smartphoneWhat do you do if you are a celebrity whose  cell phone photos have been hacked and spread through the Internet? Unleash a pack of lawyers to search for and hunt down the perpetrator and every last saucy selfie.  Why then have the nation’s high profile celebrities had so much difficulty getting their selfies back under control in wake of the celebrity cell-phone hack scandal that has gripped A-list actresses over the last few weeks? Unfortunately, in today’s Internet age, it is not as easy to recover photographs and other materials that have been disseminated through the Internet, especially worldwide.

Help Under U.S. Copyright Laws and DMCA

Most victims of infringement believe that they have remedies under U.S. Copyright laws. However, because of the way copyright laws are written, only the author of the work of authorship has the rights to use, distribute, or otherwise make use of the copyrighted work.  Take the famous Grammy photo “that broke Twitter,”  taken by Bradley Cooper. Because Cooper snapped the cell phone photo, he is legally considered the author of the photo and entitled to all of the copyright protections given to authors of creative works. For these reasons, it is often much easier recovering selfies rather than intimate or other embarrassing photos taken by former romantic partners, friends, or others who are elsewhere or unwilling to participate in the takedown process.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act also provides a procedure by which individuals who have had their intellectual property stolen or misused without their authorization can request that the website hosts displaying the photographs or other material takedown the offending content quickly. Such were the steps taken by the celebrities who were the victims of the cell phone photo hacking scandal. Most website hosts, operators, and registrars, tend to act pretty quickly (i.e., within a matter of days).  Google, on the other hand, has been accused of intentionally dragging its feet and failing to take down unauthorized photos and videos to protect its income streams and revenue partners.

Invasion of Privacy and Rights of Publicity?

In addition to copyright laws, individuals who have had their privacy rights violated have the ability to pursue legal claims in civil court for a invasion of privacy.  Most states have adopted laws that prevent the unreasonable intrusion into the affairs of individuals, or making private facts public. As long as the subject of the privacy violation is “highly offensive” to a reasonable person, they would entitled the claimant’s relief. In addition, every person (whether celebrity or not) has what is called a “right to publicity” — the right to control commercial uses of his or her image, name, and likeness. Celebrities, however, can be considered public figures who cannot prevent public or media from publishing news or other stories about them.

Unknown Perpetrators Outside the U.S.

Although U.S. Copyright laws and the DMCA provide strong protections  for victims of selfie theft, it can be harder to pursue international perpetrators.  After all, many international websites and webhost providers that thrive on unlawfully distributed content have no regard for U.S. copyright or other laws. It can be frustrating, and pointless, to issue takedown demands or other legal notices to website operators who have no obligation or desire to cooperate.

If you have been the victim of intellectual property theft, including photos or similar content, it is important to speak to an attorney to evaluate your rights. To contact us at any time for a confidential consultation, please call (213) 403-0130.