If you’ve read any of my previous posts on this blog, you’ll know that one of my favourite topics of conversations is image rights. Time and again, it’s easy to find examples of how businesses of all sizes can get things very wrong, and I’d like to share another example of how not doing due diligence on images could hurt your small business, with the help of Rod Stewart.

I’ve highlighted before the case of a small businessman who ran into trouble after sharing a picture of himself with an Olympian on his website. You can understand why photos of celebrities have a particular value – and why they’re so keen to protect their image rights – but have you ever thought that photos of their body parts might be equally valuable?

This is something that Rod Stewart’s promoters are probably realising now.  In 1989, an image of the back of his head was used on the album Storyteller  – it is recognisably his head, due to his distinctive hair-style.  In 2010, the photographer was contacted by Stewart’s agent with an offer of $1,500 to use the image in support of a tour with the strapline: “Rod’s Back”.  The photographer rejected this.

A similar, or identical, image was subsequently used at the Las Vegas show in Caesar’s Palace and on related products – so the photographer is suing for $2.5m.

So how can a multimillion pound lawsuit over a singer’s head possibly relate to small business? Well, on a practical level, this example shows that there are several key points that any business needs to keep in mind:

  • Image rights are complicated.  Just because you had the rights once, does not mean they are still current, nor that they cover you for the location & project you have in mind.
  • Photographers may need Professional Indemnity (PI) insurance, especially if they’re shooting based on somebody else’s concept.  For example, if a different photographer had taken new shots of the back of Rod’s head, the original photographer could argue that the concept or Intellectual Property (IP) is still theirs and sue for damages.
  • Photography or media agencies are likely to need PI  – have they checked the IP rights for any image used correctly, and got sign-off from all concerned?
  • Publishers (whether book, music, online etc) need PI – they may believe they have sourced valid image rights from a legitimate photographer, via an efficient agency.  But if someone sees what they believe to be their image used without permission, the publisher is likely to be the prime target as they will be perceived to have the deepest pockets!

You may not intend to do anything wrong, but having the right insurance in place can help you “head off” any difficulties before they cause you a real headache. It may be easy to assume you won’t make a mistake, but when you’re working with images, it’s very dangerous to assume anything, least of all that you own the rights.

Want to learn more? Visit our article on what is professional indemnity insurance.