Celebrities, street style stars and influencers be warned: you can’t legally use just any photo floating on the Internet to feed your social media, even if it’s of you.
Model-influencer Gigi Hadid is learning this the hard way with a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Virginia federal court by freelance paparazzo Peter Cepeda claiming a copyrighted photo he took of Hadid in July was posted to her Instagram and Twitter accounts without his permission. He’s also suing Hadid’s modeling agency IMG Worldwide.
The photo shows Hadid walking into a building in New York’s SoHo neighborhood with her hair in curlers and wearing a silver and black letterman-style jacket with “hadidas” written on the back and the letters “as” scratched out with black marker.
Cepeda licensed the photo through an agency to The Daily Mail and TMZ but Hadid subsequently Instagrammed the photo without linking to either site or crediting Cepeda, and then tweeted a link to the post.
At the time he filed the lawsuit, Cepeda claimed Hadid’s post and tweet were still up with 1.2 million likes and 1,300 retweets, respectively, despite his attempts to contact her management and have them removed.
As of Thursday, neither post appeared on her accounts, but that’s unlikely to put an end to this lawsuit.
“Even though she’s taken it down, it’s been out there a certain amount of time, and she’s liable,” said Monica Richman, an intellectual property partner at Dentons with a focus on the entertainment and fashion industries. “It’s not as easy as ‘Oops, it’s down, now. Sorry.’”
Cepeda’s main problem with Hadid’s actions appears to be that by posting his photo, she made it available for other web sites to use her Instagram image without getting a copyright either. And they did — the photo appeared by way of Instagram on the sites of Vogue and Teen Vogue, as well as theoutnet.com and a couple of shopping-centric blogs.
In an effort to collect purportedly lost income, Cepeda is seeking damages in excess of $50,000.
Richman said it’s difficult to speculate on the actual amount of licensing revenue the photographer may have lost, but it’s clear that Hadid used a copyrighted image without permission and that should move the suit toward a quick resolution.
“This is somewhat cut-and-dried,” Richman said. “He owns that picture and she used it without permission and she has to pay. You don’t need a whole trial to determine that.”
But Hadid and her ilk have candid street style photos of themselves all over their social media accounts, photos that may well be unauthorized and subject to legal action.
“This issue is interesting in particular because it’s an intersection of copyright and publicity rights,” said Jed Ferdinand, a longtime intellectual property lawyer. “You instinctively think ‘How in the world could Gigi get sued for using a photo of herself for her own social media?’ but it comes down to the fact that she didn’t have permission to use it. In these kinds of cases, copyright always trumps the right to publicity.”
While celebrities and models like Hadid may in some instances have relationships with photo agencies or photographers that let them use images without licensing, it usually comes down to the whims of a photographer.
And they’re getting increasingly litigious about the way their images are used, Ferdinand said. He’s had clients sued for using street style shots of themselves or their talent, in the case of management and public relations agencies, on social media.
“It’s hard and it’s not what anyone wants to hear, but the unfortunate reality is, if you don’t have the rights, you can’t do it,” Ferdinand said.
Long live the selfie.
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