image: Jessica Simpson

image: Jessica Simpson

Posting a photo of yourself on your Instagram account? That could land you in legal trouble if you do not have rights in the photo, something that Jessica Simpson is learning the hard way. The singer-turned-billion dollar lifestyle brand owner has been slapped with a copyright infringement lawsuit by Splash News and Picture Agency (“Splash News”) for posting a photo of herself leaving the Bowery Hotel in New York this summer on her Instagram and Twitter accounts just hours after the photo was initially published on the Daily Mail’s website.

According to Splash News’s complaint, which was filed this week in federal court in California, Simpson “or someone acting on her behalf” took a copyright protected photo from the Daily Mail’s website and published it on Simpson’s social media accounts. While Splash News alleges that the Daily Mail obtained a limited license to publish the photo online in August, Simpson, herself, did not receive authorization to post the photo.

As Splash News asserts in its complaint, it “never licensed the photograph to [Simpson]. Nevertheless, [Simpson has] used, and continue to use, the photograph without authorization or permission from [Splash News] to do so.” As of Thursday evening, the photo had disappeared from Simpson’s social media accounts, but not before it was viewed by Simpson’s 7.3 million Twitter followers and 4 million Instagram followers.

Simpson’s use of the image without authorization was particularly problematic, according to Splash News, because it was commercial in nature. “Simpson uses her Instagram and Twitter feed for the purposes of promotion— specifically, to promote herself and her business interests [including her brand, The Jessica Simpson Collection], products, and ventures; to maintain and increase her visibility and desirability as an actress and singer; and to promote her persona itself,” the complaint argues.

So, by posting it on her accounts, Simpson was profiting from what Splash News calls a “highly creative, distinctive, and valuable” photo, she deprived the photo agency from gaining “additional revenue from licensing the photograph” to others. Per Splash News, by making the photo “immediately available to her nearly 11.5 million followers and others, consumers of entertainment news—and especially news and images of Simpson herself, as evidenced by their status as followers of her—who would otherwise be interested in viewing licensed versions of the photograph in the magazines and newspapers that are plaintiff’s customers,” Simpson “Simpson’s “unauthorized use harms the existing and future market for the original photograph.”

Simpson is the latest celebrity to land in hot water for posting a photo of herself on her Instagram account. Her suit comes after Khloe Kardashian was sued this past April by Xposure Photos for posting a photo of herself “going for a meal at David Grutman’s Miami restaurant, Komodo” without licensing the photo from Xposure, the copyright holder.

The London-based celebrity photo firm alleged that “the photograph was … licensed for limited use to The Daily Mail [and] contained copyright management information at the bottom left, in the form of a copyright notice stating ‘© XPOSUREPHOTOS.COM.’” Xposure also claimed that after The Daily Mail published the photo, Khloe Kardashian posted the photo on her Instagram account – without obtaining permission from Xposure – but not before “removing the [copyright management information] showing plaintiff as the copyright owner of the image.”

Not long after Kardashian was sued, Gigi Hadid was slapped with a copyright infringement lawsuit for posting a photo of herself on her Instagram and Twitter accounts over the summer. According to the lawsuit, which was filed by photographer Peter Cepeda, the famous model posted a photo of herself – which Cepeda took and in which he holds exclusive rights – amounting to an “act of infringement [that] was willful and intentional, in disregard of and with indifference to the rights of Cepeda.”

And speaking of Gigi Hadid, New York-based designer Jonathan Simkhai was also sued in September for posting a photo starring the famous runway model. According to photographer Carl Wu’s complaint, Simkhai is on the hook for the “unauthorized reproduction and public display of a copyrighted photograph of American fashion model Gigi Hadid owned and registered by Wu.” Specifically, Wu – who is both the photographer and copyright holder of the photo (and thus, the party with exclusive rights to sell, copy, and display it) – alleges that in June, Simkhai posted the photo on a number of websites, including the brand’s Twitter and Facebook pages.  

In the photo at issue, Hadid is pictured leaving her apartment in an embellished top and silk trousers from Simkhai’s Fall/Winter 2017 collection.

* The case is Splash News and Picture Agency, LLC, v. Jessica Simpson, et al, 2:17-cv-591 (C.D.Cal).