of them sold to publications around the world for the monetary gain of photographers and media, to then share a photo of their own image might not be grounds for a legal battle. Celebrities are a blurred line between being a human and being a brand, but it's still easy for anyone with a conscience and empathy to make that differentiation. Social media has changed the world where people can have their own personal public platform and outdated laws that discriminate against a persons ability to share a picture of themselves need to be looked at more closely, in a way that gives them more rights, without stripping them from photographers.

Christian Santiago's picture

I don’t think it’d have been much of an issue if Bieber has shared the photo on a private account with friends and family.

But Instagram, especially for brands and public’s figures, and other social platforms are essentially commercial enterprises. Maintaining and updating them is done with the purpose or enhancing a brand and/ generating commerce.

Bieber used an image he didn’t own for a commercial purposes. That’s totally 100% grounds for a legal battle. Especially since Justin Bieber relies on being popular to sell his music and merchandise.

John Lind's picture

You're ignoring the fact that his Instagram has millions of followers. It's not Bieber sharing the photo with his mommy in a private email. By using Instagram with millions of followers, he published it very publicly and maintains that Instagram account for his own commercial benefit to maintain his marketability and its monetary value as a public celebrity.

Lee Christiansen's picture

Then campaign to have them changed - but accept the wider consequences and lack of control such a new law would have.

Time for you to take up politics so you can change the world from within...

Alexander Petrenko's picture

You are welcome to use it personally. Just don’t display it publicly.

Vladimir Vcelar's picture


Eric Mazzone's picture

"However, what blurs the lines for me is that Barbera is paparazzi in this scenario and took the image of Bieber without his permission."

Then you're not a real photographer, let alone a real American when you refuse to understand the fact that there is ZERO EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY while you're in public!

davidlovephotog's picture

Paparazzi, making money off shite pictures since the beginning of time. Don't call them photographers. They are stalkers with long lens and no talent trying to trigger celebs for pics they can sell.

Arthur q's picture

If photographers demand that other people have zero right to privacy whilst in public then other people have the right to demand that photographs have no protection either.
Think before demanding "rights" because reciprocal payment will be extracted eventually.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Other people have the right to demand that photographers have zero right to privacy in public places either.

Nick Rains's picture

You are all missing an important distinction. It's usually fine to take photos in a public place, that much is clear. What is restricted is what you DO with them.

Editorial use is generally OK as long as it's not defamatory - ie this is a picture of Beiber getting out of a car. However, it's clearly not OK to use that same photo in an ad for, say, a jeans brand.

How you classify Beiber's use of the photo is the key point. I'd say it falls broadly into editorial use because it's not promoting a brand - but then again, Beiber IS a brand. So who knows.

The photographer is well within his rights, Beiber probably not - he should have asked first and should certainly have credited the photo properly - 4 million likes is not trivial and is worth something.

Eric Mazzone's picture

When he gets paid for every post, it is commercial.

Christian Santiago's picture

Man even a site that caters to photographers is full of imbeciles who don’t understand basic copyright and laws pertaining to freedom of the press. It’s one thing to see all the mouth breathers on Facebook. Shocking to see them here.

Arthur q's picture

It is much more shocking to see people who claim to be professionals but have no concept of ethics or courtesy.

Yin Ze's picture

"Yes, using a photographer’s image without their permission is wrong, particularly in the case of someone who is using it to maintain public presence and persona to an unthinkably large audience."


Please do the research before making such a ludicrous statement.

Mike Rodgers's picture

Can you sue a weasel? Any comment from the Canadian SPCA?

T Scarb's picture

The photo vultures need to get a real job... its a joke profession.

Nick Rains's picture

When people stop buying the publications that use Pap photos then that might happen. In the meantime they are really just supplying a demand.

Darren Pang's picture

First Amendment: Freedom of the press. The photographer doesn't need to have biebs permission, for as long as the picture wasn't misused or mishandled that would lead to defamation of the person. On the other hand, biebs do need the photographer's permission to use it. If it's a re-tweet, its probably doesn't matter. But biebs posted it as if he (or his team/ crew) had taken the shot. In many ways, it would misled the 'credit' to the ownership of the photos. In short, it's stealing from someone's else's hardwork and made a gain on it.

More comments