Who would possess the rights over celebrity paparazzi photographs?

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Who would possess the rights over celebrity paparazzi photographs?

The relationship between celebrities and paparazzi hasn’t been a smooth one due to the tug of war between the rights over photographs. Enter Khloe Kardashian, the popular American media personality, socialite, and model.

In 2017, while she was out with her sister Kourtney, a paparazzi site Xposure photos took pictures of Khloe. Interestingly, she was later sued by Xposure photos.

According to Xposure, Khloe cropped out the site’s copyright notice from a photo taken by an Xposure photographer and reposted it on social media.

The matter was later settled between both of them, but Khloe was vocal in her claims that the scenario was unfair on her, being the subject of the photo taken without her consent.

The right to privacy is a natural right, enshrined as a fundamental right by many legal jurisdictions. Supposedly, taking photographs without consent is violation of Article 88 of European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). In India, the right to privacy is a fundamental right, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Various courts have also enshrined the right to privacy under common law, principles of equity, and the law of breach of confidence.

Based on such natural and fundamental rights, anyone in a private place has a legal and reasonable expectation of privacy. But such right is not absolute. Most legal jurisdictions do not extent the right of privacy to public places. Anyone in a public place, such as a sidewalk, a street, or a town hall event, has no legal expectation of privacy. Photographs used for editorial purpose which promotes education and free press are the copyright defence used in paparazzi works.

The moot questions are, can celebrities and others who attend private or public functions expect privacy? Who owns the copyright to the picture, when a paparazzi takes a picture of a celebrity without their consent?

Section 52 (1) (a)(iii) of the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 exempts copyright infringement for reporting of current events and current affairs, including the reporting of a lecture delivered in public. This exemption allows the paparazzi to take snaps of celebrities attending public events, and publish their photographs in newspapers, magazines, or social media.

Section 14(c) gives the owner of copyright the sole and exclusive right to reproduce the work or communicate it to the public. Thus, the members of the paparazzi have the sole right to circulate their photographs to the public under the Indian law.

The law in India does not define who is a celebrity, this exemption covers even the commoners.

The landmark case in India is Justice K.S Puttaswami & another Vs. Union of India (August 2017). Here, the Supreme Court of India recognised the right to privacy as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution, as a part of the right to “life” and “personal liberty”. The court stated that every person should have the right to control commercial use of his or her identity and that the “right of individuals to exclusively commercially exploit their identity and personal information, to control the information that is available about them on the internet and to disseminate certain personal information for limited purposes alone” emanates from this right.

The law is clear that taking unsolicited photographs is allowed in a public place, but not so in a private place. The paparazzi have no legal right to take photographs of any person on private place, or any object situated in private place. Doing so violates the right of privacy of the subject, or the copyright of the owner of the object. But the moment the subject leaves the private place and steps onto public space, including the streets, the paparazzi is free to click, without consent.

Photographing the most beautiful moments or places preserves it for eternity. As long as the photographer plays by the rules and the law in place, the photograph becomes a thing of joy.


Mrudula Manappatt


The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

By |2021-03-31T09:03:28+00:00March 31st, 2021|IP Unplugged|0 Comments

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