The Media Unknowingly Paid Melania Trump Thousands to Use Photos of Her

Getty Images
Melania Trump (not one of the photographs in question)

Getty Images stipulated the photos be used in “positive stories" only.

The press have been indirectly paying Melania Trump thousands of dollars in royalties for using photographs of her, NBC reported Monday.

Getty Images, a photo agency used by many publications including The Hollywood Reporter, required that a collection of 187 photos of Melania Trump be used in “positive stories” only in its licensing agreement. However, outlets that published the photos say they didn’t know about the stipulation and did not alter their editorial coverage. THR is not aware of any of the photos used in our magazine.

As revealed by President Donald Trump’s financial disclosures, Melania Trump received between $100,000 and $1,000,000 from Getty Images in 2017. The collection, featuring Melania and Donald Trump with son Barron in New York, was shot between 2010 and 2016 by Belgian photographer Regine Mahaux.

NBC reports, “It's not unheard of for celebrities to earn royalties from photos of themselves, but it's very unusual for the wife of a currently serving elected official” and lists Yahoo News, NBC News, Marie Claire and the Daily Mail as among those to use the photos and thus unknowingly pay Melania Trump.

Interestingly, NBC also found that the photos were used before 2017, but no income was disclosed by the Trump family, implying either Melania Trump was not paid for the photos before last year or Trump did not report the income. The Trumps have also been accused of using their political power to profit financially by hosting diplomatic meetings at Mar-a-Lago (U.S. News reports that political groups spent $1.2 million at Trump’s properties during his first year as president). 

The news raises questions in light of the relationship between the Trumps and the press. Trump labels publications from CNN to The New York Times as “fake news,” to discredit them, while the media has been accused of “creating” the president by fueling the fire of his campaign and covering him for clicks and views. The royalties from Getty mean that the Trumps were financially benefitting from press coverage when publications unwittingly used the Mahaux photos. Getty's standard of running the images in “positive stories only” goes against common journalistic ethics, and sites like NBC News say they did not agree or sign that they would be used in positive coverage.

Greta Van Susteren's Fox News show On the Record used the photos, and she later tweeted, “I never agreed to do a ‘positive’ story — I did an honest story and it was positive because she is a decent person and has led decent life to report.”

Some media outlets have removed the photos from articles, but a rep from Getty confirms to THR that the images are still available for licensing on the Getty Images website. "Getty Images contracted to represent these images consistent with other arrangements that our Contour portraiture business makes from time-to-time with celebrities for special access to their private homes," a rep tells THR, adding the image restrictions are stated clearly online and that Getty's typical editorial coverage "is in no way influenced by any agreements." 

Read the full statement from Getty Images:

Prior to Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. Presidency, Mrs. Trump and her family at her private residences participated in at-home photo shoots. Getty Images contracted to represent these images consistent with other arrangements that our Contour portraiture business makes from time-to-time with celebrities for special access to their private homes - the ongoing distribution of photos from those kinds of shoots may generate royalty obligations to the celebrity.

We regret NBC neglected to clarify that they knew that these images have usage restrictions, as anyone who wishes to use the images must have approval from the photographer and the image restrictions are clearly stated on the website, with the images, as follows:

Restrictions: USER WILL NOT BE ABLE TO PRICE OR DOWNLOAD IMAGE WITHOUT PRIOR NEGOTIATION. CONTACT YOUR CONTOUR REPRESENTATIVE.HIGHER RATES; NO TABLOIDS; POSITIVE STORIES; NEEDS PHOTOGRAPHER APPROVAL; MINIMUM PER IMAGE OF $500.

Getty Images’ editorial coverage (AS DISTINGUISHED FROM PRIVATE IN-HOME SHOOTS) is in no way influenced by any agreements, carry no such restrictions and in no way carry any financial consideration to those DEPICTED in the imagery.