Underage Model’s $28 Million Suit Against Photog Likely to Hinge on Model Release

Hailey Clauson's lawsuit has provided fodder for a media debate about decency in the fashion industry, but the photographer's failure to obtain a proper model release will likely matter more to the case.

Photographer Jason Lee Parry has earned international attention this week as a defendant in a high-profile, $28 million lawsuit. A 16-year old model Parry photographed in sexy poses when she was just 15 is suing him for licensing the images without a model release. The case has triggered a debate about ideas of decency in the fashion industry. For photographers, however, the case serves as yet another reminder about the importance of obtaining proper model releases.

An image Parry made in March 2010 of a 15-year-old model sitting on a motorcycle with her legs splayed and her crotch in the center of the frame found its way onto t-shirts that were briefly sold by Urban Outfitters and other retailers. The model, Hailey Clauson, who is enjoying it-girl status with campaigns for Topshop and Zara among others, and her parents have filed suit in a New York district court claiming the photographer did not receive permission to license the images of their daughter. In fact, the suit claims that Parry failed to obtain a written model release of any kind.

Clauson and her parents also claim that the image—and others produced on the shoot—defames the model.

The clothing company, Blood is the New Black, which manufactured the shirts, Urban Outfitters, and another retailer, Brandy & Melville N.Y. Inc., are also named in the $28 million suit. The retailers have pulled the shirts from their stores.

The suit claims that Parry styled and posed the photographs of Clauson “in a blatantly salacious manner.” In addition to the image of Clauson on a motorcycle with her legs spread, the suit also points out that images of Clauson possessing beer, and riding on a motorcycle without a helmet, depicted her in violation of state and federal laws. The suit also alleges that Parry’s photos of Clauson in a leather jacket without a shirt, revealing “portions of her breasts,” are “inappropriate.”

According to the suit, Clauson’s parents were shown the images prior to their publication in Qvest magazine editorial. At that time, they claim, they complained about the image of Clauson on the motorcycle and, through Clauson’s agency at the time, Ford Models, instructed him not to publish the image.

The complaint, filed by plaintiff’s attorneys Ed Greenberg and Tamara Lannin, claims that Parry regularly creates images depicting minors in sexually suggestive poses. Parry’s “unconventional” work features “nudity, semi-nudity, sexually suggestive situations involving (only) women and what appear to be underage girls, many with bloody noses if incurred as a result of repeated drug use and/or physical violence.”

The complaint goes on to argue that Parry’s work is “out of the mainstream and unsuitable for publication” in most magazines and other media outlets.

Parry has claimed in a press release and in interviews that he was unaware that Blood is the New Black was using the image on shirts. Parry also claimed, “The photo in question was featured in the model’s portfolio on Ford’s site,” and that Clauson also featured the photographs on her own Web site.

Blood is the New Black, however, claims Parry knew the image would be put on a t-shirt, and that they were unaware that Parry did not have a proper model release.

The plaintiffs are attempting to establish that Parry exhibits a pattern of behavior of exploiting minors sexually in his images, and much of the press the case has received revolves around issues of decency in the fashion industry. It is more likely, however, that the case will hinge on whether or not Parry’s image was properly released for use on a t-shirt. If it wasn’t, as the lawsuit claims, Parry will need to show evidence that he didn’t know the image was being used on t-shirts by Blood is the New Black.

Correction: A version of this article published yesterday incorrectly stated that the filed complaint “acknowledged that Clauson’s parents were present at the shoot.” It does not. The complaint does, however, state that the shoot took place “with the full knowledge and approval of [Clauson's parents] and [her] then professional model management company.” Parry has stated that the model’s father was at the shoot, however he admitted during an interview on Good Morning America that the model’s father was not present when the photograph of Clauson on the motorcycle was made.

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15 Responses to “Underage Model’s $28 Million Suit Against Photog Likely to Hinge on Model Release”

  1. Underage Model’s $28 Million Suit Against Photog Likely to Hinge on Model Release | Global Community of Photography Says:

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  2. Harry Baldman Says:

    I didn’t even need to read beyond the first paragraph. “photographed in sexy poses when she was just 15.” Good grief, man! How does a grown man bring himself to such a place that he if photographing a FIFTEEN year-old child in “sexy poses?” This is sick. “15-year-old model sitting on a motorcycle with her legs splayed and her crotch in the center of the frame.” And her parents were there to supervise. Fashion photography is the lowest form of photography, and this only makes my case that much more clear.

