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July 15th, 2008
08:30 AM ET

Buying and selling celebrity baby photos

Bruce Weinstein
AC360º contributor and The Ethics Guy, BusinessWeek

Angelina and Brad are the latest in a long line of celebrities clamoring to sell photos of their babies to the highest bidder.  Apparently, this is perfectly legal to do.

But it’s still wrong.   Here’s why.

First, the fact that we have a legal right to do something doesn’t mean that it’s right to do it.  For example, you wouldn’t be breaking the law if you routinely broke lunch dates with friends when something better came along, but it’s wrong to do such a thing.  Ethics holds us to a higher standard than the law does; it calls upon us to “live our best lives.”

Second, a parent’s most important responsibility is to be concerned primarily with protecting the interests of his or her child. It is a severe violation of this responsibility to sell photos of one’s child to the highest bidder.

“But what if that money goes to charity?,” some ask.  Ethically, this doesn’t matter, because evil must not be done so that good may come of it.  If the police randomly searched citizens without cause, they would probably find drugs, guns, and other contraband from time to time.  However, our society justifiably deplores this, because the rights of innocent people to be left alone takes precedence over whatever good might come from shaking down people at will.  Thus even if the proceeds from the sale of baby photos could lead to a cure for cancer, the elimination of famine in Africa, or other desirable goals, it is important to be concerned about how we achieve these ends.

Third, infants are not capable of providing an informed consent to having their pictures taken and sold to the tabloids (or anywhere else, for that matter).  Because they don’t have the ability to weigh the pro’s and con’s of such an undertaking, society entrusts parents to make good decisions on their children’s behalf.  A child whose parents sell pictures of her for financial gain, or even to benefit a worthwhile cause, might grow up to feel that her parents violated a basic trust.  And it would be perfectly understandable for a child to feel this way.

Of course, it’s not merely celebrities who are to blame for this deplorable practice.  Without a public whose appetite for such inanities seems to know no limits, the supply would soon dry up.  But the public has greater power to stop the practice than it might like to believe.  The outcry last year over the News Corporation’s decision to publish O.J. Simpson’s book, “If I Did It,” led that company to cancel the deal (although the book resurfaced later in altered form, which I have commented upon elsewhere).

If the decision of celebrities to sell photos of their infants for astronomical sums offends your moral sensibilities, don’t just quietly seethe about it.  Refuse to purchase magazines containing these images.  Write a letter to the editor expressing your concerns.  Send an e-mail to the celebrities in question and respectfully take issue with the practice.  When we encounter something we believe is an injustice, we not only have a right to speak up.  We have an obligation to do so.

www.TheEthicsGuy.com


Filed under: 360° Radar • Bruce Weinstein • Ethics
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. avery

    Right... paparazzi are going to do anything to get a photo of a celebs babies, especially someone like Angelina. They clamor over her enough as it is, let alone if she withheld pictures. I think it would be MORE dangerous to her kids in this case. I see absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to give the paps SOMETHING so that they'll leave you and your kids alone for a little while. And I see absolutely nothing wrong with that if the money goes to charity.
    We all have pictures of our kids taken and give them out to friends and family, right? Stuff about celebs leaks all the time – I would absolutely not put it past one of said friends and family to sell the pictures to get money that they themselves are going to keep. How is that fair?
    We're going to find out what the babies look like anyway – might as well be on *THEIR* terms, especially if a charity is going to benefit from this!

    July 16, 2008 at 3:21 am |
  2. Alisha H.

    I think that in a way it is a good thing and in a way its a bad thing, because in one hand you have the paparazzi that has been know to "hit and run" just for a photo opp and that isn't safe for their new born children, but in the other hand selling it to the highest bidder seems ridiculous to me because even though they would be giving the money to charities, they are kind of selling out a beautiful thing such as child birth.

    Yes i get that their children are gorgeous or whatever, but thats really not ethnical to sit there and sell a photo to the highest bidder. That's just wrong and just because its for charities doesn't make it right, when they have millions of dollars and could just give out of their own pockets.

    July 15, 2008 at 11:06 pm |
  3. Cynthia

    Do they sell enough magazines to recoup the money that they spend for the pictures? I have never brought a magazine to see a celebrity's baby picture and never will.

