Shirley Jones, star of 1970s TV series The Partridge Family had her court case against Corbis rejected by a Federal court in Los Angeles. Shot at a Red Carpet event the images were distributed by the photographers via Corbis. Jones argued that her rights of publicity had been violated by Corbis putting such images up on their website.
Corbis argued that Jones consented through her actions – walking the red carpet in front of celebrity snappers. Event organisers provide a back door for celebrities who don’t want to be recognized. Though the commercial use of Jones’ image, in advertising for example, would still need permission from the celebrity.
Nevertheless another key marker has been laid in the battle over image rights, pushing back a little in favour of the professional image creator/user. It also relates to individual image rights more broadly in that if there is implied consent then the photographer/agency can go to work.
However, we can expect it to not be the last shot in the battle – after all, a celebrity’s image rights are often the most valuable thing they have and this is only going to get more of an issue in an age where they (and we) are effectively never off-camera in going about life.
Was there implied consent when I looked into a bookstore window this morning in Soho, in that I was in a public place view-able by all and had not intimated my unavailability for photography? If somebody finds it interesting that an author was browsing XXX books in this bookshop, uses it on a blog somewhere, I would struggle to have any claim that I had my moral or commercial image rights breached.
Only by taking the special back entrance away from the red carpet was Shirley Jones able to hold onto her image rights; only by walking through Soho with a hat low over my face and collar up might I reduce my identity to something that could not be taken and used elsewhere.
Yes, you really can steal somebody’s soul with a camera…and they
can’t do much about it.