Instagram image share leads to lawsuit

Intellectual property rights matter, no matter what that property is used for. In an era where every action is an opportunity for a Facebook, Instagram or other social media post to promote your brand, any business needs to remember that copyrights matter. This doesn't just refer to using a popular internet meme or a screenshot somebody else shared. It could even be an image of you or your company.

Singer/celebrity Jessica Simpson currently faces a lawsuit for posting a picture of herself on Instagram. Note that it's "a picture of herself," not "her own picture." Splash News and Picture Agency own this image, and British paper, The Daily Mail, had rights for its limited use. This did not include use by Simpson herself.

Measuring value by exposure

While most people would think they'd have rights to a photo where they are the subject, Splash News and Picture Agency is a paparazzi company whose business is founded on the sale of rare photographs. Suing for $25,000, the company claims that Simpson's use of the image reduced its value. As a celebrity photo company, the argument also notes that Simpson's fans who saw the image on her Instagram post are the same customer base who buy the celebrity magazines the agency does business with.

As the Professional Photographers of America explains, photo copyrights belong to the photographer immediately upon creation. Rights then transfer based on permission. Just because The Daily Mail had rights to the image, it did not grant Ms. Simpson the same rights, and she's not the first celebrity to experience this surprising reality.

Reading the fine print

This lawsuit is one of many examples of how business contracts hinge on many parties. It only takes a single violation to decrease the value of a product or service. Any business matter requires careful review to make sure that the owners of property rights are protecting their brand and its use. Misuse of property can be as simple as a social media post or it can be far more egregious. 

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