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Celebrities vs. Photographers: The Instagram Wars

20 September 2019

From Plagiarism Today:

What do Gigi Hadid, Bella Hadid, Odell Beckham Jr., Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Lopez, Khloe Kardashian and dozens of other celebrities have in common?

They are all the subject of photographs that become flash point for a lawsuit after the images were posted on Instagram without the photographer’s permission.

To be clear, not every lawsuit was filed against the celebrity. Sometimes, such as in Odell Beckham Jr.’s case, the celebrity filed the lawsuit proactively. Other times, as with Bella Hadid

, it was a designer or other entity that posted the photo of the celebrity and was the target of the litigation.

Still, one thing has become very clear. Celebrities on Instagram are big business and that big business is leading to some serious litigation. So much so that The Fashion Law has compiled an ongoing list of legal battles paparazzi photographers and those that have used their images on social media, primarily Instagram.

As of this writing they are tracking 21 cases since April 2017, barely a year and a half ago. While those cases represent only a tiny percentage of the lawsuits filed by photographers in recent years, they represent the lion’s share of the headlines and public attention.

But this raises a question: Photographers have had their work misused on social media since the days of Myspace and Friendster. Why is there a sudden spike in photographer litigation now? The reason is extremely complicated but there is one thing to definitely understand: Photographers are punching back.

. . . .

Photographers have always had unique challenges when it came to copyright and the internet. In a print world, infringement was relatively rare as part of the benefit of licensing an image was getting a clean version of it.

In the digital world, not only is infringement as easy as a mouse click but the internet has also made photography, and all visual art, seem almost transient in nature. Photography is something to be downloaded, shared and repurposed without any consideration for the person who took the image and whatever skill, time or expense they used to create it.

But while it was annoying when it was personal people sharing over social media or other non-commercial purposes, the trend in recent years is that social media is itself big business.

On Instagram, for example, “Influencers” can make one cent per follower per sponsored post. For very popular users, such as celebrities, this can be worth tens of thousands of dollars for a single post.

. . . .

However, even as the value and commercialization of social media posts have gone up, the treatment of photographers and photography has not necessarily improved. Though many on Instagram do behave appropriately, either sharing their work or images they’ve licensed, many others do not and routinely slip into behaviors that were tolerated in earlier days.

Combine this with services such as Pixsy that enable easier tracking of images and aggressive lawyers, such as Richard Liebowitz, and you have a formula where you’re seeing increased commercial infringement, better tracking of said infringements and lawyers willing to go after them.

You also have the U.S. Copyright Office that, despite severely limiting group work registrations for most creators, has bent over backwards to help photographers enabling them to register 750 works at one time instead of just 10.

Link to the rest at Plagiarism Today

Copyright/Intellectual Property