Mikele Bicolli
Dec 28, 2022

Paris Hilton Was Sued for Copyright Infringement for Using Pictures of Herself on Social Media. Who Owns the Copyright: the Photographer or the Model?


Consider the following scenario, you allow a photographer to take some photos of you; who owns the copyright of these photos: you or the photographer? Are you allowed to do whatever you want with those pictures, if you have access? By definition, anyone who is the creator of the image holds the rights to an image by default, unless there is a contract specifying otherwise.

A few weeks ago, the businesswoman, media personality, and model, Paris Hilton, received notice of a lawsuit.  She was being sued for alleged copyright infringement, distribution of false copyright management information, and unjust enrichment. A complaint was filed against her in the Central District of California by Claudia Fiorella Occhipinti, an entertainment and celebrity professional photographer, based out of Los Angeles, California. In 2019, Ms. Occhipinti was contracted by Parlux Ltd., the manufacturer, and distributor of "Electrify" fragrances, to shoot photographs of Paris Hilton for promotional purposes. These photos were only allowed to be used in packaging, advertising within stores or conventions related to the fragrance, or on websites connected with the fragrance. No other uses were permitted at this time, according to the contract with Parlux Ltd. Ms. Occhipinti is the sole author and copyright holder of the photographs depicting Paris Hilton, and the photos were registered with the US Copyright Office on Nov., 18, 2020 (VA 0002235871). Citing Paris Hilton’s significant internet and social media presence, the lawsuit indicates several cases of at least three of these photos being published on social media. According to the plaintiff, this was done without a license or permission to copy from the photographer’s side. The photos were used on social media to promote different brands and products, so the plaintiff sent a letter to let the defendant know about the copyright's ownership. After that, the lawsuit was filed. Ms. Occhipinti demanded to recover the damages and an order to enjoin the defendants from infringing the copyright further.

In your opinion, who is right in this matter? As Ms. Occhipinti’s attorneys explain in the lawsuit, her livelihood is largely based on the licensing of her original and commercial works, as well as receiving proper credit for them. She also greatly depends upon their reproduction, distribution, and public display to sustain herself financially. This is true for all professional photographers. However, should we have different conditions in contracts about the models in the photograph, or should they have licensing agreements like anyone else to use the photos depicting themselves?