Even celebrities keep getting caught up in the dragnet of US copyright law, that many people perceive as far more logical and fair than it really is, or, given its complexity, can be.
Media reports suggest that an increasing number of stars operate under the mistaken belief that reposting digital photographs of themselves online is by default a legal thing to do – only to be served with a lawsuit.
LeBron James is the latest to come up against a copyright infringement lawsuit for posting a picture of himself on Facebook. And since James can’t copyright the image of himself – he also can’t sue people for taking pictures of him, at least not on copyright grounds.
But then – people who have taken those pictures are free to copyright them, and when the moment is right, sue their subject for illegal use of their own image.
Steven Mitchell, who states in the filing obtained by Reclaim The Net (see below) that he is a professional photographer making his living by licensing his work for money, is the one now taking the basketball player to court, seeking a whopping $150,000 in damages per each violation.
Mitchell’s lawsuit cites Section 501 on the US Copyright Act, accusing the defendant (LeBron James) of publicly displaying a copyrighted photograph of NBA basket ball player (LeBron James) – without Mitchell’s authorization.
James stands accused here of “unlawful conduct” while the court is asked to order him to turn over to Mitchell all accounting of “profits” made from his Facebook post that had 14K likes and 92 shares.
Besides James, other plaintiffs named in the suit include two companies run by the athlete.
And while celebrities like James, Jennifer Lopez, 50 Cent, and many others who have faced similar legal action lately can certainly afford to either pay up, or otherwise settle – what’s unsettling here is the insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of the law.
Leaving aside for a moment the (limited) fair use respite that US copyright law provides – is it actually fair for photographers who earn their living off of the fact their subjects are famous, to then turn around and try to make even more money – no less than by suing them?
Read the filing here.
If you're tired of censorship and dystopian threats against civil liberties, subscribe to Reclaim The Net.