/Jennifer Lopez sued by paparazzi agency for copyright infringement

Jennifer Lopez sued by paparazzi agency for copyright infringement

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Usually, it’s celebrities versus the paparazzi in court. Now some paps are fighting back, and Jennifer Lopez is the latest celeb to be sued for using a paparazzi photo without permission.

Lopez was sued in federal court in California on Saturday by Splash News and Picture Agency, one of the leading paparazzi shops. 

The suit accuses Lopez of two claims of copyright infringement for posting on her Instagram account a Splash photo of her holding hands with fiance Alex Rodriguez while they were out for breakfast in New York in November 2017.

The suit seeks $150,000 in damages for each claim. 

“(Splash) never licensed the photo to (Lopez). Nevertheless, Lopez (or someone acting on her behalf) used it without authorization or permission to do so,” the suit says.

Such photos, when taken of major celebs such as Lopez and Rodriguez, are worth big bucks to photo agencies looking for opportunities to capture boldfaced names in public. They sell the rights to use them to tabloids, celebrity magazines and mainstream newspapers.

The suit says the photo is “creative, distinctive and valuable.”

“Because of the subjects’ celebrity status, and the photograph’s quality and visual appeal, (Splash and its photographer) stood to gain revenue from licensing the photograph. But (Lopez’s) unauthorized use harms the existing and future market for the original photograph.”

So a pap snap of Lopez and Rodriguez, taken without their permission – which isn’t required under the First Amendment since she was out in public at the time – doesn’t belong to them and she would have to seek permission and pay the photo agency that owns the picture to use it on her social media.

Lopez has 102 million followers on her Instagram account. 

Does this lawsuit represent a new legal front in the ongoing conflict between paparazzi and the celebs they track? Celebs may think they’re discouraging paps by undermining the value of their photos by sharing them on social media, but that would seem to run up against U.S. copyright law as it currently stands. 

Joseph Mandour, managing partner of Mandour & Associates, a Southern California firm specializing in intellectual property law, says the law views a photograph as an “original work of authorship,” the same as, say, a painting or a book. There is no ambiguity about this, he says.

“The general rule is clear: The person who takes the photo owns the copyright,” Mandour said.

Celebrities who think they can use a photograph taken by a paparazzo because they posed and smiled, he said, are going to run into trouble, even if it “seems counterintuitive to them that they can’t use a photo they cooperated with.”

That was part of the argument Gigi Hadid made when she was sued by a pap agency called Xclusive-Lee in January after she used one of their photos of her on her Instagram. Her lawyers argued that her posting the picture constituted “fair use” because she contributed to the photo through her smile and her outfit, and because she cropped it in a certain way when she posted it.

The lawsuit against her was thrown out in July on a technicality: The agency failed to file the official copyright registration for the photo by the time it filed the lawsuit. 

But if she had won on her basic argument, Mandour says, the paparazzi business could be drastically undermined by reducing the value of their pictures.

“I can see the entire entertainment industry being interested in getting the law changed (in this way). They might be able to walk around in peace without paparazzi if the value of those photos goes down. … You’re taking money out of their pockets and taking away their future.”

Splash’s Los Angeles lawyer, Peter Perkowski, declined to discuss the lawsuit with USA TODAY. “Our policy is not to comment on pending lawsuits,” he said in an email.

Lopez’s lawyers did not return a message from USA TODAY. 

However, Perkowski also represented another photo agency, Xposure Photos UK, that sued Khloe Kardashian in 2017 for more than $175,000 for copyright infringement for using a paparazzi photo of herself on her Instagram account, according to documents in federal court. 

That lawsuit was settled and dismissed in February 2018 but there’s no record of the terms, if any, and Perkowski declined to discuss the case.

Kardashian’s lawyer in that case did not return a message from USA TODAY.  

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