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A California judge has ruled that celebrities who walk down the red carpet at an Hollywood event imply their consent to the use of their likeness in photographs. The ruling dismisses a class action lawsuit brought by Shirley Jones, star of the TV series The Partridge Family.
Jones initiated the lawsuit against Corbis Corporation, a digital image company that licenses the rights to millions of photographs. Among the company’s images are celebrities at entertainment gala events who show up, walk a red carpet and smile for the cameras. Jones alleged that Corbis had breached her publicity rights by operating a website that hosted 10 photographs of her on the red carpet and allowing users to search for her name and see sample low-resolution images.
Corbis buys the rights to these images from wire services, cultural institutions and professional photographers. The company then licenses the copyrights to others.
The issue for California federal judge Stephen Wilson was whether in the process of this transaction, Corbis can exploit commercially the name and image of Jones and other famous individuals.
Judge Wilson says Corbis’ actions are perfectly fine.
“Plaintiff concedes that for the ten photographs at issue, she chose to walk down the red carpet knowing photographers would take her picture,” writes the judge in an opinion issued on Wednesday. “Plaintiff also does not dispute that it is the custom and practice in the entertainment industry that red carpet photographs are widely used and disseminated. When Plaintiff is on the red carpet, it is Plaintiff’s practice to pose for photographers and agree to their requests to smile or to look in their direction.”
The judge has granted Corbis’ First Amendment defense to Jones’ complaint and doesn’t see any merit to the argument that Corbis, as a third party licensee/licensor, had any different legal obligations than the photographers themselves.
The judge notes that at one of the entertainment galas, a sign was posted so that celebrities knew they were consenting to having their photos taken, but even in the absence of such a sign, a smile and a head-turn is enough to acquiesce to a snap of the shutterbug.
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