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I have a Vintage dress store and wanted to see if I could use pictures of celebrities from the past on my website?

Houston, TX |

I have obtained pictures from the web that don't show what photographer took them or where they even came from. Do I have the legal right to use these on my website? Thanks!

Attorney Answers 3


Unfortunately, this is not an easy question to answer as each picture would likely need to be evaluated individually. I strongly recommend you consulting with an IP attorney to view the potential copyright for each picture.

This is not to be construed as legal advice, and I am not your attorney, A conflict check and engagement letter would necessarily be required before any retention or attorney/client privilege exists.

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There are a lot of different issues here that need to be addressed by an IP lawyer who can sit down and discuss the matter with you.

First, the photographs and the copyrighted intellectual property of the photographers and cannot be legally reproduced without the permission of the rights-holders. If they're *really* old photographs (from before 1900) that might not be an issue, but it's going to be require you to track down and verify when each photograph was taken, by whom, and who currently holds the rights.

In addition, when you're using the image of a celebrity for your commercial gain, many states are going to say that you're violating that celebrity's right of publicity. For living celebrities, that could mean a lawsuit - even for some dead ones, it could (TN, for example, has expanded the right of publicity indefinitely to protect the Elvis industry). So, you might run afoul of the individual celebrities' interests in addition to those of the copyright holder.

These are just the things that I noticed from your brief statement; sitting down with an IP attorney would give you an opportunity to go over your options and the risk associated with each and to make the best decision for your business.

No information you obtain from this answer is legal advice, nor is it intended to be. You should consult an attorney for individualized advice regarding your situation. No attorney-client relationship is formed by my responding to your question.

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I don't think this is a complicated question at all. No, you may not lawfully publish someone else's photograph [because the photographs are protected by copyright] and, no, you may not use the image of a celebrity to advertise your store [because the celebrity has a right of publicity that publishing the photographs would violate]. Your plan is a non-starter.

The above is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to your inquiry.

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