  3. sean aickin Says:

    Harry, I share your sentiments and agreed with you all the way up until you said ‘Fashion photography is the lowest form of photography, and this only makes my case that much more clear.’

    That is pretty close-minded to simply cast all fashion photographers in with this shoot. Fashion photography can, at times, be the most progressive photography available. Like fashion the photographic aspect of it dictates what style of photography is in vouge at that time. With out fashion photography a lot of styles and techniques would not exist in other realms of photography. Portrait, doco, even street all have in some way been influenced by fashion, just like fashion photography has been styled by them.

    What Jason Lee Parry has done is the same as most fashion photographers currently. And in my opinion the blame should fall entirely on the parents. They were there! They saw their 15 year old daughter pose like this, with beer and no helmet. They should be held accountable. And Jason should stick to models of age.

  4. Harry Baldman Says:

    Sean, I think you have this backwards. “Documentary photography, portrait, and even street,” have influenced fashion. What’s in vogue is not art, nor is it profound in any sense of the word, it’s just “in vogue.” Fashion, as an industry, has too often shown it’s vacuous disregard for anything of social redeeming value. It’s silly, useless, and exists for the sole purpose to make lots of money from equally vacuous consumers. This article makes this argument even more clear. Watching mindless humans parade around town at malls, parks, colleges, wearing over priced clothing emblazoned with a A&F or Bebe or any other designer names just shows us where we are as a consumer driven society. And it’s not in a good place. This model at 15 would still be older than most of the children in factories making these clothes in third-world countries.

  5. Edward C. Greenberg Says:

    I am the attorney representing the child in this case.

    The above article is not entirely correct on the facts but this is not the appropriate forum to address those errors. The photographer was directed not to use any of the subject, unreleased images and did so nevertheless.

    Suffice to say here that no consent or model release of any kind was ever sought or obtained by the photographer, Urban Outfitters, Blood is The New Black or Brandy Melville. We submit in this case that it is also inappropriate to portray a 15 year old child as a possessor and consumer of beer – Budweiser – and profit from such use. Reporters have become somewhat fixated on the salacious nature of some of the objectionable photos and not addressed the alcohol issue.

    The defendants employed the child’s images without consent for their own economic gain. No reader of this article nor viewer of the multitude of television pieces regarding this case is in a position to know any of the facts not contained in the complaint filed with the Federal Court. That complaint includes Mr. Parry’s written apology as an exhibit.

    The complaint can be read by anyone interested in the actual facts (certain exhibits are under court seal at our request). The allegations are made under oath to the Federal District Court.

    Assumptions are very rarely accurate. If one has to give the benefit of the doubt to either a child’s allegations made formally to a Federal Court Judge or to three corporate defendants and/or Mr. Parry all four of whom have reaped financial gain, I would have guessed that the child would get it.

  6. Harry Baldman Says:

    Sean, you wrote: “What Jason Lee Parry has done is the same as most fashion photographers currently. And in my opinion the blame should fall entirely on the parents. They were there! They saw their 15 year old daughter pose like this, with beer and no helmet. They should be held accountable. And Jason should stick to models of age.”

    Greed.

    Everyone involved on this shoot saw it as an opportunity to make money, with complete disregard for a 15 year-old child who does not have the capacity to see this situation for what it is. A disgusting display of ego and arrogance trumping good judgement and Right Livelihood. I shot fashion for over 10 years before I was completely disgusted with the elements involved, including “talent” agents, and ultimately, the parents. One of my final shoots was similar to this as the designer hired a 16 year-old model, dressed her up nice and sexy, posed her in such a provocative manner that I finally said, “No, this is wrong.” Needless to say, I was never called back. This is fashion? Why? I can’t tell you how often I had conversations with the teen models and/or their parents who suggested that college was not necessary since their daughter was on her way up and would make “millions” without college, and dropping the names of “supermodels.” Additionally, the Photoshopped images in fashion mag pages set a very unrealistic image of girls (yes, girls), as well as college students who should know better. As I said, the fashion industry in part of the pop cultural problem which has only fed superficial goals into the minds of children. At 15, she is still a child.

