A young woman taking a selfie in front of a street art mural.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Social media influencers beware: using street art as a backdrop for a sponsored post could result in a lawsuit.

Several stars have already landed themselves in hot water for posing in front of murals without obtaining permission from the artist.

“I have had about a dozen of these cases already this year,” said Jeff Gluck, an attorney who specializes in copyright infringement.

For the average social media user, posing in front of a public artwork is not an issue (insert sigh of relief). However, it has the potential to become a legal issue if the photo in question is being used for commercial purposes.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, an Instagram influencer with over 100 million followers can expect to earn between $500,000 and $1 million per paid post, whereas an influencer with slightly fewer followers (say 15 million to 20 million) can expect to earn between $100,000 and $250,000 per paid post. That’s a lot of money—money that artists say they are entitled to if the photo features their work.

Similar cases have already played out between street artists and brands. Mercedes, for example, used several Detroit murals as a backdrop for a photo shoot featuring its G Class truck. When the artists complained, the luxury carmaker sued, arguing that the photos made fair use of the art.

“I can very much see graffiti artists pursuing influencers in the same way they pursue brands,” said Ellie Altshuler, an attorney who represents influencers in business deals. “Deep pockets are there, and they may make the argument that even if it’s not for a direct commercial purpose, their business is creating content and building their following.”

Altshuler says that the best way for influencers to protect themselves from getting sued is to obtain permission from the artist.

“There are a lot of people who think giving credit is sufficient,” she warned. “If they know who the artist is, the safest thing and the right thing to do is to reach out and seek permission.”