Is Image Copyright Fair?

Is Image Copyright Fair?

You take a picture of someone while out on the street and post it to your Instagram feed. They then repost your image. The BBC questions whether this is fair.

To put that in context, the discussion revolves around celebrities and their love-hate relationship with the paparazzi. Let's face it, if someone trails you around all day looking to catch you looking your worst, with a lover, going topless, or just looking rubbish, then they are hardly going to form a positive relationship with you. On the flip side of course, there is the mantra that "there is no such thing as bad publicity" (commonly associated with PT Barnum) and having someone freely promoting your brand can be a good thing. It also saves you from hiring a photographer.

However, as the BBC reports, this relationship has become unbalanced with the introduction of social media in to the equation. At this point, the celebrity becomes interested in the images for promoting themselves and so may repost them on their own Twitter or Instagram feed. Of course, copyright is assigned to the person who presses the shutter button which means that anyone else has to seek permission before they can use it. This is where the paparazzi perform a slightly incongruous task because they are interested in using the image rights of someone else for syndication, so performing a public duty. To be clear, this is for news and editorial work and so is allowed, however we now have the individual also wanting to use the images for their own use. The catch, of course, is that money is involved.

The BBC notes that high profile sponsored posts can net over $1 million for the celebrity and not surprisingly the photographer wants a piece of the action. So much so that some paparazzi may well be pursuing copyright infringement (or copyright trolling) as the main monetary income stream rather than the syndication of the image itself. Perhaps the highest profile case to date involved suing Khloe Kardashian to the tune of $175,000 for sharing an image.

Is copyright trolling fair practice? Should celebrities just be more aware of image rights and behave accordingly? Maybe they could hire a photographer instead. Or has this stepped over the mark in to the right of the individual to control their own image, as well as verging on extortion?

Lead image courtesy of Laura6 via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons.

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14 Comments

Rob Davis's picture

Fairness is not the real question. The real question is whether we would be better or worse off without these rights. I think we would be worse off without them.

Christian Lainesse's picture

If you are a celebrity, why would you want to use a paparazzi's photo in your own social media feed to promote yourself, instead of a photo you fully have the rights to (selfie or taken by a friend or hired photog)?

No celebrity uses paparazzi photos. This and the BBC article misused the term, paparazzi, in the context of this story.

A paparazzi is someone who hounds/stalks a celebrity in their worst moments, looking for a "juicy" photo to sell to tabloids.

The photographers this and the BBC article are referencing aren't paparazzi. They're just people who show up for events to snap glamorous images of celebrities to post on their social media page. Many social media trolls and some celebrities started realizing that if they wanted high quality, beautiful shots of themselves on the red carpet, they didn't have to hire photographers anymore; they could get same quality images for free by using images posted on social media.

Andy Barnham's picture

The rights exist to protect everyone photographers and models/ people alike; hence model and location releases. The influencers who abuse these rights are ignorant of the law and, in my opinion, use the images only to promote themselves and often at great personal financial benefit. So why shouldn't the copyright holder also be entitled to a fair slice of the pie? If the influencer sees value in an image, they should be willing to pay for it. If an influencer wants, and often needs, images of themselves for their feeds, hire a photographer as you suggest. As the BBC states, when some stars earn £1m for a post, it seems ludicrous they're not doing so already to control the image rights.

Also encouraging fans, who are often biased in favour of their influencer, to abuse copyright is also wrong and self serving.

I wrote an open letter to Gigi last year about this;

https://www.andybarnham.com/blog/2018_10_23-open-reply-to-gigi-hadid

Is that not what some of the writers on Fstopper also do? Someone does a video and posts it on YouTube. The writers will take certain content from that video in order to make a story on Fstoppers. How is that not the same?

James Terry's picture

I've always been curious about this. At least they post the link to the video in the post? I'm kind of conflicted on the idea though.

Ben Anderson's picture

Ah, e x p o s u r e... via posting a link to a work taken and used...
I'd like to see how many off-site nods/winks, "ooh...that's a great work" 's it actually will take to make a mortgage payment, or even buy a roll of Ektachrome, or a new RODE mic for the video gang...

The only credit I've been able to purchase groceries with is my own credit...card, that is.

This is such a muddled, loaded article that I'm surprised it was even published, and on a photography site, no less.

First, let's get something straight. Paparazzi refers to a very specific type of photographer that stalks celebrities hoping to capture their weakest and most humiliating moments to sell to tabloids for big money. Many of these people cross lines of decency and privacy (for example, using telephoto lenses to take photos of celebrities tanning in the nude, shooting a celebrity being pulled from a car wreck or as CPR is being performed on them).

The "photographers" being discussed in these articles are not paparazzi. They're just people who show up at events hoping to get a great shot of a celebrity to post on their social media or gallery page. For the sake of clarity, let's just call them "opportunists."

What's been happening is that social media trolls like the Kardashians have been exploiting the opportunists for their benefit. Rather than hire professional photographers to capture them in their best moments, they just wait for the opportunists to post high quality, glamorous photos of them on social media, then share them with their followers to further promote their brand. It's not "copyright trolling" to slam a celebrity for such usage because the celebrity is using a photographer's image commercially and without credit.

Michael Jin's picture

I think that apart from the legal arguments (which are pretty clear), it's an interesting question. Every image involving another person is, to some degree, an amalgam of the photographer's expression and the expression of those in the scene even if it might be an unconscious collaboration.

Andy Barnham's picture

Interesting point; I think in instances like this where an influencer knows there is a high chance of them being photo'd that they behave in a particular way to ensure any potential photos are flattering and positive. Hence why they're then keen to share/ repost as they like the image in which they didn't have any other input into.

The issue with that is that when a person is in a public place, they have no real right not to be photographed. So as long as its for artistic use or news/public interest then the photographer is safe to use it. As for the celebrity, I would say that its part of the job. Its kinda like a marine (always a marine). If you are famous, youre always famous. Not just in your house, not just while on a set, but all the time.

Michael Jin's picture

Were you meaning to respond to someone else? I don't see how this is relevant to my post.

Scott Wardwell's picture

If I were the subject of a clandestine shot that was shared online and made money, how are my rights protected in the absence of a Model's Release?

chris bryant's picture

If you didn't make/take it don't share, copy, forward, save, post, tweet, re-post, re-tweet, re-anything, etc. Is it THAT difficult understand?