Asked in Copyright for New York

Q: Can you use celebrities as models for photoshopped works?

One of my hobbies is photo editing, and sometimes my ideas involve people. My question is, could I edit/photoshop images of a celebrity I like and post them, or would I need direct permission from them? It would be posted on a social media site, like Instagram, and wouldn’t be sold commercially. Are there ways I could use celebrity photos like this without contacting them, or would I need to avoid celebrities for any edits/photoshop work? Does it depend on several different factors? Are there certain exceptions?

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2 Lawyer Answers
Giselle Ayala Mateus
Giselle Ayala Mateus
Answered
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • New York, NY
  • Licensed in New York

A: You need to consider copyright issues considering the authorship of the original photo, that the more transformative a work is the less likely it is infringement under copyright, and that the models may have a cause if action under right of publicity if you don't have permission to use their pictures or some form of release. Finally, if there are copyright infringement issues you may need to consider too the provisions of the Copyright Digital Millennium Act, which cover social media platforms.

This is NOT legal advice.

Timothy John Billick
Timothy John Billick
PREMIUM
Answered
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Seattle, WA

A: An exception to the right of publicity protection exists when you're discussing a "newsworthy" matter. So it depends on how you're using the photos.

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