Kendall Jenner’s copyright infringement lawsuit is the most recent in a growing list of celebrities being sued by paparazzi for copyright infringement for posting pictures and videos of themselves to Instagram and other social media sites. Photographers who take photos of the celebrities in public are deemed the copyright owners and in turn license them to different outlets for publishing. Celebs who publish these same pictures to their respective Instagram and other social media accounts are then sued by paparazzi photographers for copyright infringement under the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. § 501).
In Gigi Hadid’s New York case, Hadid was sued a second time for posting a photograph on two of her Instagram accounts. Her attorneys called the copyright infringement accusation copyright misuse and an attempt to extract money from Hadid. Her attorneys also argued that Hadid had an implied license or joint authorship because she posed and smiled for the photograph, adding to its protectable elements. Xclusive-Lee, Inc. v. Hadid, 1:19-cv-00520-PKC-CLP (E.D.N.Y. 2019). The court dismissed this case and did not address these arguments because the Plaintiff had only applied for a copyright, but not received registration when it brought the suit. In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion, holding that a copyright registration is mandatory before bringing a copyright infringement lawsuit.
Another celebrity, Odell Beckham Jr., sued a photo agency arguing the photos and the agency’s later attempt to extort money from Beckham for posting the pictures of him on his social media violated his right to publicity. Beckham V. Splash News and Picture Agency, LLC et al., 2:18-cv-01001-JTM-JCW (E.D. La. 2018). This case settled before the court addressed these arguments.
Like most of the paparazzi copyright cases, Jenner’s case is likely to settle because the cost of litigation will exceed the settlement demand. Her sister, Khloe Kardashian, settled a similar case in mediation in 2018. Xposure Photos UK Ltd. v. Khloe Kardashian et al, 2:17-cv-03088-DSF-MRW (C.D. Cal. 2017). It will be interesting to see how a court would decide theses copyright cases proceed if they were not cost prohibitive. Will courts deem these suits copyright trolling? Regardless, the copyright trolls incentivize celebrities to settle the case instead of risking final resolution.
The case is Ma v. Kendall Jenner, Inc., Case No. 2:20-cv-03011 (C.D. Cal. 2019).