| photo of Jones © Frank Trapper / Corbis
Shirley Jones sued Corbis for marketing pictures just like the one shown here without permission, but a court dismissed the claim, saying Jones gave consent through her actions.
A federal court in La has dismissed actress Shirley Jones’s right of publicity claims against Corbis, saying she effectively consented to having her picture taken at red carpet events–and to having those images displayed for the aim of licensing the copyrights. After dismissing the entire claims, the court ordered Jones to pay the photo agency’s legal costs.
The ruling signals that celebrity photo agencies can keep on business as usual, without worry that celebrities can sue them for displaying images for license without consent. The court emphasized, however, that end users of the images–that is, customers of the agencies who license the copyrights–still must get permission from the stars to make use of the photographs commercially. And so does Corbis, the court said, if it desires to use images of Jones to promote other products or use the pictures for any purpose except to display them for license to others.
Jones sued Corbis in November, 2010 alleging that the corporate violated her rights of publicity by displaying her likeness on its web sites, and by enabling the general public to view pictures of her by searching on her name. Jones argued that by doing that, Corbis was making commercial use of the images without her permission, in violation of California state law.
Corbis filed a motion for summary dismissal of the claims. Last week, the court finally threw out Jones’s claim when you consider that while she would possibly not have explicitly consented to the distribution of pictures taken of her, she consented through her actions–simply by walking down the red carpet and allowing celebrity photographers to take pictures of her. It’s the custom of these photographers to make use of and disseminate those images, which Jones conceded in her testimony, US District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson wrote within the ruling.
Jones didn’t dispute that for no less than one event where pictures of her were taken, a notice was posted to warn celebrities that by walking down the red carpet, they were consenting to being photographed. Moreover, she was aware that events organizers provide alternative entrances for celebrities who don’t want to be photographed.
Jones “voluntarily posed at the red carpet for photographers who she knew would sell her likeness and name,” Judge Wilson concluded.
Just as importantly, the court rejected Jones’ argument that the rights of the photographers to distribute their images of her didn’t extend to their agent, Corbis.
Jones “never indicated that her consent was contingent at the individual photographers distributing the photos themselves. In fact, the undisputed factual record shows that [Jones] knew and understood that photographers at the red carpet could employ third parties to help them in distributing her photos,” and she or he made no objection to that during the past, Judge Wilson wrote.
Corbis “merely maintains a modern-day version of the catalogues of sample images that will be hand-delivered to potential buyers within the past.”
Judge Wilson concluded in his ruling, “No reasonable jury could find that Defendant’s display for this purpose was not consensual. Another holding will require that specific photographers themselves market their photos or obtain express consent from each subject previous to utilizing a 3rd party distributor to market their red carpet photos.”
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