LeBron James Is Being Sued By Photographer For Posting Pictures of Himself Social Media

LeBron James Is Being Sued By Photographer For Posting Pictures of Himself Social Media

In a previous article I discussed how supermodel, Bella Hadid, was being sued for posting pictures of herself on Instagram. I also talked about how this is seemingly becoming quite a frequent occurrence. I believe this is mostly due to the fact that most people don't seem to understand how copyright laws work. 

NBA superstar LeBron James is facing a $150,000 lawsuit for posting a picture of himself on his social media sites. Photographer Steve Miller filled the suit against the star on the 17th of March for an image that was posted back in December last year. The image in question, currently remains up on social media and the comments that it is generating, really paint a picture of ignorance. 

Reading some of the comments on the post above, you can see that many people don't seem to understand how copyright for photography works. There are comments which accuse Miller of trying to make a quick buck. Some have even been asking whether Miller had consent to photograph James in the first place. It's clear that many of these people don't seem to understand copyright ownership. 

I believe, if this was understood better by the stars, celebrities and more importantly the companies and agencies representing them, these kinds of situations could be avoided. It's difficult to understand how the agencies and companies that work with these stars don't seem to understand the basics of copyright laws. 

Lead image by Wikipedia user Keith Allison, used under Creative Commons.

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28 Comments

"There are comments which accuse Miller of trying to make a quick buck. "

maybe its a trend now. take good photos so it gets used without permission and then get payed through a lawsuit.

id be pissed if my photos were used without recognition at the least. but if its a high level person, then they should pay some fee. they dont do anything without getting payed so why the free photos.

Ignace Maenhaut van Lemberge's picture

Mixed feelings here.. those photographers (this and previous cases) make money with their pictures of famous people (besides suing them).. so they should also pay the celebrities..

Usman Dawood's picture

That’s not how copyright ownership works.

Ignace Maenhaut van Lemberge's picture

I know, but still, mixed feelings..

Matthew Teetshorn's picture

Usually I would automatically agree with you, but this differs from the other stories in that they involved celebrities being photographed on the street where they had no expectation of privacy or rights to the image. I'm not a professional sports photographer, but to get the right to shoot the game inside the arena, the photographer surely entered into a contract that clearly stated the associated copyright ownership and whether any players, teams or the NBA had rights to the images.

It would be nice to hear from a pro sports photog on what those contracts usually look like, but you can't guarantee that the photographer owned the rights completely in this situation.

Usman Dawood's picture

Potentially, that could be the case. We don't know that just yet, but if that is the case then absolutely, there may be an argument for the other side.

I would guess the NBA has something to say more than any of the 450-500 individual players . NBA/NFL/MLB, Disney, and Harley Davidson are pretty strict about who uses what, and how.

The photographer was credentialed at the game. Lebron got paid very well to play the game, and the reason playing basketball pays well is that it’s a product for public consumption including by credentialed photographers. It’s in the player contracts that one of the things they’re being paid for is a public performance that will be photographed and filmed. The team and league in turn credential photographers to shoot the game, which helps them publicize their product. The photographers make their money by being paid for that work.

In Lebron’s case, he’s under a contract for 4 years for $153 million, which is almost $500,000 per game.

So yes, Lebron was paid. The work that the photographers at the game did inured indirectly to his benefit by helping to keep up demand for the products of the organization that paid him

I gotta admire the White Knights riding in to save their poor exploited hero sports stars. The lack of knowledge about copyright is pretty surprising on a photo site. Granted not many of the people here are professionals so they don't really need to know that much about © laws.
I don't know if except for the infringement claim there is no direct relationship between LeBron and the photographer. There are many "players" or layers in this situation, LeBron the person, LeBron the player, Lebron Inc, Lebrons's managers and lawyers, The Cavs, The NBA, the photographer and the contracts between all of them.

Bottom line is that Lebron's people used the photo without the photographers permission. Doesn't matter if he made $500k that night or $500. His people should ask.

People act like anybody who initiates or threatens a lawsuit is a bad guy.

Lawsuits are how most laws are enforced. A copyright infringement suit is how you enforce copyright laws. Without them, copyright would be useless.

The photographer is the good guy here. If what he’s said is correct, Lebron James has broken the law and stolen from the photographer. James should be punished and the photographer should be compensated.

