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I took photographs of a famous person. Can I exhibit the pictures?

January 15, 2009 2 Comments »
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I recently was posed this question by a visitor to the site:  “Some time ago, I took pictures of several rock stars in concert.  I was back stage and had close access.  Can I exhibit these images in an art gallery show?  Can I sell the images?”


My answer (aside from the obligatory  “I can’t give legal advice in this forum”): This is one I hear often.  Since you took the photographs, the law (under copyright) would entitle you to certain rights and activities with respect to those photos.  The challenge is to make sure the activities do not go beyond what copyright allows and into the realm where other rights, like Right of Publicity or trademark, are also implicated.  If you took your photos and applied them to t-shirts or posters, you’d need a license from the personalities in the photo.  But if you were merely displaying your photos at an art gallery show, you would probably be within the boundaries of the law.  Selling reprints is a bit trickier but is arguably permissible under most RoP statutes.  But here too, where people tend to cross the line is by taking one of the photos and making that photo part of the logo for their photography business, or using the images in advertising for the entire gallery, the show, or his or her photographic services.  Hopefully it is evident how such use of the photos would trigger the other rights of the personality such as trademark or Right of Publicity.





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2 thoughts on “I took photographs of a famous person. Can I exhibit the pictures?

  1. You need to ensure whether or not the artists have registered their image(s) as a trademark so you may need a licence. Also you need to ensure you are not infringing their moral rights.

  2. jfaber says:

    Good point, Yvonne. Factors like moral rights, or registered trademarks (as opposed to common law trademark–or perhaps in tandem with common law trademark) all come into play when an artist, musician, athlete, actor, political figure or some other notable personality is involved. When the focus is applied on an international level, it becomes even more complex, with different doctrines, standards of infringement, interpretations of personality rights, and such coming into play. But it is worth noting that even without a registered trademark on the personality’s image, there still can be enforceable trademark interests, not to mention the publicity rights which typically do not require any registration to be enforceable. Thanks for the comment!

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