Laws vary by jurisdiction, but the right to publicity generally protects a person from having their likeness used for advertising or other commercial purposes without their permission. The law may protect the use of the person’s name, voice or signature as well. So while a photographer may own the copyright to a photograph taken of a stranger in public, and may be able to exhibit the image or sell prints of it, licensing it for advertising purposes may be prohibited without the subject’s permission.
In the case of a celebrity, their likeness may have great commercial value. Thus, paparazzi have the right to capture images of celebrities in public, and those photographs can be published in tabloids as news reporting, but the same images may not be used to sell products. A person’s likeness may be protected even if the image is not a photograph, as long as it is recognizable.
Whenever a person’s likeness will be used in advertising or another commercial context, a signed model release, release for use of likeness, or other contract is a necessity.