Can You Get Sued for Posting a Picture of Yourself on Instagram?

In the last three months, celebrities Amy Schumer, Gigi Hadid and Kim Kardashian have all been sued for posting photos of themselves to their Instagram accounts. In each case, the photographer behind the photos in question has alleged that they are the owner and copyright holder of the media, and that the subjects of the photos have no right to post them. Richard Liebowitz, attorney for Plaintiffs in all cases, has filed Complaints stating that “One can not use photographs without the photographer’s permission, even for social media websites.”

In the lawsuit against Schumer, Liebowitz notes that the photographs in question were copyrighted, though he does not note that date of the copyright. A search of the United States Copyright Office records shows that the photographs were copyrighted on February 8, 2020, three months after Schumer allegedly infringed on the copyright by posting the photos.

Paparazzi are filing Copyright lawsuits against celebrities who post photos of themselves on Instagram.

The complaint against Schumer further states that Plaintiff is “the sole owner of all right, title, and interest” in the photographs. However, if the photo was previously shared on a social media platform by the Copyright owner, this may not be the case. For example, Instagram’s terms of agreement read as follows: “[W]hen you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights (like photos or videos) on or in connection with our Service, you hereby grant to us a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivate works of your

As such, any Plaintiff who has posted the media at issue on Instagram is only a non-exclusive licensee of the work. Courts have been receptive to this Instagram copyright case defense, however, the issue has not been litigated since most Copyright defendants opt to settle promptly. In the meantime, cases against celebrities who post photos of themselves on Instagram continue to be filed.

Attorney’s Fees Ordered Against Richard Liebowitz for Refiling and Dismissing Case

A federal court has awarded attorney’s fees against serial copyright litigant Richard Liebowitz for his practice of refiling and dismissing copyright claims without prejudice. Liebowitz has been called a “copyright troll” by federal judges based on the volume of lawsuits he has filed.

In Glen Craig v. Popmatters Media, Inc. (Case No. 19C5596) (N.D. Ill.), after the Defendant raised objections to personal jurisdiction and venue in the Southern District of Illinois, Liebowitz voluntarily dismissed this action and refiled in the Northern District of Illinois.  Defendants then filed a motion for attorneys’ fees in the first action.

The following day, Liebowitz filed a notice of voluntary dismissal in the second action.  Defendants again moved for attorneys’ fees, and Liebowitz opposed, arguing that no attorneys fees should be awarded because the dismissal was “without prejudice.”  In an order dated March 23, 2020, the Court granted Defendants motion for attorney’s fees against Liebowitz and his client. 

The Court acknowledged that the dismissal stated that the case was being dismissed “without prejudice,” but that simply stating as much “does not make it so.”  The Court reasoned that “[t]he privilege of dismissing a federal suit without prejudice to refiling may be used only once” and Liebowitz “used that privilege when he dismissed the Southern District case, so his dismissal of this case operated as a with-prejudice dismissal, an adjudication on the merits.” 

The Popmatters order marks another set back for Liebowitz, who now faces the increased specter of attorneys fee awards to Defendants.  Tauler Smith has a history of winning Liebowitz’ Copyright claims, and has argued to the Southern District of New York that an award of attorney’s fees in cases brought by Liebowitz “would serve the dual objectives of validating Defendant’s enforcement of its rights and deterring [Liebowitz] so far unrepentant abuse of judicial resources to meet purely mercenary interests which the Copyright Act was in no way created to protect.” 

If you have been sued by Richard Liebowitz contact our law firm. Tauler Smith’s copyright attorneys may be able to help you defend your claims.


Copyright Troll Richard Liebowitz Drops Case After Suing On Behalf Of The Wrong Party And Trying To Swap Plaintiffs

Why oh why do people still hire copyright troll Richard Liebowitz? There are just so many stories of him messing up copyright cases and getting scolded by judges, you’d think that people would think twice. But then, yet another story of Liebowitz messing up comes to light. The latest is a real doozy. 

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Firm Obtains Early Dismissal Copyright Infringement Claim Brought by Attorney Richard Liebowitz and Rachel Dolezal

Rachel Dolezal dismisses “selfie” copyright case against Paper Mag after legal maneuvering goes awry.

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Five years after she came to national attention for identifying as black woman while being of European ancestry and having no verifiable African ancestry, Rachel Dolezal is again at the heart of a legal controversy. This time, Dolezal filed suit for copyright infringement after Paper Magazine included Dolezal’s public Instagram post as part of their news coverage. 

Last summer, Dolezal announced on Instagram that she’s bisexual. Among the pop culture and celebrity media that covered the June 15 announcement was New York-based Paper Magazine, which published a story, including Dolezal’s Instagram selfie which was part of her announcement.

Three months later, a lawsuit filed on behalf of New York company Polaris Images accused Paper Magazine of copyright infringement based on an alleged “exclusive license” to market all images of Dolezal.

The Subject Image in the litigation.

The Sept. 3 lawsuit was filed by New York attorney Richard Liebowitz, who was recently called a “copyright troll” by a federal judge due to his prolific litigation history — filing over 1,100 copyright infringement lawsuits over the past three years .

The lawsuit against Paper Magazine sought all profits earned from publishing the photo, plus $150,000 in damages — the maximum allowed under federal law for willful infringement of a copyrighted work.

This time, however, Robert Tauler, Paper Magazine’s Los Angeles attorney, found the way to stop Liebowitz’s deluge of copyright lawsuits stemming from social media posts.

“Our team was able to find a legal loophole in Mr. Liebowitz’s modus operandi, which forced Liebowitz to backtrack and name Dolezal as the plaintiff instead of the original plaintiff, Polaris,” Tauler said. “However, plaintiff’s lawyers can’t switch horses in the middle of a copyright lawsuit, and when we challenged Mr. Liebowitz’s second attempt he was forced to dismiss the case before our motion to dismiss was even heard by the court.”

Liebowitz dropped the lawsuit on Jan. 29, and apologized to U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Polk Failla, explaining that the switch was just a misunderstanding – an explanation Tauler expects to challenge when seeking attorneys fees for his client.

“I believe the loophole we exposed can put an end to endless filing of copyright lawsuits like this one,” Tauler said. “Some copyright attorneys make a living exploiting technical aspects of the law that do not advance any of the objectives of the Copyright Act, let alone provide any benefit to society. Lawsuits like this hurt the legal profession by flooding our courts and draining the resources of legitimate businesses.”

A copy of the lawsuit and Liebowitz’s apology letter to the court can be found here.