    July 15, 2008 at 5:44 pm |
  4. Anna

    The other aspect about all of this is: "why is it the wealthy, "beautiful" people" are so important anyway (that we care so much about their offspring) ? I think my young adults (no longer small children) are also quite beautiful, and while I think their pictures are treasures, I wouldn't be making millions off their images

    July 15, 2008 at 5:40 pm |
  5. Anna

    I have to admit, I see people like Gene Simmons' (his show on TV), Hulk Hogan (another reality-type show) and then read about celebs selling pics of their newborns while the rest of us poor slobs just want to pay our mortgage. I like many of these people (and sometimes even watch the shows) but it just reminds me of how "much some have" and how little others (do). It just seems far out of the realm of real life when we're just trying to keep the roof over our heads, keep the car running (and spending, spending on gas), putting food on our tables. I wouldn't want the fishbowl existence, either, but I'd find ways to clear some of the massive debt most of us Americans are facing

    July 15, 2008 at 5:10 pm |
  6. EJ (USA)

    They are not selling their babies, they are selling pictures of their babies. If I had a baby and his/her picture would go for $10 million, I'd sell it in a heartbeat. Ethics shmethics. (Plus I've never heard a celebrity say that they already have so much money that they don't care to make any more.) Hillary is rich and she's trying like mad to get her $20 million back.

    I would never have to work. My parents and siblings and future kids would never have to work. (the key phrase is "have to") We would be protected from the fear of high oil prices, inflation, and high unemployment that appears to be getting worse this year.

    If I did not sell a picture (legal, honest, & cute picture) of my future child for $10 million, I would be a complete fool – AND SO WOULD ALL OF YOU!

    July 15, 2008 at 4:27 pm |
  7. Nicole in Alabama

    Maybe they can donate the money to HRC campaign debt!

    July 15, 2008 at 3:21 pm |
  8. JC- Los Angeles

    It's pathetic to see often uneducated, often legacy celebrities sell out their children in the same way they were sold out by their agents; it's as if no one has a moral compass anymore.

    All we have to do is look at the character possessed by the recently freed Colombian hostages to find enlightenment; their heroic actions reconfirm that far too many celebrities reside at the depths of the human totem pole.

    July 15, 2008 at 2:06 pm |
  9. Jennifer

    I think that if we would just leave the celebritites alone, they would not have to worry about who gets pictures of their children. The photographers are a danger to the celebrities and to the children, not to mention that they totally invade the privacy of the people that they are trying to get the picture of. Leave them alone.

    July 15, 2008 at 1:21 pm |
  10. Bev C NY

    I do not buy or read the "celebrity" rags. A good portion of the celebs are shallow, empty people. That they would sell their child's image to the highest bidder speaks volumes. It doesn't matter if the money is going to charity or not. It is still wrong. Don't they have enough money? If they want to donate to a charity, then do it with their OWN money

    July 15, 2008 at 12:34 pm |
  11. Ariann

    I totally agree with you. You can't complain one minute about lack of privacy and then invite the public into your nursery the next minute. Would any private citizen sell photos of their children? This behavior invites the paps to do whatever it takes to get the money shot.

    I commend those celebs who try and keep their kids out of the spotlight and try to give them as normal lives as possible.

    Ariann
    Cleveland, Ohio

    July 15, 2008 at 12:24 pm |
  12. Melissa, Los Angeles

    The amount of media coverage (CNN included) over Brad and Angelina's pregnancy far outweighs the coverage that some other celebrities receive. This is proof with the amount of people trying to break the news that the twins were born weeks before they actually were. I don't recall this amount of attention given to any other celebrity so I can only imagine the furor over who takes the first baby picture. In this case I believe what Brad and Angelina are doing is right. There won't be anymore fighting on who will take the first picture and the money will go to a worthwhile cause. As for the other celebs who do it – it's for the money and attention which I don't agree with.

    July 15, 2008 at 12:14 pm |
  13. nancy

    I personally believe they have the right to sell the photos if the magazines are stupid enough to pay such outrageous amounts for them. They made a statement that the money would go to charity and they did contribute $$$$$$ to charities before the babies. So if other children and or unfortunate people receive food and shelter as a result of the photos being sold for a large sum, more power to them. They are good parents and do a lot to help others. My problem with them is they should be married.

    July 15, 2008 at 12:13 pm |
  14. Annie Kate

    Question – if its unethical to sell baby pictures to the highest bidder for charitable purposes (or otherwise) then what about parents who have their children act in movies, etc. Especially when small a child does not know if this is something good or bad. Some of these children have opportunities and money for college, etc. that the wouldn't have normally. Where does this fit ethically?

