Retailers: Be Careful What Photos (and Content) You Use

Sean Dunn, vice president of J.R. Dunn Jewelers in Lighthouse Point, Fla., sends along news of a court case involving cufflinks that could have implications for retailers. As the store’s blog says:

It has become all the rage for up-and-coming jewelry designers to send retailers photographs of celebrities wearing the pieces that they have created. Your first impulse, as a jewelry retailer, might be to post the image of a celeb wearing the latest ear climber earrings to social media or, even worse, on your e-commerce site. It’s so immediate and easy to share. Resist the urge and cover your bases!

“When I go to shows, I see tons of small designers using images of celebs wearing their products to tout their designs,” Dunn adds. “If a retailer turns around and posts these pics of celebs on their e-commerce site, they could potentially face a lawsuit that could put them out of business from a misappropriation, false endorsement, right of publicity, or privacy case.… With the ease of sharing on social and e-commerce this is a huge trap for the unwary to fall into.”

Dunn tells me he “had a close call with this,” but couldn’t talk further.

“Mom-and-pops may go into this innocently, but it is pretty scary stuff,” he adds, noting that many insurance companies have an intellectual property exemption.

Wise words. At JCK, we often see retailers—and in a surprising number of cases, other trade publications—reprint our content in its entirety without permission, often with associated images.

Done innocently or not, this is illegal. Our content is copyrighted, as noted in our Terms of Use. We often see sites that lift our content and add “we publish courtesy of JCK,” when, in reality, they have not sought our permission.

Yet, you might add, we see sites using other sites’ content all the time. That’s because of fair use guidelines for using copyrighted content. This is a still-evolving area of law, particularly as it relates to the web. But the common understanding is that fair use allows the reprinting of a limited portion of a copyrighted work if you credit the source, generally with a link (as I’ve done above). It also helps if you add your own thoughts. JCK, being a news outlet, is granted a little more latitude legally.

Some good guidelines on this can be seen here and here.

Photos are another story. Not only might you be liable for unauthorized use of a celebrity image, as Dunn notes, but the picture itself may be copyrighted. Getty Images, which JCK has purchased photos from, has a reputation for aggressively enforcing its copyrights. (Pics with Creative Commons licenses, like the one used to illustrate this story on our newsletter, are free to use with attribution.)

Basically, if you are not sure whether you can use something, don’t use it.

JCK News Director