How Much is Your Face Worth?
* this article was first published by Daily Life on March 12 2012.
Claudia Schiffer once had her face insured for $5 million. Actress America Ferrara’s smile is insured for double that, a cool $10 million. So if you’re a celebrity, it’s probably possible to accurately value the worth of your face in dollar terms. However, for the rest of us mere mortals who don’t need income protection against chipped teeth and runway stacks, the idea of valuing something so unique, so personal, and so much a part of who we are is tremendously awkward, not to mention difficult.
Despite this difficulty, what I do know for sure is that Joe Rauhina seriously underestimated how much his face was worth.
Rauhina is Maori and has a striking traditional facial tattoo. Eight years ago he was approached by a talent scout and ended up joining Clyne Models in NZ. Not long after, photo image bank Getty Images requested Rauhina for a photo shoot. Rauhina agreed, thinking that the photographs would be used for tourism purposes or, if no one bought them, gather dust in a library in Canada. On the day of the shoot, Rauhina was asked to sign a document and he signed it thinking that it was something to do with his payment. Numerous photographs were then taken and Rauhina pocketed $1500 – a fair amount for a day’s work.
What Rauhina didn’t realise was that the ‘library in Canada’ was actually the home of the biggest stock of images worldwide, the international Getty image bank. Rauhina also didn’t realize that the document he signed was a detailed general waiver. Unwittingly, Rauhina had confirmed Getty’s ownership of the photographs to be used for whatever purpose they liked, for an unlimited duration of time.
And use the pictures they have! Rauhina’s images have since been the subject of numerous licensing agreements – appearing in countless advertising campaigns for companies including Qantas and McDonalds. Excitingly, his face was even on an American dog food advertisement! As at December 2011, the going rate for eleven of Rauhina’s images was $60,000. Fantastic, you might think – except Rauhina hasn’t received a cent for these lucrative contracts. He is currently on unemployment benefits.
So just how can this happen? How can a man lose control of his face? And why can’t he sue Getty Images to get his cut?
Under copyright law, the first copyright owner of a photograph is the person who took the picture – literally the person who pressed the button. If they were working as an employee, then the copyright owner is their employer. Copyright owners can do whatever they like with their property – the subject of the photograph cannot dictate what happens to the image. They do not suddenly get rights if the picture goes viral, is used in a big advertising campaign, or is worth a zillion dollars. They may have rights in contract law – but only if, for example, a limited purpose or duration of use is specified.
Once they exist, photographs can go off on frolics of their own. All it takes is one click of a button. That’s why celebrities can’t prevent unflattering photographs turning up in glossy magazines and why Rauhina cannot object to his face advertising dog food. And photographs governed by general waivers? Well they are pretty much unstoppable.
Signing the waiver check-mated Rauhina. Signing a document means that you have read and approved of its contents. Morality be damned, the law is clear. Rauhina has no case.
There is nothing worse than someone else getting rich off your face. Just ask Joe Rauhina.
by Marie Hadley