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Can we use pictures of celebrities to make a look-alike page in our yearbook?

Question | Copyright & Fair Use
I work on the yearbook for my high school. One of the kids at my school looks like the singer Nick Jonas. We want to have a celebrity look-a-like page in the book where we edit in side-by-side pictures of the student and the celebrity standing in the same pose. Our advisor is worried that this might violate copyright law because we sell the books to fund the yearbooks for the next year. Can we include this section in our yearbook?

Copyright law lets authors and artists protect their work by guaranteeing the artist (or the copyright owner) rights to:

  • Reproduce the work (putting the “copy” in “copyright”) 
  • Distribute copies of the work
  • Publicly display the work 
  • Create derivatives of the original work (sequels, movie adaptations, t-shirts, etc.) 
  • Perform the work 
Copyright protects all kinds of things including drawings, paintings, novels, songs, pictures, photographs, and yes, even memes. In this case, the person who took those pictures of the celebrities probably has a copyright in those pictures (we’ll get into that in more detail below). 

 Fair Use is a rule that lets someone use another person’s creative work without having to get permission. Fair use is fine as long as the person is using the owner’s work for: criticism, comment, news, reporting, education, scholarship, or research. 

To figure out whether someone’s use of a creative work is “fair use” we have to ask four questions: 

  1. Why and how did the student journalist use the owner’s work? 
  2. How creative is the owner’s work and how much protection does it get? 
  3. How much of the work did the student journalist use? 
  4. Will the journalist’s work have an economic impact on the market of the owner’s work? 
 For a deeper look at Fair Use, click here.


1) The photo of the student mimicking the celebrity is used for education because it’s for a school yearbook. The student photo also changes the message and meaning of the original photo. The celeb photo of Nick Jonas is just a headshot promoting the singer. When the student picture is edited in with the Nick Jonas photo, the outcome is funny. #themissingjonasbrother  

2) Photos are considered to be very creative because you choose the lighting, props, angles, and other things when taking a photo, especially in a professional photoshoot. Every photograph is different because of these individual choices, which makes them very creative and original. A very creative work gets high copyright protection. 

3) Even though the whole celebrity photo is used, it looks different because it’s combined with a photo of a student trying to look like the next Jonas Brother. Since the new photo is a funny comparison, it changes the meaning of the original photo. It’s okay to use all of the original photo if the message or meaning of the original is transformed.  

4) The Photoshopped yearbook picture isn’t likely to hurt the market of the original Nick Jonas pic because people don’t usually buy school yearbooks to find a photo of Nick Jonas, or any other celebrity (unless it was Jonas’ actual yearbook photo from when he was in school). The photographer may try to sell his Nick Jonas pic to TMZ, but not to high school yearbooks. 

Keeping all this in mind, the celebrity photograph used for a look-alike comparison in a high school yearbook is likely a “Fair Use.”

For closer-than-close celeb lookalikes, check out this Buzzfeed article.

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