Burning Question: Do Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton Own Their Hacked Images?

Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton were victimized in the photo scandal. (Getty Images)
Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton were victimized in the photo scandal. (Getty Images)

Who owns the rights to a hacked celebrity photo? If J. Law or Kate Upton didn't take the photos themselves, will that complicate their effort to scrub them from the Internet?  

Let's be very clear: Whoever took the photos owns the rights to the photos. And by "took" I mean clicked the little button on the phone while their — girlfriends? — were posing.

So. If the people who took the photos want to be lowlifes about this whole business, then, yes, they could make life very unnecessarily painful for the women who appear in them. Theoretically, the owners could even contact the sites that are hosting the photos and say, in effect, "I own those rights! I don't care! Display away! Go to town!"

And, legally, I am told, Lawrence and Upton and others like Mary Elizabeth Winstead — who also had her intimate photos stolen and leaked — would have little to no power to quash that display.

[Related: What You Need to Know About the Celebrity Nude Photo Hacking Scandal]

We know this for three reasons. 

1: An intellectual property lawyer told me.  

"Something like this just illustrates why we need stronger privacy laws in the United States," says Peter Toren of the firm Weisbrod Matteis & Copley.

2: Ellen DeGeneres. Remember that selfie she took at the Oscars, the one featuring Bradley Cooper and Kevin Spacey and Lawrence and Julia Roberts's teeth and Lupita Nyong'o? Well, funny story. DeGeneres didn't take it. Cooper did. And after the Oscars aired, we learned that Cooper, therefore, owns copyright on that selfie.

3: Monkeys. A macaque recently took a selfie out in nature, and as we've since learned, that means that even the owner of the camera can't claim copyright if some other hand, or paw, triggers the shutter.

All that said, don't weep for these actresses quite yet. Even if the picture takers have not done the right thing — granting copyright to the women in the photos — several of the victims already have threatened to take unspecified "legal action." 

[Related: Did Eva Longoria and Denise Richards Thwart Celeb Hack Attack?]

And in the meantime, the women seem to be doing pretty well in the scrubbing department.

"It is virtually impossible to remove something entirely from the web once its on the Web, muses cybersecurity consultant Ralph Echemendia, who works with film studios, filmmakers and celebrities. "But with most of the major U.S. sites, you can already tell, if you search them, that many don't have [live] links anymore."

In other words, regardless of whether these actresses have copyright, it appears that, in the words of Toren, "maybe some of these people are just doing the right thing."

Some. Not all. Hey, did you hear about the Los Angeles artist who plans on blowing up the stolen images and then displaying them in an art show in Florida? True story.

[Related: Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton Hacked Nude Photos to Be Displayed in Art Show]

Cory Allen Contemporary Art has announced that the hacked photos of Lawrence and Upton will go on display—unaltered and life sized—next month via artist XVALA's upcoming "No Delete" show in St. Petersberg.

Want some advice? I wouldn't spend the money to fly down there, not for that exhibit anyway. Because Toren doesn't think it'll last.

"Nope," he tells me. "Copyright violation. You can't do that. The wrath of Jennifer Lawrence's attorneys is going to come down on them."

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Leslie Gornstein is an entertainment writer and the host of the weekly Hollywood gossip podcast The Fame Fatale.