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Legal or illegal to use images?

Los Angeles, CA |

I am designing an app for android and iphones, there will be different editions of the app and game. Like presidential edition and celebrity edition, I need to use images of the president or celebrities, just headshots of them. My question is this legal since the president and celebrities are public figures? I will be selling the app in a app store.

The images will not be actual photos, just a cutout of there face or head. Like a floating head dodging another object or another head that the celebrity was involved with. Would that be considered a parody and be ok ??

Attorney Answers 6

  1. Q: "My question is this legal since the president and celebrities are public figures? "
    R: No. Not lonly do you not own the copyright, or a license for the copyright, in the photographs, the people shown in the photographs have a "right of publicity" that you may not appropriate for your own commercial use w/o their permission. Speak with an intellectual property attorney.

    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.

  2. If you use images of celebrities you likely will get trouble from both the celebrities and the copyright owner of the image. If you use images of the president or other politicians you likely won't be get trouble from them, especially if you are making fun of them. However, you will be infringing the copyright in the image.
    There are clearinghouses that allow you to license certain images. If you use licensed images you will be okay. But that will likely take some up front money.

    (949) 390-2717 - Of course there's more to it! Plus, we don't have an attorney-client relationship. This brief comment is for information only, and must not be relied upon as legal advice.

  3. My question is this legal since the president and celebrities are public figures?
    Are you going to be criminally charged? Very unlikely.
    Will the celebrities that you include in your game sue you for the use of their likeness? Possible, if your game becomes popular, likely.

    There are many moving parts to your question, you should contact an attorney that specializes in IP and entertainment law to discuss your options.

  4. Multiple issues here:
    1. Copyright. The copyright to the image is owned by the photographer. You would need to obtain a license.
    2. Celebrities have the right to the commercial use of their image.

    J Charles Ferrari Eng & Nishimura 213.622.2255 The statement above is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice, as not all the facts are known. You should retain an attorney to review all the facts specific to your case in order to receive advise specific to your case. The statement above does not create an attorney/client relationship. Answers on Avvo can only be general ones, as specific answers would require knowledge of all the facts. As such, they may or may not apply to the question.

  5. This is probably not legal. First, each photograph is protected by copyright law, and you need permission from the copyright owner before using it. This most certainly would not constitute parody or fair use---you are using these photographs for a commercial phone application.

    Second, celebrities including Presidents have rights of publicity. You are using their photographs to market you application without paying the celebrities for the privilege. This is obviously illegal.

    Third, you most certainly would be violating your contractual obligations that you undertake when you submit your application for inclusion in the Apple Store and comparable outlets for applications. You will be required to represent that your application does not violate IP rights owned by third parties, and that representation would be false.

    Fourth, I bet you have not retained counsel to conduct a patent clearance analysis. There are many patents that cover applications such as this and your use of the photographs in the context of this application. and the application itself, could violate existing patents. Anyone who creates an application needs to retain counsel to conduct a patent clearance---failure to do so is, to say the very least, foolish.

    More generally, I can tell from your question that you do not have a clue about basic concepts of intellectual property law. Before you create an application involving games, you need to educate yourself on the basics of IP law. Further, before you can responsibly market this application, you absolutely should retain IP litigation counsel to advise you on a long list of obvious issues that you face here.

  6. This is not parody, it is infringement and mutilation, or if the headshots are distorted for comic effect, it's caricature. If you think of "parody" as a combination of "paraphrase" and "comedy" you may understand that is not what you propose doing. If you add a criticism or commentary of the presidents or celebrities you might have more of a legal argument, but even that does not necessitate stealing someone else's photos and mutilating them for personal gain. The solution is to get public domain photos, which of Presidents is not difficult, as Government works are normally not protected by copyright or to buy/license stock photos, which can be had for low prices. For celebrities, it's much harder because they have a right of publicity and the photos would not be taken by Government employees. This is not as easy as you seem to think. You need to see a copyright or entertainment attorney to get legal and safe. Otherwise, you are at risk. Will they come after you for this? Probably not, because no one President or celebrity is likely to consider this damaging if the photos are not damaging and you are not moving the heads around in some insulting or derogatory way. Again, see a copyright attorney. Also, if you are going to risk this, see a business attorney to set you up with limited liability so your personal assets, if any, are not at risk.

    I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.