Wrecking ball singer, Miley Cyrus is the latest celebrity to get caught out by seemingly confusing copyright law. On September 9, 2022, paparazzi photographer Robert Barbera sued the US-based singer for posting a photo to Instagram without his permission.
Celebs getting caught up in copyright infringement lawsuits is nothing new. Back in March, Snoop Dogg proved to the world he didn’t quite get ‘copyrizzle (opens in new tab)’ after posting a video to Instagram stating, “If you take a photograph of somebody, that picture doesn't actually belong to you. Instead, what you're doing is borrowing that person's likeness”. But Robert Barbera is also very familiar with making claims against celebrities; in the last few years, he has sued some of the biggest names including Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa (opens in new tab), and Justin Bieber.
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The photo in question was originally taken in 2020 and shows Miley Cyrus leaving a building while waving to her fans - aka Smilers. According to Billboard (opens in new tab), Miley Cyrus who currently has 185 million followers, had ‘crippled if not destroyed’ Barbera's ability to make money from the image by posting it to her Instagram.
According to Farrer & Co LLP, US and UK copyright law states that “the creator of the work (the person who pointed and clicked the camera) is the first owner of the photograph (opens in new tab)” so in this case, that does, unfortunately, mean that Barbera can say where, when and who can post the photo. It doesn’t matter if you appear in the image, you're still not a co-owner and permission has to be obtained before using it.
Billboard has since reported that the pair came to a settlement outside of court and has now been dismissed “with prejudice” which means that Barbera can't file for the same claim again. Copyright claims are often settled out of court, where the payout will be less.
Copyright law is there to protect the photographer but when a photographer is taking a photo without the permission of the subject it does seem a little unjust. Barbera has a lot of practice at this and you can bet that he has made a pretty penny from the celebrities he’s previously sued. I wonder who will be next.
Here's what you need to know about copyright (opens in new tab) if you're a photographer.