Gigi Hadid Defeats Copyright Claim On Instagram Photo
Gigi Hadid prevailed in a copyright lawsuit brought against her for posting a paparazzi photo of her on her Instagram account. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Xclusive-Lee, Inc. is the owner of the photo and claimed that Hadid posted the photo without their permission. When someone has a copyright over a piece of artwork, photography, or graphic, and you wish to use it, you are required by law to obtain a “license,” which means that you are required to get permission from them before using it.
Hadid requested that the court dismiss the lawsuit because Xclusive-Lee failed to comply with the registration requirements for the photograph. Here, Xclusive-Lee had not been granted the copyright but had sued simply on the basis that they had applied for the copyright. According to the relevant law, this is permissible – an applicant of a copyright can sue someone for infringement even if the copyright is rejected if notice, with a copy of the complaint, is served on the Register of Copyrights, which makes it the court’s decision whether or not the lawsuit should prevail regardless of whether or not the registration was granted. However, the court was persuaded by a Supreme Court decision in Fourth Estate Corp. v. Wall-Street.com (that had been decided after Xclusive-Lee sued Hadid), which held that “registration” of the copyright happens when the copyright is granted, not when it is applied for.
Effectively, this decision reflects the Fourth Estate decision, which establishes that an individual cannot sue someone else for using their artwork until they are granted the copyright from the United States Copyright Office, rather than just filing for registration and then immediately suing the person you think has infringed your copyright.
In addition, the court also declined to grant Xclusive-Lee the ability to amend their registration if the copyright were to be granted in the future. This is an important addition because the court was not just making a superficial decision that allows the owner to apply, sue, and then change its complaint after approval is granted. The process requires that the application be granted before a lawsuit can be brought.
Our clients should be aware of this because they should be cognizant of how this process works in order to register copyrights in anticipation of the possibility that others may attempt to use it, rather than waiting for someone to use it and then rushing to file and sue. While this may not seem relevant at the time you register it, it would save you a significant amount of legal cost and bureaucratic headache down the line.