Mother Claims Defamation Over Daughter’s Image on Billboard

The mother of a six-year-old New Jersey girl whose image appeared in controversial anti-abortion ads has sued the advertisers in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan for unauthorized commercial use of the girl’s likeness. The lawsuit calls the ads “offensive, defamatory, and racist.”

Tricia Fraser is suing an anti-abortion group based in Texas called Life Always and its ad agency, Heroic Media, on behalf of her daughter, Anissa Fraser. The claim is over the use of stock photos of Anissa–shot when she was four–that appeared on billboards near the entrance of the Holland Tunnel in Manhattan, and in Jacksonville, Florida. The billboards included text that said, “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” The billboards are intended to drive traffic to the defendants’ web sites, which solicit donations for their cause.

“While Life Always and Heroic Media certainly have the right to engage in such offensive speech, they do not have the right to exploit the likeness of an innocent child to do so,” Tricia Fraser says in her claim. She asserts that the campaign is “designed to shame African-American women from exercising their constitutional rights to reproductive freedom.”

Fraser and her daughter are African-American. The billboards in question provoked an angry reaction from some people, and drew widespread media coverage before they were finally taken down.

Fraser permitted her daughter to pose for stock photographs in 2009, and admits to signing a “take-it-or-leave-it” model release during the shoot. But Life Always and Heroic Media used her daughter’s likeness illegally, she maintains, because the model release she signed expressly excluded “defamatory use of any photos taken on the shoot.”

“Ms. Fraser was led to believe that the photo would be used by the photographer to publicize his own work. At no point was she told they might be used to illustrate a controversial message or as political propaganda,” the lawsuit says.

Life Always did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The images were allegedly distributed by Getty subsidiary Image Source, and were shot by a photographer identified in the lawsuit as C. Camarena. Neither the agencies nor the photographer are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

According to Fraser’s claim, Getty informs its licensees in writing that they may not use licensed images “in connection with a subject that would be unflattering or unduly controversial to a reasonable person” and that the agency’s license agreement “strictly prohibits” defamatory or otherwise unlawful uses.”

Fraser is seeking an injunction to stop the defendants from using the image in question, and unspecified monetary damages.

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