David Bowie and Morrissey Butt Heads Over Cover Art Photo Usage


When we run into issues regarding photo usage, the photographer is typically involved in one way or another. A company may be trying to use their work without paying, or they might find derivative works of their photography in an art show.

But in this case, neither of the two people involved actually took the photo in question, they were in it. David Bowie is leaning on EMI UK to change the cover art on the re-release of Morrissey’s 1989 single The Last of the Famous International Playboys, because it features a previously un-seen candid photo of the two musicians hanging out in New York.

The photo was taken by Linder Sterling back in 1992, and would replace the original cover that featured a picture of a 7-year-old Morrissey climbing a tree. According to Morrissey fansite True to You:

David Bowie has ordered EMI UK not to run the proposed artwork for … The Last of the Famous International Playboys … Although Bowie has no legal rights to the photograph, most of his back catalogue is presently licensed to EMI.

Clearly, Bowie has the pull to keep the photo from being used as cover art even if he has no legal rights to it (no word on whether or not a release was ever signed), but we would love to know what Sterling has to say about it. A good friend of Morrissey’s, this would mark the third of her photographs to be used on a Morrissey album cover.

(via 1001 Noisy Cameras)

Image credit: David Bowie by David Shankbone by david_shankbone and Morrissey by Man Alive!

  • Samcornwell

    OK, I need to see the picture in question to understand why Bowie has a problem with it.

  • Bruce Garner

    Isn’t this a case of publicity rights? They are using Bowie’s likeness in a commercial enterprise. If it was journalism, he’d have no rights, but in this case he should have to right to control when his face is being used to market a product.

  • Dave


  • E

    I see your point, but it raises an interesting question: when is something art and when is it just marketing? Is an album cover really just marketing or part of the artwork? You don’t need model releases for art.

  • Igor Ken

    But what if art is actually used for marketing purposes? This is not the case of a piece of art produced for the sheer love of art/music, this is actually a part of a set of things (music recordings+picture) that are going to be SOLD in SHOPS and online, so EMI UK can get money. So in my opinion, it’s not just marketing or just part of the artwork, but artwork which is part of the marketing and of the final product.

  • Bruce Garner

    I’m going to have to go with marketing. Album covers, book covers etc. are most often designed to get a shopper’s attention to drive interest that could in turn make a sale. I haven’t seen the image, but if it could be construed to be an endorsement of the song then I think there is no longer any doubt. At the same time, it could be deceptive to a consumer if they are expecting to hear a duet of two artists and it turns out Bowie was only included to deceive the public and drive sales. From what I know of the single, Bowie had nothing to do with it, why include him on the cover?

  • E

    I guess it comes down to the actual picture.. and in this case I haven’t seen it. It could go both ways depending on this. After all, is for instance “Sgt. pepper..” misleading because it has a picture of Bob Dylan on the cover? ;)

  • Bruce Garner

    I think it would be a stretch to think that the cover of St. Pepper is deceptive. I don’t know however if any permission was sought or obtained from those featured. I guess I could google that.

  • MMielech

    That would be an interesting fight without the lawyers. But, neither have enough hair to pull.

  • Dean W. Thompson

    I’m just going to go ahead and believe that you are david bowie.

  • Thomas Casey

    Nice publicity stunt.