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What Can You Do If A Website Uses a Photo of You Without Your Permission?

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In a digital age where we live out our lives on the Internet, it’s inevitable photos of you will pop up online. You may be the one to publish these photos, but sometimes, someone else may use your likeness or image without your permission.

When this happens, can you legally force a website owner to delete a photo of you? You have some legal options if your photo is used without your permission, but it depends on how this photo of you is being used.

Reasons you can take action against improper use of your photo

Before you can resort to legal action regarding a photo of you being used without your permission, you need to have a defense. Without one of the following reasons, it may be more difficult to launch legal action against a company or individual using your photo.

Invasion of privacy

If a photo depicts you in a situation where there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as in your home, and it was taken without your permission, you can stop a website from using it. You can also stop photos from being used if they portray you in a false or highly offensive manner.

Violation of right of publicity

When a company uses photos for commercial purposes, such as promoting and selling products on their website, they must own the photo or have explicit permission to use it. If a website is using your image without your authorization, to sell their products or services, or to imply you endorse their products or services, it’s violating your right of publicity. The violation of the right of publicity is more common for people who have a degree of fame or celebrity, and there’s some commercial value to using their image.

Defamation

You can stop a website from using your photo if the image defames you. Defamation is creating a false impression that injures your reputation; it does not include unflattering photos. An example of a defaming photo would be a doctored image showing you committing a crime, such as shoplifting. 

Misappropriation of likeness

Misappropriation of likeness is similar to the violation of the right of publicity. It involves using your image without your permission to gain an advantage, although in this case, it may not necessarily be commercial. When you allege misappropriation of likeness, you can argue that the website is using your image to gain fame, publicity, or attention from others in addition to monetary benefits.

False light

A website uses a photo in a false light if it’s associated with deceptive or unappealing views. If a website publishes your photo without your permission and it may embarrass or offend you, you may be able to pursue a civil claim. False light differs from defamation because false light has more to do with causing offense, whereas defamation is concerned with protecting your reputation. A photo doesn’t have to cause offense to defame you.

If a website has used a photo without your permission and you believe you have a solid defense for taking it down, you should consider contacting an attorney.

In some cases, a website doesn’t need your permission to use your image. The most common example is a website identifying you in a news report or commentary. In the US, the site has a First Amendment right to free speech and can use your image in a news story about or featuring you. If the news report or commentary isn’t reasonably related to you, however, the website cannot exercise its free speech rights.

What to do if a website uses your (copyrighted) photos without your permission

Another legal approach to a website using your photo without your consent is from a copyright standpoint. If you took the photo, you own the photo — period. If someone else wants to use it, for commercial purposes or not, they need your permission. Or, you must release it into the public domain.

If the website is using a photo of you that belongs to you, you have three options for getting them to take it down:

  1. Approach the poster: Sometimes, the website has mistakenly infringed on your copyright and all it takes is asking them to take it down. Contacting the website directly to let them know could save both you a lot of hassle and legal fees.
  2. Send a DMCA notice: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) allows copyright holders to submit formal takedown notices to online platforms and internet service providers. A DMCA notice is pretty serious and has consequences for non-compliance, so most websites will immediately remove your photos after you send it.
  3. Cease and desist letter: If a website repeatedly uses your photos without permission or you don’t think a DMCA notice will get the job done, you can send a cease and desist letter. This option is the most expensive because you will have to hire a lawyer to draft the letter for you.

What if someone else took the photo?

If someone else takes a photo of you, technically, they hold the copyright to it and you don’t. They can, therefore, use it how they wish (so long as they don’t misappropriate your likeness, defame you, or commit one of the other aforementioned violations). Unfortunately, if someone else has taken a photo of you in a public place and they don’t violate any of your rights by posting it online, there’s not much you can do to take it down.

Removing photos of yourself from Google image results

It’s possible you found a website that is using your photo without your permission from a Google image search. You may not want photos of you populating search results when you type your name, unless it’s a photo you have posted. However, the photo can’t be removed from Google image search results unless it’s removed by the website owner.

If the photo in Google image search results has been removed by the website owner but still shows up in the results, you can submit a request to Google to have it removed. The Google Help Center has more info about removing photos from search results.

Taking action when your photo is used without your permission

Whenever you see a photo of yourself used without your consent, there are steps you can take to try and have it removed. It can be as simple as contacting the site owner and asking for the removal, or as complex and costly as a cease and desist letter. But be aware that in some cases, you may not have as many options.

Now that you know what the legal justifications are, you’ll know if you have the right to have a photo removed or not.

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