December 5, 2023

Stars Gain Control of Online Images

While most people on Twitter use a service like TwitPic, Yfrog or Plixi to share photos with their friends and followers, for celebrities, these services can come with strings attached, as they gain ownership rights to uploaded photos and can sell ads alongside them. A company called WhoSay — a little-known start-up with a clientele that is anything but little known — offers similar services, but grants ownership of the images to the stars themselves.

Operating in “stealth mode” since last year, WhoSay runs from the Los Angeles office building of the Creative Artists Agency, which represents a Rolodex of household names, including Mr. Hanks. His WhoSay site includes “copyright Tom Hanks” branding and a stack of fine print at the bottom asserting his legal ownership of all content, placed against warnings of “fines and imprisonment” for improper use.

WhoSay has about 15 people on staff, with offices in New York and London in addition to the one in Los Angeles, said Steve Ellis, the company’s chief executive. Creative Artists and have minority stakes, among other investors, he said.

The company’s client list, by invitation only and not limited to Creative Artists, includes Kevin Spacey, Jim Carrey, John Cusack, Bill Maher, Johnny Knoxville, Chelsea Handler, Eva Longoria, Spike Lee, Enrique Iglesias, Katie Couric and more. In addition to photo and video hosting, the company’s services include automated copyright branding and a private mobile app that loops in publicists, allowing the celebrities’ Facebook and Twitter updates to be easily controlled by a staff .

By devising ways to protect, manage and eventually make money off celebrity activity on social networks, WhoSay aims to change how famous people behave online.

“We work with people who are constantly being utilized by third parties for the wrong reasons,” said Mr. Ellis, who spoke by phone and sent statements via e-mail. The company was formed, he wrote, “to give celebrities and other influential people a set of tools to allow them to manage and control their presence in the digital world.”

WhoSay seeks to protect against situations like one in January, when Plixi, which hosts images, even made a deal to broker and sell photos uploaded by celebrities through a British news organization. “Celebrity traffic to our site represents 10 to 15 percent of all of our traffic,” said Sean Callahan, a founder of

“They help keep the service going and make it a profitable venture,” he said.

But sharing profits with the celebrities was not part of the plan, and Plixi quickly reversed the deal after the company was contacted (directly, not via publicist) by a displeased celebrity — Mr. Callahan would not say who.

Celebrities using WhoSay, however, can bypass Plixi (or even Facebook and Twitter) to share content. Instead, they use the company’s secure software to create an update, which is then automatically pushed into their social feeds. For fans, the end result is not noticeably different. For celebrities, it changes a lot.

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