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Justin Bieber sued for posting a picture of himself on Instagram

By | Published on Friday 18 October 2019

Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber is being sued for posting a picture of himself to Instagram. Paparazzo Robert Barbera says Bieber shared a photo he took without permission earlier this year.

Bieber posted the photo of himself and celebrity church pastor Rich Wilkerson Jr in the back of a car on Instagram in March. The lawsuit filed in New York this week notes that the post received almost four million likes – and presumably considerably more views – with Barbera receiving no payment for the use of his work.

Many would assume that there is no issue with someone posting a photograph of themselves wherever they like – not least the vitriolic Beliebers now filling the comments of that particular Instagram post. But the default owner of the copyright in a photo is the photographer not the being people photographed.

And while as the subject of the picture you could try to block commercial use of the image on privacy or image right grounds, that doesn’t mean you own the picture. So technically use of the image still needs the permission of the photographer, unless you can justify fair use grounds under American copyright law.

This sort of lawsuit is not actually that uncommon. Many celebrities have been sued for using photos of themselves without the photographer’s permission, particularly since the rise of social media. In May this year, Barbera also sued Ariana Grande for using two of his photos on Instagram without permission.

That case was interesting because she had used the photos to promote the release of her ‘Sweetener’ album. Therefore Barbera was seeking $25,000 in damages for each photo used or the profits she had earned from their use, whichever was the higher amount.

Had the case reached court, Barbera would presumably have argued that he had a claim to some of the profits from ‘Sweetener’ because his images had helped promote it. It never came to that though, as Grande agreed an out of court settlement two months later.

Bieber’s Instagram post was not directly promoting anything, though. So his legal team will probably argue that posting the picture was protected under the aforementioned wonderfully vague concept of fair use.

Barbera is being represented by Richard Liebowitz, a lawyer recently described by a judge as a “known copyright troll”. Liebowitz has filed hundreds of copyright lawsuits in recent years, capitalising on both unlicensed use of photographs on social media and unauthorised use of social media posts in other media. He has also filed two lawsuits relating to videos posted on social media that made their way into Netflix’s Fyre Festival documentary.

It’s unlikely that this case will get to court, unless Bieber is in a mood to stand up against this sort of litigation. It’s far more likely that he’ll encourage future such legal wrangling by settling out of court too.