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Who Owns Celebrities' Images?

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

The relationship between celebrities and the paparazzi is notoriously contentious. Stars have repeatedly criticized people who are paid to pursue them, from accusations of invasion of privacy to condemnation of unpleasant images. However, in recent years, a new wave of complaints has begun to emerge from the opposing side.

Dua Lipa is being sued after allegedly putting a paparazzi photo of herself on Instagram. According to court documents filed in the United States, the actress was seen queuing at an airport in February 2019 and then shared the photo with her fans "without permission or authorization."

In reality, what we are discussing here is copyright. It is widely acknowledged that authors, artists, and filmmakers retain control and ownership of their work. Those are their market-place assets, and anyone who tried to copy or exploit them without the owner's permission and without appropriately compensating them would be dealt with swiftly and simply. Actors and "celebrities" of a more nebulous nature have a more tough task selling their "product," which is essentially themselves and their own image. Even if it is evident that photos from an actor's private life have a market worth that is derived not from the photographer's expertise, but from the subject's status, the law affords very few methods to keep control.


So, who owns the copyrights to a picture of a celebrity snapped by a paparazzi without their consent? The paparazzi, according to well-established law. The creator of the original expression in a work is defined as the author of a copyright. As a result, the individual who takes the photograph should be the one who owns the rights to it. In general, it is against the law to photograph someone without their permission. Photographs taken for editorial purpose in a public place are an exception to this regulation. Based on the concept of fair use in copyright law, which is a defense to copyright infringement, editorial use is defined as "a newspaper or magazine article that expresses the editors' or publishers' opinions."

While some may argue that these lawsuits are biting the hand that feeds them, it is understandable that photographers would seek to recoup the damages that changes in the industry have caused to their industry. While suing celebrities for copyright infringement has proven profitable in the short term, it is unlikely to provide a long-term answer.



Attn. M. Murat Gülgün

Attn. Nur Sena Sevindi

Alperen İzberk Şentürk, Legal Trainee

İlayda Yüncü, Legal Trainee


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