Heads-Up: Are You Photoshop-ing Your Way Into a Lawsuit?
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Heads-Up: Are You Photoshop-ing Your Way Into a Lawsuit?

Don Gilpin
Jul 15, 2013

film slateMany of you may have read CE Pro's recent story on the lawsuits being brought against industry companies by firms representing celebrities (Bradley Cooper, Liam Neeson Sue First Impressions, Vutec).

The alleged offense is the use of an actor’s likeness in images that appear in the company's promotional or informational materials. The images in question are typically superimposed onto a display screen in a project photo.

This isn't the first time we've heard of this kind of legal action. Around this time last year, news broke that both a prominent manufacturer and a home tech firm were sued under similar circumstances (for separate incidents).

And it doesn’t seem to be a fluke. In fact, we recently spoke with the principal of a CEDIA member that has been on the receiving end of this type of legal action, and he told us he expects to see more of the same. This gentleman, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that law firms representing celebrities are proactively looking for images they believe to be in violation and pursuing legal action against the companies responsible for the images.

In light of this legal action, CEDIA has instituted a policy for submissions to our Electronic Lifestyles® Awards competition, Electronic Lifestyles® magazine, and Inspiration Gallery which reads as follows:

Copyrighted Material Notice

It may be tempting to add a little "movie magic" to your submission by placing a still image from a movie or television show on the display screens shown in your submitted photos. However, CEDIA advises against placing images on display screens that may contain copyrighted material, including movie/TV stills. If CEDIA believes your images may contain copyrighted material, we reserve the right to decline to display your images and/or edit the images to remove/obscure the material in question. However, CEDIA assumes no obligation to police submissions for improper content. If you wish to enhance the display screens shown in your photos, we recommend using royalty-free stock images from a reputable stock photo provider.

Of course, this policy is intended to notify members of the Association's own efforts to avoid unwanted legal attention. But at the same time, we'd also like to take this opportunity to make a public service announcement: if you are using any images in your marketing that may contain copyrighted material, you may want to reconsider doing so. And while the recent news has centered on legal actions taken by individual actors, it's not hard to imagine that movie studios, television studios, and other content creators could attempt to make a similar case, even when no identifiable celebrity likeness appears in the image.

Sharing this information with your in-house staff – as well as any marketing or photography professionals your company may rely on – is one step you can take to lessen your exposure to pricey legal action. Legal costs add up quickly and can ultimately threaten a small business’s solvency. As they say, better safe than sorry.

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CEDIA blog posts are intended to provide general information and should not be regarded as legal opinions or advice.

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