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 15, 2008 at 12:11 pm |
  15. Minou, New York City

    I disagree!
    Celebrities are hunted down for pictures of their babies. Eventually the paparazzi would get those pix, but only after the celebrity has been stalked and harassed!
    So, you might as well stop the craze over the "first baby pic" by allowing a decent photographer to take a picture and publish it in a tabloid. The money goes to a good cause! I see only winners here: the celeb got the paparazzi offs their back, the tabloid have something to publish, celebrity-crazy-public has their photos to gawk at, and a charity received a big donation.
    To say it's not the babies decision and therefore wrong, makes no sense to me. We're talking cute family pictures here, and that hardly hurts a baby!
    I for one, couldn't care less about seeing those pictures, but I do love it that the Pitts are so smart about this.

    July 15, 2008 at 12:06 pm |
  16. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    I think this is an excellent defense against the paparazzi. They will do anything to get that valuable first photo. Selling the pictures and donating the proceeds to charity is a win-win. the paparazzi can go back to stalking Paris and Britany.

    July 15, 2008 at 11:18 am |
  17. mollie

    i guess it's better to give the money to charity but it's still wrong. maybe letting your favorite magazine have the pictures for free?

    July 15, 2008 at 11:16 am |
  18. Michelle Fonthill Ont,Canada

    Celebrities who would do this to thier children are using them to get attention from us the public.We are also stupid enough to buy these
    magagzines and contribute to them who are nothing more than icons of self indulgence ,who are putting these babies on display like human trophies for us to admire.

    July 15, 2008 at 10:29 am |
  19. Charlotte D

    Bruce,

    I agree with you totally. I think it is deplorable to auction off your kid's privacy to the highest bidder, even if the money does go to charity (and in many cases I bet it doesn't and is used to buy more designer handbags).

    Gwenyth Paltrow and Chris Martin did it right. They waited a while and then went to a park in London (probably with an armed guard) and let everyone take pictures of their new baby for free so that any one picture would not be any more special than another. Here, take pictures and then leave us alone. Which I think it what happened.

    Charlotte D, Stockton CA

    July 15, 2008 at 10:23 am |
  20. Kat, BC, Canada

    Hi,
    I beg to differ in this case. I think with Angelina and Brad, they ARE doing what they can to protect the new borns. From what I know, celebrity photographers go out of their way taunting and recklessly driving to get a shot. I think the parents know that it's inevitable that their kids will be photographed one way or another. So to stop the craziness and prevent anyone getting hurt (especially their kids), I think it's wise to choose a photographer or a magazine that will take pictures of their kids with the parents having control over what and how the pictures are taken.

    Ultimately, given the circumstances, it's about the only way to take control of the situation and prevent any harm coming their way. Having said that, I can't say the same thing about other celebrity parents. They may indeed have other motives aside from taking control and preventing harm coming their way. But as for Angelina and Brad, the fact that they are giving the money to charity, and have in the past given loads of money to charity, seems to indicate that they are doing what is best for them and their family.

    July 15, 2008 at 9:58 am |
  21. Kristen- Philadelphia, PA

    Bruce I agree that it’s kinda immoral the way some of these celebs auction off their babies first pics to the highest bidder. But at the same time I know it’s easy to point the finger when you are not being offered millions for baby pics that are probably going to be seen anyway.

    To their credit some celeb parents have chosen not to exploit their baby's like Halle Berry and I think Nicole Kidman said that if she did release a photo it would be for free. They aren’t all money hungry.

    As far as Angelina well her whole pregnancy was a public free for all. They allowed the doctor to make public statements and the mayor to publicly display the birth certificates. These two folks I highly doubt would be fazed by some disapproving letters from the public.

    July 15, 2008 at 9:30 am |
  22. Dee, New York

    To put a price on images of the babies turns them into a commodity. I would think that if the parents care enough for a charity, that they would give to the charity without involving the infants and give privately at that . These people are not impoverished and can certainly come up with a generous charitable donation without selling their offspring's image.

    July 15, 2008 at 9:16 am |
  23. Cindy

    I don't see anything wrong with it if the celebrity wants to sell their baby pics and get the money themselves. It is their children. Why should they let the paparazzi make millions off of it? This way they are not hounded by the nuts trying to get the first picture of the baby or babies.

    But I wish all of them would go the route that Brad and Angelina have by giving all of the money to charities. That would be the sensible thing to do.

    Cindy...Ga.

    July 15, 2008 at 8:45 am |