Ariana Grande is the latest celebrity being sued by a paparazzi photographer for posting photos of herself on Instagram. It seems crazy that someone can sue her for posting a picture taken of herself. However, the copyright law protects the work of photographers just like it protects works of art.
Ariana Grande’s Copyright Infringement Lawsuit
According to BuzzFeed News, the photos Grande posted were taken by Robert Barbera last year as Grande was walking out of a building in New York carrying a bag that read “Sweetener”, the title of her latest album at the time.
On August 17th, Grande posted the photos on the day her album Sweetener was released, captioning it, “Happy sweetener day”. You could consider this post as a way for Grande to promote her album, and it most likely was. However, since Grande did not have authorization from Barbera to post these photos, her Instagram post has turned from an album promotion to evidence in court.
Grande is being sued by Barbera for either the profits Grande earned from the photos or $25,000 for each picture, according to BuzzFeed News.
However, I’m confused as to how Grande necessarily profited from the photos since this particular post was not sponsored by any company or product that would pay Grande for the post. Instagram doesn’t pay celebrities to post photos, regardless of how much engagement they get.
The way people make money off of Instagram is when a company pays celebrities or influencers to post a photo mentioning or picturing a product or service of some sort. These type of transactions are known as paid promotions and usually have the hashtag #ad or #paidpromotion attached to the caption. So, unless Grande’s label or anyone else involved in album sales of Sweetner paid the singer to post those photos, I don’t think she profited from them directly.
The only way Barbera could argue that Grande profited from the photos is if he could prove that the post was directly linked to Grande’s album sales. And even then, the post didn’t include a link to buy the album nor did the caption even use language having to do with album sales. The caption “happy sweetener day” hardly screams “sweetener out now everywhere. Go stream or buy it” like most album promotional posts read. Regardless, I have no idea how one could even track if the post impacted album sales or streams without a link. Therefore, if Grande does lose this case, she’ll most likely be paying Barbera $50 grand.
It would be more reasonable in Barbera’s case to determine how much money he lost from not being able to sell the photos of Grande to publications. If Grande hadn’t publicly posted the photos to her Instagram, magazines and newspapers could have bought the photos from him directly instead of being able to screenshot them. He really should be suing publications that used them without his permission. That way, he could more accurately track how much profit was made from the images through newspaper or magazine sales.
Why Have Copyright Infringement Laws?
Now, a lot of people are speaking out regarding the fact that Grande, and other celebrities like Gigi Hadid and Kim Kardashian West, are being sued for posting photos of themselves taken by paparazzi.
The issue lies within copyright laws that intend to protect intellectual property and works of art, even if it comes from someone hiding in a bush. Without these laws, we wouldn’t be able to protect our own works of art, no matter the magnitude. Generally, celebrities can only sue if their image is used to promote a product without their permission, but they do not own the rights to their own photos.
How to Avoid Copyright Infringement on Instagram
Many other celebrities have chosen to take a different route and use their own personal photographers to create content for their Instagram. Some do this for style and other may because of copyright issues. However, if more celebrities used their own personal photographers, would this put the paparazzi out of a job? Probably not because publications would still buy the rights to the images from the paparazzi, but regardless, it could solve the issue of having to go to court over an Instagram post.
What do you think? Should copyright laws be changed so that celebrities have the right to all images of themselves or should they stay the same so the paparazzi can stay in business?