Gigi Hadid found herself sued for copyright infringement by New York photo agency Xclusive-Lee, Inc. over a photo the fashion model posted to her Instagram account. The disputed photo was of Hadid herself, smiling at the camera while wearing a blue denim jacket and matching shorts with silver heels, and was snapped by paparazzi. Xclusive-Lee claims to own the copyright to the image, and alleges that Hadid posted the photo to her 44 million Instagram followers in October 2018 “without the permission or consent of Xclusive,” and in doing so “violated Xclusive’s exclusive rights of reproduction and distribution.” Furthermore, the complaint accuses Hadid of having “first-hand knowledge” that copying and posting photographs to her social media accounts for which she does not have licenses constitutes copyright infringement. In support of this contention, Xclusive detailed another “nearly identical” case in which Hadid was sued in 2017 for copyright infringement rising from her social media posts. That case, Peter Cepeda v. Jelena Noura “Gigi” Hadid and IMG Worldwide, Inc., 1:17-cv-00989-LMB-MSN (E.D. Va. 2017) settled out of court before reaching discovery. Xclusive also noted at least fifty other examples of uncredited or unlicensed photographs that Hadid had posted to her Instagram at the time of filing. Hadid waived service earlier this month, but has not yet responded to the suit.
Takeaway: The subject matter of a photograph may not own the rights to that photograph. Especially in cases of high-profile individuals, posting and distribution of unlicensed photographs on social media can open the doors to copyright liability.