Has Copyright Infringement Gone Viral: A Look at Celebrities, the Paparazzi, & Fan Accounts - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Has Copyright Infringement Gone Viral: A Look at Celebrities, the Paparazzi, & Fan Accounts

Has Copyright Infringement Gone Viral: A Look at Celebrities, the Paparazzi, & Fan Accounts

When the average user is posting images to their Instagram account, they’re probably worried about which filter to use or what their caption should be. In most cases, that’s all they should be worried about. However, some users should be more concerned about the possibility of a lawsuit.

The internet has cultivated a generation that is not too fond of intellectual property.1 Because of advances in digital technology, works such as photographs can easily be accessed, copied and shared. This means that it is easier to violate copyright protections.2 As a result, social media conflicts with copyright law,3 which exclusively grants a copyright owner the right to reproduce, distribute, or publish the work.4 To make matters worse, copyright law has not grown to match the rapidly-developing digital landscape.5

An example of the conflict between social media and copyright law is that of the clash between the paparazzi, celebrities, and fan-accounts dedicated to celebrating those celebrities.

For decades, the paparazzi have been a controversial group often criticized for the risky methods they sometimes use to get a photo. Many have blamed the paparazzi for Princess Diana’s death when her car crashed into a pillar as it sought to evade the camera-toting group.6 Others still criticize the paparazzi for violating the privacy rights of celebrities and their families.7 Recently, criticism surrounding this group has turned away from privacy issues and has turned towards the enforcement of paparazzi’s copyrights. The rise of social media and image-sharing platforms such as Instagram has resulted in a slew of litigation by the paparazzi against individuals sharing photographs—whether it be the celebrity subject of the photograph, or a fan account reposting it.

On October 18th, 2018, model Gigi Hadid announced that she was being legally pursued for posting a photograph of herself on Instagram in which a paparazzo had taken and copyrighted. The model wrote: “[…] for someone to […] sue me for a photo I FOUND ON TWITTER (with no photographers [sic] name on the image), for a photo he has already been paid for by whatever outlet put it online, is absurd.”8 In the same post, Gigi Hadid lamented that young fan-led accounts were similarly being pursued.9 As of January 29th, 2019, a copyright infringement lawsuit officially has been filed against Gigi Hadid.10 Other celebrities, such as Khloe Kardashian, have also been sued11 and their fan accounts shut down.12

As much as the paparazzi are criticized, the content they generate is gobbled up by the masses. Even if celebrities produce and share their own content, candid paparazzi photos have an appeal all their own. Kanye West famously exploited this appeal by advertising his Yeezy Seasons 6 and 7 in a paparazzi-style campaign, 13 and luxury fashion house Balenciaga quickly followed suit.14 Regardless of paparazzi criticism, copyright protection creates a financial incentive for the creation of new works for the public to consume.15 It provides the paparazzi with the opportunity to monetize their content – both by selling it to media outlets and licensing the photographs to various sources, including the subject matter of the photographs.

The issue of paparazzi photographs and fan accounts on social media demonstrates an interesting dichotomy between fans’ desire to access constant, candid content of their favourite celebrities and their desire to participate in the sharing of such content without any ramifications. To be fair, fan accounts probably aren’t motivated by a desire to deprive paparazzi from income – it’s more likely the accounts simply lack an understanding of copyright law.

Unfortunately, some fan accounts have learned the hard way that they can’t have their cake and eat it, too. Until the law is changed to better align with societal expectations, it is best to abstain from reposting pictures taken by other people onto your own account.


  1. Frederick Oduol Oduor, The Internet and Copyright Protection: Are We Producing a Global Generation of Copyright Criminals, 18 Jeffrey S. Moorad Sports L.J. 501, 507 (2017).

  2. Alice Gatignol, The Conflict Between Social Media and Copyright, Managing IP, Sept. 2016, at 18.

  3. Nivk Bolyrt & Gareth Dickson, Courts Address the Social Media-Copyright Clash, 237 Managing Intell. Prop. 39, 39 (2014).

  4. 17 U.S.C.S. § 106 (LEXIS through Pub. L. No. 115-269).

  5. Mihajlo Babovic, The Emperor’s New Digital Clothes: The Illusion of Copyright Rights in Social Media, 6 Cybaris Intell. Prop. L. Rev. 138, 138 (2015).

  6. Kate Samuelson, The Princess and the Paparazzi: How Diana’s Death Changed the British Media, TIME Magazine (Aug. 27, 2017), http://time.com/4914324/princess-diana-anniversary-paparazzi-tabloid-media/. [https://perma.cc/4R4S-7CQA]

  7. Devan Orr, Privacy Issues and the Paparazzi, 4 Ariz. St. U. Sports & Ent. L.J. 319, 324 (2014-2015).

  8. Gigi Hadid (@gigihadid), Instagram (Oct. 18, 2018), https://www.instagram.com/p/BpF_uK_nivH/?utm_source=ig_embed. [https://perma.cc/ESY3-R8ZP]

  9. Id.

  10. Michelle Kaminsky, Gigi Hadid Sued Over Unauthorized Publication of Paparazzi Photo On Instagram, Forbes (Jan. 29, 2019, 2:59 PM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/michellekaminsky/2019/01/29/gigi-hadid-sued-over-unauthorized-publication-of-paparazzi-photo-on-instagram/#6f86c80914e7. [https://perma.cc/D64K-AGQG]

  11. Kelly McLaughlin, Exclusive: Photo Agency That Sued Khloe Kardashian For More Than $175,000 After She Shared THIS Photo On Instagram Agrees To Dismiss Its Case, DailyMail.Com (Feb. 22, 2018, 2:34 PM, updated 4:23 PM), https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5423741/Photo-agency-agrees-drop-suit-against-Khloe-Kardashian.html. [https://perma.cc/AF73-HHQE]

  12. Ellie Woodward, The Kardashians Are At War With The Paparazzi Over Deleted Fan Accounts, Buzzfeed (Aug. 23, 2018, 8:37 AM), https://www.buzzfeed.com/elliewoodward/kardashians-war-with-paparazzi-deleted-fan-accounts. [https://perma.cc/5GKH-KG39]

  13. Emma Hope Allwood, Kanye’s Fake Yeezy Paparazzi Pictures Are Fashion Genius, Dazed (Dec. 7, 2017), http://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/38327/1/kanye-s-fake-yeezy-season-6-kim-kardashian-paparazzi-pictures-are-fashion-genius. [https://perma.cc/2RHR-UE7B]

  14. Roisin Lanigan, Balenciaga’s Latest Campaign Is An Homage to Celeb Paparazzi Shots, i-D (Feb. 1, 2018, 7:36 AM), https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/7x7z9x/balenciaga-paparazzi-campaign. [https://perma.cc/5S5C-WSHJ]

  15. W. Michael Schuster, Public Choice Theory, the Constitution, and Public Understanding of the Copyright System, 51 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 2246, 2253 (2018).

France Svistovski