Brands Love Paparazzi Images, But There is a Potential Copyright Catch

Image: Bottega Veneta

Brands Love Paparazzi Images, But There is a Potential Copyright Catch

Bottega Veneta has released an interesting new ad campaign starring A$AP Rocky and Kendall Jenner in the Kering-owned brand’s Pre-Spring 2024 wares and toting a number of its latest woven leather handbags. Each of the shots – from ones in which the rapper-slash-fashion ...

December 7, 2023 - By TFL, Miriam Gemmell

Brands Love Paparazzi Images, But There is a Potential Copyright Catch

Image : Bottega Veneta

Case Documentation

Brands Love Paparazzi Images, But There is a Potential Copyright Catch

Bottega Veneta has released an interesting new ad campaign starring A$AP Rocky and Kendall Jenner in the Kering-owned brand’s Pre-Spring 2024 wares and toting a number of its latest woven leather handbags. Each of the shots – from ones in which the rapper-slash-fashion figure is casually walking down the street, including a couple where he is carrying bags of groceries, jogging, and navigating a swam of photographers, to those of Jenner walking her dog and strolling with friends – is styled to mimic paparazzi photos. 

In a nod to the theme of the Pre-Spring shoot, A$AP Rocky stated in an Instagram post promoting the campaign that “throughout history, there has always been a funny relationship between photographers and celebrities. Even down to the rights and the usage of photos, and the tabloid hustle, there’s always seemed to be a disconnection between famous people and the photographers who follow and film them.” He continues to state that “certain celebrities call paparazzi on themselves, other celebrities might get confrontational with photographers, [and] a very small few, such as myself, don’t mind, as long as they post the good angles, of course.” Against that background, Bottega Veneta hired a bunch of “tabloid style photographers,” per A$AP Rocky, to “utilize my everyday lifestyle type of photos” for the campaign. 

Hardly the first brand to lean into a paparazzi-inspired narrative, Bottega Veneta’s campaign comes shortly after fellow Kering-owned brand Gucci put Jenner and her musician beau Bad Bunny in a campaign that included some paparazzi-inspired shots. Somewhat similar efforts have also come from Balenciaga, yet another brand under Kering’s umbrella, which tapped French paparazzi to shoot Demna’s Spring/Summer 2018 collection. “Well-heeled models, including Stella Tennant, played the ‘no cameras, please!’ role, hiding their faces behind bags (logo prominently in sight!), and stepping out of XL black cars,” Vogue wrote of the campaign at the time. 

Before that, Yeezy featured Kim Kardashian (and also a bunch of influencers) in an ad campaign that consisted of a collection of paparazzi-snapped shots (think: Kim walking in a FedEx parking lot, leaving an office building, getting into her car at a gas station, etc.). And, of course, all of these campaigns and others follow from a well-known spread in the January 2005 issue of Italian Vogue, entitled, “Hollywood Style,” in which Steven Meisel perfectly captured the near-constant paparazzi treatment of young Hollywood stars and starlets. 

The (Potential) Copyright Conundrum

A seemingly alluring way to present a brand’s latest wares, the question is whether other apparel and accessories-makers should follow suit and put paparazzi-shot snaps (either real or inspired) at the center of ad campaigns. Creative choices aside, the answer – from a legal point of view – depends in large part on some technicalities, namely, who took (or is being tasked with taking) the photos and/or what rights do brands have in the resulting images.  

While the images that comprise a number of the aforementioned brands’ paparazzi ad campaigns were taken by actual paparazzi photographers, they were not merely snagged from the web by the brands. Instead, the images were either the result of a collaboration between the brand and the paparazzi/photo agency at pay, or at the very least, they were licensed by the brand for use in the relevant campaigns. Such collaborative deals and/or licensing agreements are what enabled brands like Balenciaga and Yeezy, for example, to run their paparazzi-lensed campaigns without facing copyright infringement liability for doing so. 

But forget large-scale ad campaigns à la Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga for a moment and consider the more common advertising technique that brands regularly utilize to market their wares: the practice of brands (and no shortage of brand-owning or brand-promoting celebrities) posting paparazzi-snapped images to their social media accounts and/or websites. This has become a common advertising strategy for brands – albeit, not without issue. Since a sizable number of brands opt to utilize such imagery without licensing the images – or otherwise receiving authorization – from the copyright holder of the images (usually the paparazzi photographer or a photo agency), such social media-centric marketing campaigns have prompted a slew of copyright infringement lawsuits. 

Brands and retailers ranging from Fashion Nova, Outdoor Voices, Fenty, Staud, Khloe Kardashian’s Good American, and Rhude to Moschino (see Moschino’s response here), Loewe, Versace, Marc Jacobs, and Deadly Doll (the latter of which made for a particularly interesting case before it ultimately settle out of court) have been named in copyright infringement cases waged by paparazzi photographers and/or photo agencies, which have alleged that the companies promoted their products by making unauthorized use of the plaintiffs’ copyright-protected imagery.  

The bottom line here is that it is “settled law that copyright in a photograph, as with any original work of authorship, belongs to the author: the photographer,” Vorys’ Laura Geyer previously stated in a note. “Barring assignment, license, or applicable affirmative defense, no other party has the right to reproduce or use it. Even if it’s a picture of you.” 

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