The complicated relationship between paparazzi, social media, and celebrities continues in the copyright space. We previously wrote about the cases that had emerged related to Gigi Hadid and Victoria Beckham as well as many other celebrities. Both Hadid and Beckham posted photos taken by paparazzi on their social media accounts and were subsequently sued for copyright infringement. These cases have raised interesting legal arguments at the intersection of copyright enforcement and a celebrity’s right of publicity in their own image, including whether a license could be implied when a celebrity poses for a photograph, or whether that pose creates a co-authorship interest.

Liam Hemsworth is the latest celebrity to make headlines for a related scenario. The photograph at issue in Hemsworth’s case was taken as part of a series of photos depicting him on location for production of a film released earlier this year, Isn’t It Romantic. See ECF No. 1, Splash News and Picture Agency, LLC v. Liam Hemsworth, No. 2:19-cv-10584 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 15, 2019). The photo was licensed exclusively to The Daily Mail. On July 15, 2018, the same day that it was posted to The Daily Mail, the photo of Hemsworth also appeared, without its copyright information as produced on The Daily Mail‘s website, on one of Hemsworth’s social media accounts. It also included a “tag” promoting the movie. On June 20, 2019, the photo again appeared on the same social media account, including a feature to encourage viewers to vote for Isn’t It Romantic at the Teen Choice Movie Awards.


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Supermodel Jelena Noura “Gigi” Hadid was not the first celebrity to be photographed by paparazzi and then to post the resulting photo to social media, nor was she the first to be subsequently sued for copyright infringement for doing so. Other celebrities, including Jennifer Lopez and, most recently, Victoria Beckham, have made news for the same situation.

This trend falls into an interesting intersection of two significant tenets of law: a celebrity’s right of publicity in their own image and a photographer’s right to copyright their artistic work. The district court dismissed the case due to a lack of a copyright registration. In addition to that defense, though, her attorneys also raised the defenses of fair use and implied license. The second may have begun paving the way for future legal challenges to clarify these issues by raising a novel argument—implied license—alongside the more typical defense of fair use.


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