In November 2010, actress Shirley Jones filed a class action against the digital image company Corbis Corp., alleging that a website function allowing Corbis users to search for Jones by name violated her publicity rights. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2011, with the judge ruling that Ms. Jones gave implied consent to use the photos when she walked down the red carpet.
The case is currently on appeal before the Ninth Circuit, with attorneys for Corbis arguing that Ms. Jones' right to a publicity lawsuit is preempted by the Copyright Act. Attorneys for Corbis also warned Jones' suit could "blow up" the photo licensing industry if it's revived.
The theory presented in Jones' lawsuit would prevent Corbis and other licensers from displaying and distributing copyrighted photos the Company has obtained without the actress's consent, said Laurence Pulgram, an attorney representing Corbis from Fenwick & West.
If a company is interested in licensing a celebrity's photo for an advertising campaign or other commercial use, it must seek the celebrity's approval directly, Pulgram said.
"Corbis is serving just as a distribution service to media, publishers and commercial users when requested," Pulgram said. "(The Internet) changed the whole landscape. This is the modern way of doing what was previously done in print catalogs.”
The Fenwick & West team representing Corbis in this matter includes Laurence F. Pulgram, Kathryn J. Fritz, Leslie A. Kramer and Theis Finlev.
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