One of the pitfalls of being a celebrity with nearly 67 million followers on Instagram is that you might be sued for posting a picture, even if it’s a picture of you.
Khloe Kardashian is being sued by Xposure Photos, a UK-based photo agency, for posting a photograph of her on her Instagram feed. The agency is seeking $25,000 in damages, an injunction, and profits arising from the use of the photographs in a lawsuit filed in California.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the image, which shows Khloe Kardashian with her sister at a Miami restaurant, was taken by Manuel Munoz and then licensed to The Daily Mail. The complaint states that Kardashian or a member of her team copied the photograph, altered it to remove the copyright management information, and posted it on Instagram on Sept. 14, 2016. Xposure Photos said in a statement:
Kardashian’s Instagram post made the photograph immediately available to her nearly 67 million followers and others, consumers of entertainment news — and especially news and images of Kardashian herself, as evidenced by their status as followers of Kardashian —who would otherwise be interested in viewing licensed versions of the photograph in the magazines and newspapers that are plaintiff’s customers.
In the world of social media the ownership of an image is a contentious thing, and does not always lie with the person whose likeness is used. The Hollywood Reporter cites a recent case that is strikingly similar to Kardashian’s dilemma. In March, Tom Holland, the English actor who plays the latest incarnation of Spider-Man, was sued by photographer Steven Ferdman for posting a picture of himself taken by Ferdman.
Ferdman also sued Sony Pictures for using the image on their Instagram and Twitter accounts, and demanded $150,000 for each infringement, later rescinding the lawsuit. (The Hollywood Reporter suggested a settlement had likely been reached.) The two lawsuits highlight the issue of copyright infringement on Instagram, where image ownership remains a murky issue.
One famous instance was when painter and photographer Richard Prince displayed (paywall) blown-up screenshots of other people’s Instagram photos at the Frieze Art Fair in New York, each selling for about $90,000. The episode revealed that Instagram can only protect a photograph’s copyright if it is reproduced within the platform. If the image is used elsewhere, they are not responsible and there might be little you can do. In the Prince case, Instagram said, “People in the Instagram community own their photos, period. On the platform, if someone feels that their copyright has been violated, they can report it to us and we will take appropriate action. Off the platform, content owners can enforce their legal rights.”
Often, professional photographers have a hard time getting the company to enforce copyright laws, even when there images are copied and posted to someone else’s Instagram account. “You forfeit certain rights by using a social media network,” writes CNN reporter Jose Pagliery. “And once your photos are out in public, they’re out of your hands forever.”