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Can I used celebrity photos on site?
May 2, 2012 5:45 AM   Subscribe

What is the legal/permissable use of photos of famous people on my website?

I have a website that sells funny hats and we'd like to show images of celebrities on our homepage with our funny hats Photoshopped on their heads. Are there public domain photos of celebrities we can use for this? Do the photos need to be licensed? Where can we find such photos?
posted by pallen123 to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You could check Flickr / PicasaWeb for Creative Commons licensed photos that allow remixing and commercial usage.
posted by COD at 5:57 AM on May 2, 2012

You can find public domain photos of many celebrities on Wikipedia and Flickr. You can pay to license photos from Reuters, etc.

But in most jurisdictions, your proposed use implies commercial endorsement. For that you need the permission of the celebrity, regardless of whether the photos are licensed or public domain.
posted by caek at 5:58 AM on May 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

Most images/photos you'll find online aren't going to be public domain, and you would need a licence to use them. In fact I would treat any celebrity photo that claims to be public domain as very suspicious unless you're absolutely sure that you're dealing with the original photograhper - many celebrity photo sites claim that they think the photos are public as an "arm waving" form of pre-emptive defence.

But even if you do find a public domain image that you want to use there is another problem to be aware of: You are potentially suggesting that the celebrity endorses your product. Many celebrities manage their endorsements very carefully, and can charge a lot of money for them. So taking an example - If you have a 'shopped photo of 50cent wearing your hat I think you're more likely to hear from his lawyer than from the photographer's.

Anyway, to actually answer your question - search for high resolution photograph celebrity forums. Lots of amateurs spend thier spare time snapping celebs as they leave clubs and venues (etc) and post the images to forums. You're fairly likely to get permission to use an image if you ask the photographer directly.
posted by samworm at 6:01 AM on May 2, 2012

Consider using historical figures that are long dead instead of current celebrities. This may not take care of all of your concerns, but it will be easier to find pictures that you are allowed to use and sidesteps the endorsement angle.
posted by soelo at 7:36 AM on May 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

Dunno about legal but as for permissible, I wonder about the ethics of putting funny hats on people without their consent--even public figures. Tinkering with other people's images just for your profit or amusement? Maybe I'm hyper-sensitive or old-fashioned but I'd think hard first.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 9:11 AM on May 2, 2012

I am a lawyer, but not your lawyer.

There are several areas of the law that could present a problem. You should research:

*copyright law (if the photos are not in the public domain (created prior to1923), you need permission from the photographer or owner of copyright to use them);
*right of publicity (if the photos are of famous people, they may own the right to exploit their image)
*right of privacy (if the photos are of not-famous people, you could be invading their privacy
*libel (if the photos somehow damage the reputation of the people depicted, they could sue for libel)

It's not an easy question to answer in generalities. Each photo represents a separate set of inquiries, depending on whom the photo depicts, when it was taken, what your changes to it are, etc.

Get a lawyer who knows about intellectual-property law to advise you.
posted by Jenna Brown at 9:27 AM on May 2, 2012

Like other people have said, even if you can get the rights to use the photo itself, you still need permission from the celebrity to display his/her likeness. Needless to say, you're probably not going to get that permission.

I like soelo's suggestion of using images of long-dead historical figures.
posted by mekily at 2:31 PM on May 2, 2012

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