Yet Another Celebrity Sued for Posting a Picture of Themselves on Instagram

It is a story we have heard many times at this point. Another celebrity is being sued for posting a picture of themselves on Instagram. This time, it is Jennifer Lopez.

The suit, which seeks $150,000, was filed by New York photographer Steve Sands. It alleges that on June 22, 2017, Lopez posted a picture of herself dressed as the character she plays in the television series "Shades of Blue," Harlee, with the caption "#Harlee." The post went on to receive approximately 656,000 likes from her 119 million followers. Sands is accusing both Lopez and Nuyorican Productions (her production company) of using his photo to promote Lopez' brand without his permission. Sands' lawyer, Richard Liebowitz, said: "The number of likes the photograph receives coupled with their number of social media followers is a tool to commercialise their posts." 

 Lopez is by far not the first celebrity to be sued for posting a picture of themselves in what is becoming a more common issue in the social media era, nor is this the first time she has personally been sued. Many express some level of understanding for the celebrities given that the photos are often taken by invasive paparazzi, with others applauding photographers standing up for their legal and financial rights. 

Lead image by Wikipedia user IZEmtv, used under Creative Commons.

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Sandesh Kumar's picture

Where can we find out what happened next? Did she pay the photographer? Did he win?

AC KO's picture

If you want more information about this case, you can contact the attorney directly via his Facebook page (“Liebowitz Law Firm, PLLC”), and ask him to email you a copy of the complaint (the filed copyright infringement lawsuit).

davidlovephotog's picture

Maybe just post when a celebrity doesn't get sued by someone.

Sandesh Kumar's picture


Jon Winkleman's picture

Shame on Alex Cook and Fstoppers for publishing yet another clickbait headline that makes copyright law, something that was written into the first draft of the US Constitution even before the Bill Of Rights, seem like an unreasonable scam. If Fstoppers seeks to educate photographers who are or aspire to be professional, Fstoppers and it’s writers should know about basic copyright law, why it is the basic legal right that protects all photographers and others who create intellectual property and be a consistent advocate for photographers rights to get paid anytime their copyright is infringed upon.

Also as copyright is a cornerstone of American Law, Fstoppers should not even present it as a debatable matter of opinion or what readers individually think should be fair. The headline should read “Another Celebrity Is Sued For Illegal Use Of A Photographer’s Work Without Permission Or Compensation.” Maybe Cook or Fstoppers could run more articles that simply about Copyright or Photographers and the Law.

Rutger Wierda's picture

Actually, there is no ruling yet, so the title should have read: "Another Celebrity Is Sued For Alleged Illegal Use Of A Photographer’s Work Allegedly Without Permission Or Compensation." You comment is implying you know all about (copyright) law, so you should be no stranger to the cornerstone of law: "In dubio pro reo", or the presumption of innocence.

To be honest, I'm no expert in US copyright law. However I do know that I my country the photograph could be seen as in infringement of privacy unless there is an agreement between the photographer and subject. And it could result in the photographer being forced to take the image offline and pay damages to ms. Lopez.

AC KO's picture

Rutger Wierda wrote, "’In dubio pro reo’, or the presumption of innocence.”

In the US, and notwithstanding copyright’s Fair Use exceptions, copyright infringement is a “strict liability” tort – there’s AUTOMATIC responsibility to the party who exploits, infringes, publishes, sells, etc. the photographs without permission (payment) of the photographer (or copyright owner).

If the photographer includes a copyright notice, watermark, logo, metadata, copyright attribution, and other “Copyright Management Information” (CMI) to his/her posted photographs, infringers can NOT claim that their infringements were made by accident or innocently! See US copyright law: 17 USC § 401(d).

Rutger Wierda wrote, “I'm no expert in US copyright law. However I do know that I my country the photograph could be seen as in infringement of privacy unless there is an agreement between the photographer and subject. And it could result in the photographer being forced to take the image offline and pay damages to ms. Lopez.”

In the US, you infringe the privacy/publicity rights of a person, including athletes and celebrities, when you exploit their image, likeness, or name commercially (on products or services) without their permission. If you photograph someone and make that image available for licensing via news, editorial, information, magazines, newspapers, art, and other non-commercial media, that action does NOT infringed the person’s privacy rights!

In the US, we have a First-Amendment right to photograph people in public places (where we are not trespassing); however, we are NOT permitted to exploit other people’s persona commercially (or defamatorily).

Jon Winkleman's picture

Although this individual case is not yet settled, the law is absolutely settled regarding copyright, privacy and right to likeness. This is where I am critical of Cook and the editors at Fstoppers who should be educating photographers on settled law regarding photography.

1) The copyright to any image is automatically assigned by law to the person who took the image. Any agreement to transfer or share those rights must be in the legal form of a contract or it is not valid.

2) Privacy: people in public spaces or in clear view of someone standing on the ground in a public space do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Meaning if someone danced naked in front of their picture window in clear view of anyone walking by on the sidewalk, that person has no right to privacy and any image taken of them is not a violation of their right to privacy. If someone was changing clothes in a 3rd floor bedroom away from the window and a photographer climbed a tree or used a drone to take a photo, their privacy is violated.

3) Right To likeness: This applies to how a photograph is used or displayed, it is independent of the copyright assigned to the photographer. The subject controls their right to likeness which means their image cannot be altered or put into a fake context without their permission as that would be defamatory. If I photoshop and image to change a person’s appearance or put a caption such as the person is drunk and I do not have evidence that would be legally provable in court that someone was drunk or in any other state of mind, that is defamatory. Also a person’s image cannot be used to endorse or be used on a commercial product (outside a documentary photo or fine art print). I do not need a release to display a street photo image of someone in a gallery show (provided I did not alter their appearance) or sell it to a news magazine, however I cannot license it to an advertising client or use it on non fine art items such as t-shirts and posters.

Unless there was a ban or the photographer did not have permission to bring a camera to that performance, Lopex had no expectation of privacy. Even if privacy is violated the photographer still owns the copyright.

This is all settled law.

stuartcarver's picture

Surely this trend is only going to end badly for photographers because in the end they are just not going to be allowed anywhere near a celebrity to photograph them so what previously will have been a legitimate way of earning money will disappear?

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Most likely not. They need the exposure as the unauthorized posting demonstrate.

AC KO's picture

Stuart Carver wrote, “Surely this trend is only going to end badly for photographers because in the end they are just not going to be allowed anywhere near a celebrity…”

These photographs are pretty much all taken on public property. People/Celebrities don’t have an expectation of privacy when they’re walking, jogging, holding hands, etc. on a public street/sidewalk or sitting in a public park.

stuartcarver's picture

But this looks like it was taken on some kind of film set so either it was in a public place or the photographer was on site doing some work, and now wont be getting any more work from them again.

Dave Dundas's picture

Objection your honor. Speculation, assumes facts not in evidence. We don't know where she was, and we don't know that the photographer was even hired in the first place. :)

stuartcarver's picture

That is true, but then the whole article is speculation, and so are all the comments:)

Fristen Lasten's picture

Shakira was better.