When Your Photos Get Stolen: Legal Options After Your Photos Online Are Misused
Social media can be an invaluable tool for staying in touch with family and friends, or for promoting your business. But whether you are a photographer, an independent film maker, or just a regular individual sharing information online, pictures or video that you post on social media can take on a life of their own.
In today’s age of viral news, an interesting photo or a controversial post can be shared thousands of times within a few days. When pictures become popular, they also become ripe for theft and misuse by anonymous members of the Internet.
When your pictures get stolen online, or are being used for an objectionable purpose, do you have any rights? What can you do to protect yourself after your photos are posted?
Right of Publicity
California has stringent privacy laws, in part because of the film industry and the numerous celebrities who are residents of the state. Both the California Civil Code and the state’s common law system protect an individual’s right of publicity.
The right of publicity allows a person to control his or her own likeness, image, voice, signature, and photograph. It is against California law to use a person’s image or likeness for advertising or commercial purposes without his or her consent. If an image is used this way, the person who used the image may be liable for damages including punitive damages if warranted.
While this does create a right to file a lawsuit for California citizens, it only applies to images of a person, not images of landscapes or objects. Additionally, if the person who used your image is not located in the United States, it may not be worth the hassle and expense to track down the thief and force them to appear in court. If you are concerned that someone is using a photo of you or your child without your permission, always speak with an experienced attorney to learn more about your rights.
DCMA Take-Down Notices and Copyrights
For photographers or filmmakers, the first line of protection is to register your photos or videos with the United States Copyright Office.
Under the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), an Internet Service Provider (ISP) must remove a copyrighted photo from the website it is hosting if the ISP receives proper notice of the copyright violation. If the ISP refuses to take down the photo, that company could be liable to the copyright holder for damages.
Again, this is generally useful only if the ISP is located in the United States. If the website hosted in a foreign country, it may be much more difficult to get the ISP to comply with U.S. law.
Demand Letters and Copyright Lawsuits
A copyright attorney, like those at Pierce Law Group LLP, can assist you in taking legal action against the person or entity using your copyrighted photos online.
In most copyright actions, you will need a copy of your copyright registration certificate. If your photo has not been registered with the United States Copyright office, you may have a more difficult time pursuing a legal remedy. One of the benefits of a successful copyright lawsuit is that the offending website or entity may be forced to pay for your legal fees and other damages.
If you are unsure about your rights under California law or under U.S. copyright law, you need an experienced copyright lawyer on your side. At Pierce Law Group LLP, our attorneys can advise you of the best means to protect yourself, and will help you fight against the unauthorized use of your work.
For a free consultation, call (310) 274-9191. You can also sign up for our free email newsletter to learn more about important issues in copyright law and entertainment law.
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