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Can You Sue If Your Photo Is Used Without Your Permission?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. | Last updated on

Opening up a magazine or surfing the Web and unexpectedly seeing a picture yourself can certainly be surprising. And although some may be flattered by the extra exposure, some may be a little bit less than thrilled.

Actress Jennifer Love Hewitt was certainly not amused when she discovered a company called Slim Spray had been using a photo of her holding their product to promote its line of weight loss sprays without her permission. She's now taking the company to court.

So if you come across a photo of yourself being used in a way that you didn't agree to, what can you do about it? Here are three possible legal routes you may be able to take:

  1. Appropriation of likeness. In Jennifer Love Hewitt's case, she brought suit alleging an invasion of privacy by appropriation of her likeness. Also known as the right to publicity, laws about the appropriation of likeness prohibit using another's image to advertise or sell products without that person's consent. Along with the common law right to publicity, some states also have their own statutory right to publicity.
  2. False light. If the photo is being used to portray you in a misleading or unflattering way, you may have a lawsuit for false light. For example, a Georgia teen whose Facebook bikini photo was used without her permission by a school administrator at a seminar about the dangers of social media brought suit for false light against the district. In a false light suit, the plaintiff typically must prove that an image was shown to a third party with reckless disregard of placing the plaintiff in a false light that would be highly offensive or embarrassing to a reasonable person.
  3. Intrusion of solitude. If the photo in question was taken somewhere other than a public setting, you may have a case for intrusion of solitude. As you may recall, TV sports reporter Erin Andrews sued for intrusion of solitude after a man took video of her through a peephole into her hotel room and posted the video online. Unlike other invasion of privacy torts such as false light and appropriation of likeness, the images don't even need to be made public; the taking of the pictures in the first place is sufficient to violate the law.

To learn more about potential legal recourse for the unauthorized use of your image, check out FindLaw's page on Invasion of Privacy, or contact an experienced attorney.

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