Celebrity Jessica Simpson could not predict that uploading a photograph of herself on social media could make her pay damages for copyright infringement. Although she could have learnt a lesson from Bruno Mars’ recent infringement case, couldn’t she?

celebrity law

Rita Mehesz

What’s the story?

The photograph shows Simpson leaving The Bowery Hotel in New York. It was taken by a paparazzo, Humberto Carreno, who is working  for Splash News – one of the biggest celebrity news agencies in the United States.

Splash News licensed the image to Daily Mail and it appeared in an online article on 9 August 2017. Unfortunately, right after it was also posted on Jessica Simpson’s Instagram and then re-posted on her Twitter feed.

Legal troubles started because the 37-year old star used the photograph without permission or authorization from the holder of the copyright – Splash News. What is more, Copyright Management Information (CMI) was removed from the copy so it was published without any attribution to the copyright owner.

11,5 milion followers

Last week Splash News decided to file a complaint in the California federal court. They are arguing that Simpson’s action harmed their chances of profiting from the photo and now they are claiming damages. The fact is that the agency sold a limited license to Daily Mail to use the photograph. They didn’t sell it to Simpson.

Agency’s lawyer Peter E. Perkowski wrote:

“Simpson’s Instagram post and Twitter tweet made the photograph immediately available to her nearly 11.5 million followers and others, consumers of entertainment news — and especially news and images of Simpson herself, as evidenced by their status as followers of her — who would otherwise be interested in viewing licensed versions of the photograph in the magazines and newspapers that are plaintiff’s customers.” (see full text here).

Financial loss

It is hard not to agree with that statement. Jessica Simpson is a singer, actress, and fashion designer. Her brand is famous worldwide. Simpson uses her social media channels for promotion of her products and to gain popularity as an actress and singer. As we can read in the lawsuit her “celebrity status and popularity is central to her ability to sell products and services”. Basically speaking, she is selling her image to promote her business.

Due to the copyright infringement, she certainly caused a financial loss of the copyright owner. It is not hard to see that unlawful copying and using the image harms the market for the original photograph.

Does copyright law apply to celebrities?

Jessica Simpson is the third celebrity in 2017 who had legal problems due to copyright infringement, after she distributed photos of herself on social media. The first one was Khloe Kardashian who was sued for posting a photo taken by a paparazzo in April 2017. The next one was Bruno Mars sued for publishing a childhood photo from 1989.

Sometimes it is worth knowing that using photos of yourself is not the same as using photos you took. Especially when you work in the entertainment industry.

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