In today’s digital age, with almost any content available online for free, it’s tempting to use someone else’s image for your own purposes. However, it’s important to consider whether you have permission to use that image. Celebrities are not immune to this issue, as numerous famous individuals have been sued for posting paparazzi photos of themselves on their social media accounts. This content is often protected by copyright law.
Typically, the creator of an image (such as a photographer, graphic designer, or artist) owns the copyright and has the sole right to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works, sell, and license the image. Copyright protection automatically vests upon the fixation of an image but registering a work with the U.S. Copyright Office can provide additional benefits, such as the ability to obtain statutory damages for infringement and attorney’s fees.
Even if an image is freely available on the internet or social media, it cannot be downloaded, copied, shared, or used to create another work without permission from the copyright owner. There are limited exceptions to this principle, such as the doctrine of fair use.
It’s worth noting that even if the image is of you or you hire a photographer to take photos, you may still be liable for copyright infringement if you don’t have permission from the copyright owner. Permission typically takes the form of a written license, or an assignment found in a contract for services.
Copyright infringers may be liable for actual damages or statutory damages (capped at $30,000 unless the infringement was willful, in which case the cap is $150,000) and may also be required to pay the copyright owner’s attorney’s fees. Removing a copyright notice from an image or failing to remove an infringing image after being notified can be evidence of willful infringement.
To secure permission to use an image, consider using a stock photo website like Getty Images or Shutterstock, which license the right to use their images. It’s important to review the scope of the license before using an image. Creative Commons is another option, but make sure to read the terms of the license carefully. If you’re hiring someone to create imagery, consult an attorney to ensure the agreement transfers all rights and interests to you or provides you with a sufficient license. Website owners and social media users should take care when using images they didn’t create, as copyright trolls may target them for settlements.
If you’re unsure about your rights to use images or believe your rights have been infringed upon, speak to an attorney experienced in handling copyright infringement matters.