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.