A GIF featuring movie star Ryan Gosling has been quietly removed from a fundraising message Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives sent to supporters.
The image used on the party’s website showed the Canadian actor saying “don’t go.” It appeared when recipients clicked “no” to a message asking if they still supported Premier Doug Ford.
The party did not immediately say why it had removed the image used in the message sent last week.
Experts said the GIF could violate copyright law and the actor’s likeness rights when used in such a way.
“All you have to do is ask yourself, ‘what would Ryan Gosling do?'” said McGill University law professor Allen Mendelsohn. “Ryan Gosling and his representation would presumably not be happy to be used in this manner.”
Mendelsohn said use of the image may violate the copyright of the studio that made the film the GIF was taken from and Gosling’s own rights to use of his likeness.
The image being a part of a fundraising request could further compound the issue because the use of Gosling’s likeness involved raising money, he said.
“Everyone has the rights to their own likeness,” Mendelsohn said. “You can’t just use somebody’s likeness for any sort of purpose in that regard without suffering legal consequences.”
Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said the Tories took a chance using the image during their fundraising efforts.
“There’s obviously legal risks when you use those kinds of materials,” he said. “If it was just a business that was using the same kind of messaging they would certainly face those kinds of claims.”
There are some exceptions in Canadian copyright law and personality rights called “fair dealings.” These grant the use of copyrighted material in some instances, like parody or satire, he said.
“It’s a hard case to make to say that this isn’t a recognizable person that’s being used for aspects that certainly have a commercial feel,” he said. “Using a personality in that way, a highly recognizable Canadian, doesn’t feel right if it’s not being done without appropriate permission.”
But Osgoode Hall associate law professor Carys Craig said such cases could pose risks for regular internet users. When courts try to prevent a particular use of copyright or likeness, the legal decisions could have unintended consequences for private individuals because of the breadth of the law, she said.
“We encounter GIFs all the time and we use them to communicate with one another,” she said. “We should be very loath to create a system where the simple reproduction or posting of a GIF creates potential liability for copyright infringement.”