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Is it the image or the icon that needs protecting?

Back in the 1980’s, if you entered into any young boy’s bedroom you were pretty much guaranteed to see pinned to their wall the iconic picture of the ‘Tennis Girl’.

With her bare bottom, wooden tennis racket and white cotton dress and baseball cap, this image sparked a generation of iconic Athena posters which includes the naked torso of a young man cradling a baby, and the hunky mechanic holding two tyres.

Unlike today, where photographers such as Mario Testino, David Bailey and Ian Rankin are as famous as the images they take and so are paid representatively for that, unknown photographer Mr Martin Elliot was paid just £250,000 for the image rights by Athena. Today that figure could be much, much higher.


Thirty years ago the internet was non-existent, as was twitter, instagram, youtube, and the big one, Facebook. Photographers had minimal concerns for exploitation of the images they took and owned. Apart from posters, and the occasional duvet set or T-Shirt print, there was little opportunity for companies to exploit the marketable benefits of an iconic image.

Today, with the global reach and growing accessibility of the internet, this isn’t the case anymore. Copyright and Infringement cases are much more prevalent, with celebrities, footballers and huge corporations all taking control of their image distribution. A prime example is the Rihanna case (see Harbour Group’s article, Rihanna’s Face off Against Topshop and Wins) which ruled in her favour on image infringement.

Although the celebrities and sport stars may be jumping to protect their image, there appears to still be little movement from the photographers who take these images – iconic or not. Just google, ‘iconic images’ and in less than a second there is over 29 million links to photographs and stills, of which probably 99.9% of them have yet to be protected.

Buzzfeed, one of the most popular media and technology news sites in the world, has repeatedly written articles that talk about memorable photographs, showing iconic images of our generation.

Protecting your image, whether you are behind the camera or in front of it, is paramount to protecting your right to that image, your right to be acknowledged and rewarded, both financially and if the image is truly iconic, historically too!

For more information on image rights protection, contact Sally Wilkinson at