Rod Stewart Is Being Sued in Copyright Dispute Over Photo Usage at a Gig

Rod Stewart Is Being Sued in Copyright Dispute Over Photo Usage at a Gig

Legendary rock singer Rod Stewart has joined the growing list of celebrity musicians being sued for copyright infringement. The case follows incidents involving Bruno Mars and Jessica Simpson, who both became embroiled in high-profile copyright court cases. Unlike his peers, Stewart is accused of using imagery for a gig backdrop without permission.

British photographer Julia McLellan, from Hatfield Peverel, UK, is seeking the rather specific amount of £9,999.99 (approx. $12,853.87). The legal battle stems from Stewart using a photo of himself with an ex-girlfriend as a gig backdrop.

According to McLellan, repeated attempts were made to acquire the due fee from Stewart’s team, but her requests fell on deaf ears. After failing to make progress, she sought legal action.

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😏 Photo: Drew Gurian/Invision/AP

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In an interesting turn, McLellan did not actually take the photo, but rather, acquired the copyright to it back in 2004. She claims the photographer, Christopher Southwood, a close friend of Stewart, did give the singer a copy of the image as a keepsake, but in her own words, McLellan says, “That's very different from using it commercially.” What she is referring to is Stewart’s usage of the photo as part of a video backdrop at BBC2's "Live in Hyde Park: A Festival in a Day" concert.

Stewart’s camp have hit back, stating McLellan’s claims seek "an absurd level of damages for a totally innocent, brief, and incidental use by Sir Rod of a personal snapshot as part of another, more substantial, artistic work".

McLellan has stated she will split any winnings with photographer Southwood. The case continues.

Who is in the right?

Lead image credit: Joe Bielawa via Flickr CC.

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6 Comments

Spy Black's picture

"Sir Rod..."
A new porn star is born...

I don't think she's gonna have much of a case if the original photographer gave "Sir Rod" a copy if it. I'm wondering however how one photographer winds up with the rights to another's work, especially a shot like a simple portrait.

Also, was this woman following Stewart around? How does one spot an image that will momentarily appear on a stage screen and then cry infringement?

Also strange, why would Stewart throw up an image of him with a FORMER girlfriend on a tour stage?

This whole thing is royally weird to me.

If the original photographer just gave Sit Rod a copy of the shot he did not give any reproduction rights. If Sir Rod had given him his latest CD, the photographer could not start using Sir Rod's music on his website for example.

One photographer getting copyright? Maybe they had a deal, I do a shoot for you when you are busy and you do one for me.

Following Rod around and spotting the image. She might have gone to his concert.

An image of a former girlfriend. Maybe he was doing a retrospective of his life and work?

However it is funny how the record labels jump all over copyright infringement of their artists work but allow themselfs and the artists to infringe copyright.

Spy Black's picture

While your explanations all make sense, that such a series of events could unfold so sequentially strikes me as a rather odd "perfect storm".

Pat McEntee's picture

I disagree. Rod Stewart still owns his likeness, and, there is no indication that Stewart had signed a release for Stewart. So while McClellan may currently own the photo copyright, she may not own it entirely and would be limited from commercializing it. It is possible that her ownership extends no further than the copy sitting on her computer.

Even under American law, this would probably count as "fair use". Stewart used his copy for his benefit and did not reap any commercial value from it. It was one of hundreds used and was shown for a total of of eight seconds. (http://www.rodstewartfc.com/all-the-news-all-the-time/august-2018/)

As this is British law though, I'm not sure how it will shake out.

In UK law there is no provision for "fair use" as far as I am aware. It will be an interesting case.

Pete Buckley-Thomson's picture

£9,999.99 is the highest you can claim and it stay on the small claims track in court. 1p more and it goes fast track