Between Q4 2018 and Q3 2019 LeBron James made $92 million. Sources variously estimate his net worth between $450 and 500 million. He has more than one professional social media promoter creating those posts for him. He or his consultants have no excuse for not knowing the law, and Steve Mitchell is entitled to be paid for his work.

Dave Vichich's picture

I'm having a hard time trying to figure out the correlation of what LeBron makes, and how much the photographer is suing for. Has said photographer ever been payed $150k for a photo? If not, why is this one worth that much? You say LaBron makes $500k per games, so the photographer deservers ⅓ of his pay for a photo? Should Fstoppers also be sued for showing the photo here?Enquiring minds would like to know.

When copyright registration was filed within 90 days of first publication, the amount you can win in a court case is up to 150k without proving actual damages. It’s in the statutes, 17 U.S.C. Section 504, I don’t know the subsection off the top of my head. By default you demand 150k and the judge may adjust it down if it gets that far but usually you settle for a smaller amount without going to trial.

When somebody infringes your copyright, you always demand more than you would have charged if they’d come to you for permission first. Because they broke the law and you had to resort to a legal complaint, you incurred legal fees that could have been avoided, and wasted time. And you want to make an example and show that in the future people should ask your permission first instead of copying your photo without permission.

If he sues for the statutory $150k he can settle for 100k and pay the lawyer 35k and it is still worth it.

Fstopper showing the photo falls under "Fair Use"

Can we stop writing headlines that perpetuate this ignorance of copyright laws? Phrasing it as "Being Sued By Photographer For Posting Pictures of Himself" makes it sound like he is being wronged by the photographer and that LeBron had some sort of legal right to the photos just because he is in them. We can't blame non-photographers for ignorance of the law when photo sites like this one write headlines like that.

Teresa Oldenbourg's picture

How do they get access to the photos?

Dave Vichich's picture

What was in the agreement that the photographer signed to shoot in that venue. Were any rights or usage given up for them to get that shot. Without knowing what's in the contract, no one knows who's right.

Matthew Teetshorn's picture

I'm not sure why anyone would downvote this comment. Not only is it possible, but entirely likely that anyone who bought a ticket or, especially, was hired to shoot at the arena signed away some rights to their photography. The arena is not a "public" space. You entered into some kind of contract just to be there.

If he is credentialed it's different than buying a ticket.

Matthew Teetshorn's picture

Which is why I specifically mentioned both.

charlie sanders's picture

As a general rule, photographing others without their consent is prohibited by law. One of the exceptions to this rule is photographs taken for editorial use in a public place. Editorial use is defined as “a newspaper or magazine article that gives the opinions of the editors or publishers” based on the concept of fair use in copyright law, which is a defense to copyright infringement. The purpose of allowing the photography of others for editorial use is to promote education and the free press, two pillars of paparazzi work.

Matthew Teetshorn's picture

As a "general rule" in the US it is NOT prohibited by law. It is only prohibited in situations where it has been expressly done so. In the US you do NOT have any expectation to privacy or rights to the usage of your image in any public context. That said, the arena is not "public" in that you have to enter into a contract to attend the game (the ticket acts as a contract and has limitations attached, even for spectators). That said, in order to obtain COMMERCIAL rights to photograph the game and use Lebron's likeness, the photographer would assuredly have had to sign SOMETHING that may, or may not, have limited his copyright capability in this particular circumstance.

The players give consent to be filmed and photographed in their contract with the team, which gives permission to the photographers. There is no basis to claim that it was unlawful for the photographer to photograph Lebron.

Jeff McCollough's picture

You might not be from the US but in the US I can take a picture of you if you are in public and use that photo for whatever. Even if you are picking your nose I can still photograph you.

What I can't do is use that photo to promote a service or a product but I can post it anywhere and it could be used in a book or in the news.

Ignace Maenhaut van Lemberge's picture

But then he should have the right to use that photo (picking his nose) on his Insta or Fb account I think. Fair deal. Not?

Jeff McCollough's picture

Not if he is using his social media to promote a product or a service etc etc.

Don Risi's picture

Oh, they all understand, all right. Goggle Harlan Ellison "pay the writer." Just be prepared for a few F bombs. But his fight illustrates the problem completely.

They understand. They're just hoping to get away with it. And frankly, most people won't go through the trouble of suing. It's a long, drawn out pain in the neck, and of that $150,000, the photographer will be lucky to see $50,000. I mean, I'd take it, but still, he won't see even 50% of the settlement.