It’s All For the Gram: Gigi Hadid’s Instagram account could lead to landmark ruling on copyright laws

July 10, 2019

3 min read

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What's going on here?

The 24-year-old model Gigi Hadid is fighting a copyright infringement case. It concerns a photo of herself that she posted on Instagram, even though the copyright was owned by the agency Xclusive-Lee.

What does this mean?

Gigi Hadid is claiming that, on the grounds of “fair use”, she has the sole right to the picture as she actively posed for the shot. In addition to this, she claims the fact that she also chose her outfit and cropped the photo, which she then posted to her 48.5 million followers on Instagram, strengthens her case. Therefore by posing for, and subsequently editing and posting the picture, she feels she has done enough to satisfy the legal criteria of ownership. Section 107 of the Copyright Act assesses whether fair use is applicable on a against four criteria

  1.  Whether the use of the image is of a “commercial nature”
  2.  The degree to which the image encourages “creative expression”, 
  3.  “The quantity and quality” of the image, and 
  4.  The “effect” or “value” of the image’s use on the potential market. 

As well as claiming that she contributed to the image, Ms Hadid’s team added that she isn’t seeking rights to the picture for profit. They claim that she “merely reposted the photograph to her Instagram page and made no effort to commercially exploit it”.

Xclusive-Lee bemoaned Ms Hadid’s poor knowledge of the Copyright Act and retorted “just because she noticed the photographer and smiled” does not make her a “joint copyright holder”.

What's the big picture effect?

The increased importance of social media in the modern age has resulted in ever-increasing numbers of copyright claims. For example, there are a growing number of examples where celebrities have fallen foul of copyright laws when it comes to posting on Instagram. Khloe Kardashian and Ariana Grande have both been sued for copyright infringement, whilst even the fashion giant Versace has suffered a lawsuit. This was when they “grammed” photos of Jennifer Lopez at an MTV Video Music Awards afterparty without obtaining permission from the photographer. 

Moreover, this is not the first time that Ms Hadid has faced a lawsuit of this sort. In 2017, she was forced to settle out of court with photographer Peter Cepeda, who worked for the agency INF photo, for using a picture he took of the model wearing a customised Adidas jacket. At the time Peter Cepeda wanted to seek further action and file an injunction against Ms Hadid so she could not use any of his photos. Mr Cepeda claimed Ms Hadid’s Instagram post had robbed him and his agency, noting that big companies and websites were already making it “too easy to steal photos” and were destroying agencies’ livelihoods. He claimed, if celebrities were allowed to own copyright just by being in the photograph, the industry would collapse. 

But not all have struggled with the Copyright Act. Kim Kardashian is very aware of the Act and pays a personal photographer so that she holds the rights to pictures that she posts on Instagram. She has explained that owning the copyright also allows fan accounts to repost the images without photographers filing a lawsuit against them as well

If Ms Hadid is successful in fighting this copyright lawsuit, it would not only radically change paparazzi culture by the effect it has on photo agencies, but it would also free up fan accounts to post more liberally. As to whether Ms Hadid has grounds to legitimately reverse the lawsuit remains to be seen.

Report written by Will Holmes

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