Janise Marvin, 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?”
My freshman year of college, I got a notification that I was tagged in a photo. My friend from high school had seen me in the background of one of her friend’s photos who just happened to go to Pepperdine as well. I didn’t know her other friend, but I was in the photo, and she though it was so cool to have found me in the background. With that said, I don’t think I have any rights to that photo. I don’t know if I can really say that I own my own likeness. There are thousands of different people in the background of my photos, and in order to use them, I would have to get their permission? I don’t think that is at all possible.
If that were so, then any of today’s celebrity gossip magazines would be out of business. They take photos of celebrities at all sorts of events and publish them. With the quality of some of them, especially if it’s an embarrassing spread, I wouldn’t even be able to begin to believe that they get permission from the celebrities to publish the photos. I think that there is a certain point at which there is a line as to what you can publish without getting sued. I have no idea where that line is, but it would only seem fair if there was a line.
I can only imagine how many photos of me there are out there. Just by going to stores and malls, I’m on all kinds of security cameras. I don’t have any rights to that footage, so I wouldn’t have rights to any of the pictures that I am in as well. The only way I can imagine I would have rights is if there is some rule about publishing the photos, rather than just taking them. But under normal circumstances, I would not expect to have any rights to photos taken of me.
Janise Marvin is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Public Relations and Philosophy.
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.