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CalAttorney2, Attorney
Category: Business Law
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Experience:  I am a businesses law attorney, with experience advising and representing owners and investors.
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Can you use a public photo taken from online or an actual

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Can you use a public photo taken from online or an actual performance picture and use the image and or silhouette of the person and sell it?

For example, if I took a photo of Brad Pitt at a red carpet premiere, a public event, and I made a t-shirt using his image or silhouette and sold it. (Technically, the photo is mine since i took it right?) Could they sue me for using their image?

Attorney William B. :

Dear Customer, thank you for choosing Just Answer. You have raised an interesting point, and yes they can sue you. The tort is one called "Right of Publicity" and it deals not with your ownership of the photograph, but rather with the celebrity's right to make money off of their own publicity and efforts. The tort is still being litigated in the early phases, but it is effective and a scenario such as the one you describe would likely result in liability.

Customer: I am thinking about starting a T-shirt company. What if a customer sends in a photo of their favorite football player and pays me to make a t-shirt of it. If I have no clue who the athlete is and am under the assumption that it is a picture of the person who is placing the order with me, could I still be liable for using the athletes image?
Attorney William B. :


Customer: Also, what if it is NOT a celebrity? What if the image is of someones girlfriend or crush? Could i get sued for replicating their image without their consent too?
Attorney William B. :

Like I mentioned, this tort is still being developed, there are a few celebrities that are very aggressive about pursuing it, and many that are not. But courts are allowing more and more people to take over their right of publicity (despite it being eroded by the internet, but that is more commentary than legal information).

Customer: So in essence, i have to Make sure that I have a full disclosure that the customer has to sign Stating that the image that they have sent me is in fact their and only their image correct?
Attorney William B. :

That is your best protection, but the rule is not quite that broad - if you are using the image to promote the product (which is usually the case, or can be proven to be the case), you will need permission or consent.

Attorney William B. :

Here is a link to a website that describes the statute in a little more detail than I can describe here:

Customer: But what if its a birthday present for their girlfriend or friend using their girlfriend or friends photo? These would be custom t-shirts. In which case it is not being used to PROMOTE my company or T-shirt. Could the said girlfriend get upset they had used her photo and try to sue me even though it was not made for promoting anything on my behalf? Just taking an order and printing it.
Attorney William B. :

If you are not using it for commercial purposes (meaning the local t-ball team, a non-profit, a service group, a birthday party, etc.) you are not using the image for financial gain.

Customer: But i will be financially gaining from producing these t-shirts the customers order through me.
Attorney William B. :

Right, but the issue is the sale of the shirts. I would check the link I provided, it gives a couple of examples of what counts as using the person's image or voice for commercial gain. What you are describing is simply making and selling shirts that have a logo on them to a person for a birthday party. Your first example (the Brad Pitt on the red carpet would be using Mr. Pitt's image to help you actually sell shirts that you have made), is different and would violate the right to publicity.

Customer: So the law is mainly to protect the using of the image as an advertisement or commercial use only. If its for personal gratification and for the customer to enjoy solely on his or her own, it should be ok?
Attorney William B. :

That is correct. The law here is a little more nuanced than that, and if you plan on operating a t-shirt company where you are selling shirts to a larger market (i.e. distributors etc.) I would advise touching base with a civil litigation or business law attorney to check with your business plan to help you with these issues.

Customer: My first example was more of a question of if YOU took a photo of Brad Pitt at a red carpet public event for example and sent ME the photo to make a t-shirt from the photo, could brad pitt sue me for making that t-shirt for you?
Customer: I think I'm understanding you.
Attorney William B. :

I understand, and the answer is still yes. Brad Pitt could sue you.

Customer: So complicating! He should sue the person who ODERED the t-shirt! NOT the person who's just doing their job for a customer!!!!
Customer: I am glad i got the Chance to chat with you Bill. Thank you!
Attorney William B. :

Dear Customer,

Thank you for the kind rating, it is greatly appreciated. I wish you the best of luck with this matter. If you have further questions regarding this type of issue, or any other legal matter, please do not hesitate to use our service in the future. You may post a question for any of our experts in general, or to me directly by titling your question “To CalAttorney 2…”

Best regards, XXXXX XXXXX you,


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Customer: replied 4 years ago.
Good morning, I have another question for you.
If the T-shirt print was a silhouette of Brad Pitt and not an actual image of him, (so basically the image was reproduced using a photo of Brad Pitt but tthe final outcome of the picture on the T-shirt is just a solid black silhouette), he can't sue me because it's just a silhouette of him correct?
No, he could probably still have a valid claim. The silhouette would likely be considered a"likeness" of this celebrity.
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Customer: replied 4 years ago.
Please clarify.

No as in NO he CAN'T sue me?

You can be sued for using a person's likeness for commercial gain.

While I cannot give you specific advice as to your proposed venture, using a silhouette of a known celebrity on a t-shirt that is sold for commercial purposes is a violation of that celebrity's right of publicity.

For additional information on this tort, you can do an internet search for the celebrity Chuck Yeager, who has been very aggressive in protecting his right of publicity with varying success. As I noted initially, this tort is still being explored by the Courts but if you intend to use a celebrity as the basis for sales of your t-shirts you are risking a lawsuit, which is costly and time consuming even if you are found not to be liable.
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Customer: replied 4 years ago.
I get it. You are wonderful Bill! I have been rating each answer i get so you get more positive ratings. I appreciate your patience with me. Thank you.
Customer: replied 4 years ago.
For my T-shirt idea, I am trying to set up a domain name and get a website going.

I am using Go (Any other sites you would recommend?)

It is asking me if I want the domain name to be public or private.
As a business do I want it public or private?
I can't give you legal or business instruction through this site.

I can give you a brief overview of this question however. Go daddy is a reputable site, and provides quick and efficient service, I am sure there are competitors that offer the same type of service and there may be better ones, but I have not had any problems with their service.

As far as public vs. private, a private domain is more generally used for personal and family websites (photo sharing etc.) while a public domain is used for business and publication purposes.

If you have more detailed questions regarding technical issues regarding website setup and related questions, I can refer you to our technical or computer experts who are better qualified to assist you with these questions. (I am happy to offer my insight, but want to ensure you get the best information possible as this is not my area of expertise).
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