Celebrity Photos and Social Media

16 May

Copyright and trademark laws are in place to protect the intellectual property of the people. The advent of the Internet, and later the optimization of search engines like Google and Bing, granted to anyone using it, access to billions of images and items seemingly for the public domain. Hopping on Google Images and searching “Scarlett Johansson” brings up hundred upon hundreds of images with her likeness. Since everyone has access to a veritable database of images to use, there’s been a recurring issue where business and companies have used celebrity likenesses found on the Internet for their websites and advertisements. Doing so, however, violates copyright laws, and have resulted in lawsuits over their illegal usage.Untitled design


On May 18th, 2014, Duane Reade, a drugstore chain, published a tweet depicting Katherine Heigl leaving one of their stores with the caption, “Love a quick #DuaneReade run? Even @KatieHeigl can’t resist shopping #NYC’s favorite drugstore.” They were promptly met with a six million dollar lawsuit. Depicting anyone’s likeness without their permission to promote a company or product violates copyright and fair use laws. Had Duane Reade gotten permission to use the photo as promotion first, or avoiding using promotional language in their caption, then their hands would have been legally clean.

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This same issue with Katherine Heigl is applied to every image on the Internet. Those images came from somewhere, some photographer, and using those images without getting permission or purchasing the rights to them is illegal and can result in a lawsuit if discovered. Social media has made the likelihood of this sort of lawsuit coming about increasingly likely if companies are negligent with where they get their photos from, whether the people depicted in the photos are celebrities or not. On February 20, 2017, the beer company Anheuser-busch was sued by a North Carolina woman, Kayla Kraft, for the use the of her image in a social media advertisement without her permission. The photograph in violation was taken from Kraft’s Facebook page where it was originally uploaded. Regular civilians can take and share and post images of celebrities all they like, companies and businesses cannot use the images of famous people to promote or advertise their products or services without first getting permission or obtaining the rights for the images.Untitled design (2)

If you have hired a social media agency to manage your digital presence, our advice is to make it clear to them that in no way are they represent your brand with images they or you do not own the rights to. There are plenty of places to purchase stock photos and photos of celebrities like Getty Images or even Shutterstock. Pay a small amount now or an astronomical amount later, but as these cases have shown us, you will pay, one way or the other. If ever in need of advice on your digital activities or best social media practices, feel free to reach out, we are always available.

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