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What protections do I have for my image rights under California law?

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Answered by: Bassil A. Hamideh

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What protections do I have for my image rights under California law?

Image rights, which are the rights to a person’s likeness, name, persona, identity, and photograph are essential to every working model, actor, celebrity, and athlete. There is significant value in these rights and California law has a specific statute designed to protect them. California Civil Code section 3344 provides multiple forms of damages when a company uses someone’s image without consent. Models, and anyone else whose image is used unlawfully, deserve these protections. California has determined it is in our state’s interest to aggressively protect people’s image rights.

The Importance of Protecting Image Rights

A model is in a uniquely vulnerable position in the workforce. There is a misconception that working as a model is an “easy” profession and exciting lifestyle. The reality is that the vast majority of people with significant value in their images work tirelessly over a long period of time to build value in their images. It is devastating for models to see companies use their images without consent solely for their own profit.

Companies need models’ images to tell the company story and endorse their brands, products, and services. However, companies may only do so with consent. It is very difficult to police the world to make sure companies are not using models’ images in an impermissible way. Most companies act in good faith, but unfortunately, others play a game of catch me if you can. Some companies make the strategic financial decision to avoid paying hefty license fees or to re-shoot marketing campaigns because they think they can get away with it. The consequences of these bad business decisions may be severe. This is why Section 3344 has sharp teeth. 

The Damages for Models

It is incredibly easy for a large company, either intentionally or unintentionally, to violate a model’s rights. Image transmission and use is so easy now and inserting an image from a database into an ad is as simple as a few clicks. Should that happen without permission, models have a right to recover damages, including:

  • Lost license fees
  • Emotional distress damages
  • Profits attributable to the unlawful use of his or her image
  • Potentially punitive (punishing) damages
  • Mandatory attorneys’ fees for the prevailing party

However, these rights have a drawback. You have to know about them to benefit from them and there is sometimes a short window of time someone has to enforce their rights. 

A “Catch Me If You Can” Statute

It is up to a model, actor, celebrity, or athlete to vigilantly watch out for instances of image misuse. Most times agents or managers don’t focus their time on policing unlawful use. There is a legal time limit everyone has to protect their image rights. This varies on a case by case basis but is usually no more than two years after the unlawful use began, but sometimes may be extended. 

You Can Catch Them

Aggressive litigation is the best weapon against companies that take advantage of models’ rights. Enforcing models’ rights is an essential part of building a career and protecting a model’s identity and dignity. There is little doubt that if a model, or anyone else, stole from a company, that company would aggressively pursue its rights. The opposite also should be true. 

The professional and legal issues that face models are subtle and require an empathetic ear, an aggressive approach, and a strong background that may be relied upon. Your best chance at success lies with finding legal representation that you can trust and who has a strong record of success.

 

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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