Sharon Pak, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Spring 2013 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the question: “While attending a private party a famous actress stops by to say hello to the hostess. Several people take photographs of the actress with you in the background. Do you have any rights relating to the publication of the photos?”
Fresh out of high school, I remember the days I would lie in bed and fantasize about my upcoming years at Pepperdine. I thought one of the perks of attending Pepperdine was the city of Malibu. I envisioned the Kardashian clan and hot hot Zac Efron casually strolling around the nearby Ralphs. I dreamed of private house parties where stars got drunk off of champagne. In my dreams, I did not dare become friends. I only wished I rubbed shoulders with these glamorous people—occasionally happen to be in the background of Anne Hathaway’s fan shot.
The question is whether I would have rights to the publication of any Anne Hathaway photos I happen to be in the background. In my opinion, I do not have any rights to the photos. Although the photo was taken at a private party, it is like a public event. There are people everywhere and it is impossible to prevent other people from being in the background of certain pictures. It’s like a SAG after party. It is a private event, but there are a mix of stars and “normal” people. If a pic of a star is taken there is a high chance that there will be tons of random people caught in the background. Does it mean that EVERY single person who happens to be in the background has rights to the pic? I am not the focus of the photo. It is also a one-time photo unlike a campaign that is reproduced and spread everywhere. Some may argue that it is infringing upon the right to privacy. It seems like people are using the word so loosely. If we used the right to privacy this loosely it can be applied to every situation. The one time publication would not be hurting or affecting me in any way UNLESS I happened to be drunk out of my mind and doing something inappropriate drawing attention to ME rather than Anne Hathaway. But if I just happen to be in the picture, I do not think I would have the rights to the publication of the photo.
I dreamed a dream. Stars do not walk around Malibu as I wanted to believe. People need to look at things with an open heart. It’s like 15 minutes of fame—a once in a lifetime event.
Sharon Pak is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Integrated Marketing Communications.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.