Amy Schumer sued for copyright infringement for posting pictures of herself and son Gene on Instagram

Amy Schumer sued for copyright infringement for posting pictures of herself and son Gene on Instagram
Amy Schumer (Getty Images)

In the past few years, the increasing prominence of social media has enabled creatives to seek reparations in case their work is replicated or disseminated without their permission. Social media has strict copyright laws and if someone threatens to infringe upon them, one has the power to pursue legal action. Celebrities, in particular, have time and again been sued for unconsented use of pictures of themselves clicked by either professional photographers or the paparazzi.

Recently, stand-up comedian and actress Amy Schumer was reportedly accused of copyright infringement by a New York-based photographer. According to E!, in court documents filed in New York on April 7, the 'Train Wreck' actress has been served for using photographs allegedly taken, owned and copyrighted by Felipe Ramales. Ramales claimed that Schumer allegedly posted these photographs on her Instagram account (which have since been removed) without seeking permission, license or consent to do so.

The subjected photographs are of Schumer and her son, Gene. The actress dons a 'Plus Size Brain' sweatshirt and is pushing her toddler's stroller in New York in November 2019. Furthermore, Schumer's company Claudette LLC has also been added as the defendant. The lawsuit alleged, "Defendants ran the Photographs on the Website to sell and promote their clothing. Defendants infringed Plaintiff's copyright in the Photographs by reproducing and publicly displaying the Photographs on the Website. Defendants are not, and have never been, licensed or otherwise authorized to reproduce, publically [sic] display, distribute and/or use the Photographs."

Amy Schumer attends The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project fundraising event at The Africa Center on November 12, 2019, in New York City (Getty Images)

Ramales is seeking a trial by jury and monetary compensation of $150,000 among other relief. "As a direct and proximate cause of the infringement by the Defendants of Plaintiff's copyright and exclusive rights under copyright, Plaintiff is entitled to damages and Defendants profits pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504(b) for the infringement," the document further specifies "Alternatively, Plaintiff is entitled to statutory damages up to $150,000 per work infringed for Defendants willful infringement of the Photographs, pursuant to 17 U.S.C.
§ 504(c)."

Ramales' attorney, Richard Leibowitz said, "This is a classic example of celebrities using their social media to generate revenue without paying the photographer any license to use their photo. Photographers need to stick up for their rights and make sure they get paid for their work."

Schumer is not the only celebrity to have legal action taken against them for unconsented use of photographs of themselves.

Last month, basketball star LeBron James was sued by NBA photographer Steven Mitchell, who alleged that James had posted photographs that he'd taken on social without his assent. Mitchell sued James for reimbursement in profits made by the player sharing the photo, or $150,000 instead, for each time he used the image.

LeBron James  (Getty Images)

In 2019, supermodel and actress Emily Ratajkowski was sued for $150,000 by a paparazzi after she shared an image of her that he clicked on her Instagram Story without his consent. In the image captioned 'Mood Forever',  she was seen holding a bouquet of flowers and hiding her face behind it. The photo had been taken when she'd made a trip to New York City. The photographer Robert O'Neil, based in the Southern District of New York, sued her and sought reparations in profits made by the actress from using the image. 

Emily Ratajkowski attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 09, 2020, in Beverly Hills, California (Getty Images)

Similarly, celebrities like Gigi Hadid, Jennifer Lopez, Khloe Kardashian, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, 50 Cent, Jessica Simpson are also among those that have faced lawsuits on similar grounds and been forced to pay settlement as reimbursement. 

This common practice of suing celebrities for copyright violation has sparked various debates surrounding permission and ownership. Some argue in favor of photographers that they have the right to enforce copyrights and celebrities should strictly adhere to the law and seek permission to access their pictures.  Others counter that the paparazzi itself is invasive when it comes to photographing celebrities and they are often captured on tape without their consent. It would make sense to say celebrities should have rights to images of themselves. 

On what basis can photographers sue celebrities?

According to the law, the photographer has the rights to his work unless it is licensed to a third party, like an agency or their employer. So even if the celebrity who is the subject of the photograph posts it without consulting the owner or the person that clicked the photograph, they can be taken to court for copyright violation. Even photograph agencies have claimed that it is not fair for celebrities to use their images without permission and distribute to millions of fans. They can appeal monetary compensation depending on the celebrities whose social media worth is often determined by their followers and the reach of their posts. They can seek millions in reparations, in such cases.

Do they have a defense?

Actress Katherine Heigl attends the CBS, CW, Showtime Summer TCA Party at Pacific Design Center on August 10, 2016, in West Hollywood, California (Getty Images)

Some states in America have a law that gives a person the 'right of publicity' or 'personality rights',  which is the right of an individual to control the commercial use of his name and likeness. It is more of a property right than a personal right, and although it has been used before (by Odell Beckham Jr and Katherine Heigl) the use of this right concerning the paparazzi still remains a complexity. Many of the lawsuits filed against celebrities so far have been either dismissed or settled before being litigated to resolution, as per the BBC. 

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