Former Partridge Family actress Shirley Jones lost her suit against photo agency Corbis in which she claimed the company’s use of her name and image on its database violated her publicity rights.
Jones, an actress and singer who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1960, is best known for her work as the mother on the 1970s television show The Partridge Family. She filed suit in November 2010, claiming that Corbis’ Web sites, which allow parties to search by a celebrity’s name and license the images in the search results, violated her publicity rights and ability to control the use of her name, image, and likeness in violation of California law.
But U.S. District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson disagreed.
Consent to use a name or likeness can be implied from the party’s conduct and the circumstances, he wrote, and Jones did not dispute that she consented to having individual photographers at red carpet events – including the 10 images she cited as supporting documentation in her complaint – take her picture and distribute the images.
“It is undisputed that [Jones] voluntarily posed for photographers, who she knew would display her images to prospective buyers, for over 40 years without objection. It was well understood in the entertainment industry that potential customers would not purchase images they could not see before the purchase,” Judge Wilson wrote.
Although Jones argued that the scope of her consent was limited only to the efforts of the individual photographers who took her picture and did not extend to Corbis’ display of her images to solicit sales of the images, “the undisputed record in this case establishes that [Corbis] is the assignee of the photographers that took [Jones’] pictures,” the court said.
“No reasonable jury could find that [Corbis’] display for this purpose was not consensual. Any other holding would require that individual photographers themselves market their photos or obtain express consent from each subject prior to utilizing a third-party distributor to market their red carpet photos. [Jones] presents no basis for such a requirement,” Judge Wilson concluded.
To read the court’s opinion, click here.
Why it matters: Although the court granted summary judgment to Corbis, it noted that its reasoning was limited to the facts of the case and “does not broadly restrict [Jones’] right of publicity.” “The Court’s reasoning does not address whether [Jones’] consent encompasses any other type of display. For example, the Court’s holding leaves [Jones’] rights of publicity undisturbed in cases where a defendant uses [Jones’] image to advertise an unrelated product such as a food item or if a defendant transforms Plaintiff’s image into a separate product,” Judge Wilson wrote.