Robert Barbera, a New York-based photographer, photographed Grande last year as she exited a building carrying a bag that read “Sweetener.”
Two of the photos were then shared on Grande’s official Instagram account Aug. 17, the day Grande released her album Sweetener. “Happy sweetener day,” she wrote in the caption.
The Instagram post, which remains upon Grande’s page, has received more than 3,390,000 likes. A screenshot of the photo was also filed as evidence in court:
“[Grande] infringed [Barbera’s] copyright in the Photographs by reproducing and publicly displaying the Photographs on the Instagram Page,” he wrote in his lawsuit. “[Grande] is not, and has never been, licensed or otherwise authorized to reproduce, publically display, distribute and/or use the Photographs.”
Barbera is suing for either the profits Grande earned from the photos or $25,000 for each pic.
Ariana Grande is not the first celeb to land in legal hot water for posting a paparazzi photo.
BuzzFeed News reported in December that photo agencies have been targeting stars who use their pics — without credit — on their social channels.
In January, supermodel Gigi Hadid was sued by a photo agency for posting a pic it had taken of her to her 44 million Instagram followers.
Kim Kardashian West was sued in 2017 for copyright infringement after using a photographer’s picture of her going to dinner at a Miami restaurant without permission. Khloé later admitted that she saw the photo on a fan website and reposted to her widely followed Instagram. The two parties eventually reached an undisclosed settlement.
Jessica Simpson was sued in January after she posted a photo of herself leaving the Bowery Hotel in New York. The photographer said he had only licensed the photo for limited use to the Daily Mail when Simpson posted it on her Instagram account, which has 4 million followers. Someone on her team then tweeted it out to her 7 million Twitter followers.
J.Lo was sued last week after posting a photo of herself in a striped blouse and high-waisted pants that was taken by professional photographer Michael Stewart. The Instagram story added the caption, “Today was a good day.”
Paparazzi photographers have seen their profits sink since the advent of social media, which has allowed celebrities to take control of their image and share their own photos with fans.
It may seem counterintuitive that one’s own image can be out of bounds, but legal experts said copyright law clearly favors the photographer.
“The photographer owns the copyright to the photograph; it doesn’t matter who is in it,” said entertainment lawyer Bryan Sullivan. “The subject of the photo doesn’t have any rights to the picture as long as it was taken in a public place.”