PASADENA, Calif. (CN) – Shirley Jones asked the 9th Circuit to overturn a ruling that Corbis, a stock photo website, has the right to license red-carpet images of her.
Jones filed a federal class action against Corbis Corp. in 2010, claiming it had violated her common law and statutory rights of publicity by exploiting her name, image and likeness in 10 photos on its website.
But in May 2011, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson ruled that Jones had given her consent for Corbis to display and license the images because she knew it was customary for red-carpet photographers to distribute such photos widely.
The 9th Circuit last Thursday heard arguments from Jones’ attorney Arthur Gold, with Chicago law firm Gold & Coulson, and Corbis’ attorney Laurence Pulgram, with Fenwick & West of San Francisco.
The hearing was consolidated to incorporate a similar class action against Corbis by lead plaintiffs Anna Maria Alberghetti and Bonnie Pointer of the Pointer Sisters.
Judges Betty Fletcher, Judge Kim Wardlaw, and Jay Bybee sat on the panel.
Gold said that neither Jones’ knowledge of red-carpet photographers’ practice of distributing images, nor Hollywood custom at such events implied her consent.
Under questioning from the judges, Gold made a distinction between images Corbis distributed to the media and those sold commercially.
Jones “spent her lifetime” developing her persona and only she could exploit her image for commercial use, even if a photographer was the owner of a copyrighted image in which she appeared, Gold argued.
But Pulgram said the images of Jones were pre-empted by the Copyright Act, because all Corbis did was display and license them. To rule otherwise would set a “dangerous” precedent which would not only harm the photo-licensing industry but the subjects of the photos, the attorney said.
“If it were to become the case that photographers could not display images without that display becoming violation of the right of publicity, this would give each person depicted in the image a veto over whether or not the public would ever get access to that image,” Pulgram said.
The attorney also claimed that Jones was not harmed economically by the display of licensed images.
“In fact, if anything, she probably has an economic enhancement because she might get a license out of it from a commercial user,” Pulgram said.
In rebuttal, Gold said that Corbis hurt his clients’ ability to make money from images they had spent years building.
“Don’t let anyone fool you,” Gold said. “They’re not licensing a copyright, they’re selling pictures.”
Jones, 78, starred in several Hollywood musicals, including “Oklahoma” and “The Music Man,” and the television sitcom “The Partridge Family.” She won an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role as a prostitute in the 1960 drama, “Elmer Gantry.”