What rights do I have for unauthorized use of my photo on the Internet?

Learn what rights you have if your photo was posted to an Internet website without permission.

Question

What rights does a person have if their picture was taken and then posted to an Internet website without permission? Is the person entitled to any of the website's profit? Can the person sue if the picture was uncomplimentary?

Answer

You can stop a website's use of your image for three reasons: invasion of privacy, violation of right of publicity, or defamation.

Invasion of privacy can occur if you are portrayed falsely and in a highly offensive manner. For example, your photo was posted at an America's Most Wanted type of website, and you are not wanted by the law. Your privacy might also be invaded if the photo was taken by someone who intruded on you in a situation in which you had a reasonable expectation of privacy—for example, in your own home. It is not an invasion of privacy to photograph someone in a public place or at any event where the public is invited.

Another reason to stop the use is known as the right of publicity. This occurs if your image is used for commercial purposes such as to sell products or to imply that you endorse a product. If the photo is used in a commercial website—that is, one sponsored by a business or that sells products or services—the unauthorized use of your image would probably violate your right of publicity. The public must be able to identify you in the photograph.

You can also stop the website use if the photo defames you—that is, it creates a false impression and injures your reputation. For example, it would be defamatory to doctor a photo to make it seem as if you were shoplifting. The fact that an unmodified photo is unflattering is not enough to claim defamation. The photo must falsely portray you and must cause people in the community to think less of you. (Read about key legal issues related to potential defamation on Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and elsewhere.)

Learn about Social Media and Your Privacy Rights.

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