Little Red Carpet

Written By Jennifer Williams

Reviewed By Cynthia Amis

These days, it is pretty rare for me to be in awe of a red carpet event. Mainly because it seems like every other day there is an opening, award show, or movie premiere that seems to merit a red carpet. Celebrities walk down the red carpet dressed to impress mainly for the benefit of being photographed as part of this ‘it’ event while looking flawless. So it comes as quite a surprise that Shirley Jones, who stars in the television series The Partridge Family, is suing Corbis Corporation for violating her publicity rights by using ten photographs of her on a red carpet and allowing users to search for her name and view images of her.

Jones is claiming that the ‘act of displaying sample images violates her common law and statutory rights of publicity by exploiting her name, image, and likeness for purposes of financial gain without consent.’  (For full court document see Scribd.com). Corbis Corporation is a digital image company that licenses the rights of thousands and thousands of celebrity images at events such as a walk down the red carpet. Corbis buys the rights to these images and then licenses the copyrights to others.

The question put before a judge in California is if these actions by Corbis commercially exploit the image and name of celebrities, like Shirley Jones. The decision that the judge came to was that when celebrities walk down a red carpet, they are implying their consent to the use of their likeness in photographs. The judge went on to say that ‘when Plaintiff is on the red carpet, it is Plaintiff’s practice to pose for photographers and agree to their requests to smile or to look in their direction.’

Corbis employed the use of the First Amendment in its defense and also pointed out that there are signs at many events that indicate to the stars that they are consenting to have their photo taken. The judge agreed with Corbis’ arguments and found no merit in the idea that a third party licensee/licensor such as Corbis had different obligations than the photographers who took the photos.

This should come as no shock, why else would these stars go through hair and makeup, put on designer dresses and the most expensive jewelry just to go see a movie?  Clearly, they are motivated, at least in part, by the knowledge that photograph after photograph will be taken of them as they strut their stuff down the red carpet.

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