The peculiar invention of the celebrity has grown to hold a strange and uncomfortable place in our culture for both subject and audience alike. Much like the animals at the zoos we pack to see, we are both intrigued and horrified at the sight, aware of how unnatural the arrangement is and guilty at our own part in building those cages and the half-lives of those enclosed. That's perhaps a bit melodramatic — no one has much sympathy for celebrities making more money than any of us could dream of, even as they're the subject of constant hounding by the paparazzi, though perhaps we should.
That symbiotic relationship between celebrity and unwanted chronicler also provides us with a new and interesting case that seeks to challenge our notions of copyright law. Model Gigi Hadid is the surprising figure at the center of the case in question, as she and her legal team are looking to do no less than change the idea of ownership of pictures taken of celebrities that the celebs themselves are contributing to in some fashion.
The matter in hand involves a particular picture for which Ms. Hadid posed and smiled, which she later cropped and posted to her own Instagram account. That posting prompted a notification and eventual lawsuit from the agency Xclusive-Lee, which claimed ownership of the photo and thus saw themselves as aggrieved and injured by that action. Rather than trying to settle or skirt the issue, Hadid is offering a direct challenge to the existing precepts of copyright as it pertains to celebrity photographs, arguing that by posing for the photograph, she contributed to the creative process and should therefore be considered a joint holder of the copyright. She also makes a case for fair use, arguing that the photograph was posted to her Instagram without any aim towards commercial gain.
The agency has offered its rebuttal to those claims, arguing that it is the skill and choices of the photographer that made the photograph a creative work, and that any claims of fair use are invalid because Hadid's posts are inherently commercial even though she doesn't run any ads on her page. In his excellent untangling of the legal arguments at play, Joe Patrice of Above the Law points out that on that second point, the agency might not be making the case they think they are, because if every image of Hadid is in fact commercial, aren't Xclusive-Lee and the photographer then stealing from Hadid by taking her photograph without leave or license? And isn't the shot highly creative because Hadid stopped to pose, rather than just continuing past, leaving the photographer with a surreptitious shot?
The larger point being contended in the case is whether or not copyright law is working in the modern climate, particularly for those inside the bubble of fame who find themselves under the glare of cameras as they go about their lives. The principle holds that whoever creates a work holds a copyright over it, but it doesn't make much sense that the subject of a photo holds no rights or ownership over an image, particularly when they're not consenting to be photographed. Whatever the ruling in this particular case, it's a matter that needs to be addressed to stay with the times.