Do you have the right to post a photo of your product on Instagram, when that photo was taken by someone else?
That is the dilemma faced by an increasing number of celebrities, who are getting sued for posting photos of themselves, even though they do not own the rights to the photos. The celebrity culprits include Jennifer Lopez, Gigi Hadid, 50 Cent and Jessica Simpson.
Here is another: Designer Virgil Abloh creates customised suitcases under the name Off-White, in collaboration with luggage company Rimowa.
He then posted a photo of celebrity Bella Hadid using a suitcase personalised with her name as an Instagram Story, a post that would disappear after 24 hours. But he still got sued for infringing on the copyright of the owner of the photo, a photographer named Jawad Elatab.
Elatab proceeded to sue Abloh for infringing his copyright.
The New York-based photographer claims he has “at all times been the sole owner of all right, title and interest in and to the photograph, including the copyright thereto.”
Elatab is seeking damages, including any profits that Abloh made from the Instagram post, which essentially serves as a promotional campaign for Off-White luggage. Alternatively, he wants up to US$150,000 per work infringed plus attorney’s fees and full costs.
The copyright to photos of celebrities belong to the photographers who take them, and these rights are usually signed off to photo agencies which are not shy about pursuing legal action, even if the photo stays up on social media for only 24 hours.