  7. sean aickin Says:

    Harry, I completely agree with your second post it is a vicious cycle, there is no easy fix, some are trying with fashion photography (see: Vogue Italia’s June Issues.) But in saying that I don’t think the fault lies with fashion photography (or the photographer), the fault is far more embedded than that, like you said it’s faults lie with the parents, editors, agents, models and, ultimately, consumers.

    I don’t see how you can claim that fashion is a ‘silly, useless, and exists for the sole purpose to make lots of money from equally vacuous consumers.’ When ultimately that can describe every aspect of life and culture, what about sport? Bunch of mindless humans parade around sports fields wearing over priced uniforms emblazoned with a Nike or adidas logo or any other designer names just shows us where we are as a consumer driven society. Sport does not take place in massive stadiums so thousands of people get enjoyment, it’s there so tens of companies get money. Do you feel the same about sport? If you don’t like the fashion industry as it is, try to change it, or do like you do, and exit it. I personally don’t shoot fashion because I’m not good at it, but I can see the value in it. I did admit that all types of photography has influenced each other but I still think that fashion is the most forward thinking and dynamic industry (maybe because they have more money.)
    In terms of it not being art, well that’s a matter of personal opinion, I don’t consider the traditional ‘fine-art-nude’ to be all that artistic but I know there are those that do. In terms of ‘vogue’ I’d see a very plain and boring world if there was no fashion. A sort of ‘plain-topia’ where we all wear the same thing. We have to remember that ‘fashion’ isn’t just left to the Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana etc.. it’s also the people that buy from their local ‘op-shop’ and ‘create’ one-off pieces…

    To touch on Edwards comments, I know VERY little about the case, but it seems to be a ‘he said, she said’ situation. And hardest to prove will be where Blood is the New Black got the image.

    I will watch how this pans out, because I think the hardest part will be proving where the image came from.

  8. louise Says:

    Harry, i think you are just being a narrow minded wanker. fair enough that you feel dislike towards Jason, but to say that “Fashion photography is the lowest form of photography” is totally uncalled for.

  9. sam Says:

    http://www.pixiq.com/article/photographing-in-public

  10. Jane Says:

    While it’s illegal and bad to use an actual 15 yr old in a salacious pose, I have to comment that the image itself doesn’t stand out at all. It looks like a totally normal fashion photo. What that tells me is that the fashion industry likes to starving 19 yr old women and make them looking like 15 yr old girls in sexy poses. It’s like a whole industry of technically legal child porn. Well, maybe not 100% of fashion photography, but a lot of it is that way.

  11. Harry Baldman Says:

    Louise, I don’t know Jason personally, my issue is with his decision to even shoot this scene with a child, and with all those involved in this shoot, including parents, stylists, designers, etc, all who should have known better – after all, they were the adults. This is art? This is borderline child porn, from any angle. And I stand by my statement, “Fashion photography is the lowest form of photography.” I’d rather shoot families at a park than underage, underfed “models” in salacious poses. How can any grown adult shoot this kind of scene and not feel disgusted with themselves? The message this sends kids is “act slutty and be cool.” The thought of photographing a woman or girl only because she is beautiful and attractive, then calling it art is stupid. Narrow minded? Because I have an opinion that doesn’t agree with yours I’m narrow minded? Oh, I get it. I’m narrow minded because I don’t believe as you do. Sure, that sounds open minded. Stupid is as stupid does.

  12. James Says:

    This shows extremely poor judgement on the part of the photographer on all levels. What possible qualities could a 15 year old provide to the overall quality of an image that an 18 year old could not?
    Every shoot that I’ve worked on were models with alcohol or cigarettes were involved there was the discussion of the models age. The client, the ad agency, the photographer all knew that the are rules as to what ages are allowed to be used in selling these products; how did this photographer not know about this?
    And with all of the talk in the last 10+ years on every photo shoot on every web forum,.. How in the world does anyone make a photograph involving a person not know that you need a model release or even consider that you may want to have one in the future?
    This is all just conman sense business stuff, that every photographer should know, regardless of how long they have been in the industry.

  13. Harry Baldman Says:

    James, I completely agree, and it embarrasses me when my fellow photogs even consider defending this increasingly stupid, irresponsible and abhorrent behavior, then call it “art.” Can anyone imagine their own 15 year-old daughter on this photoshoot, “sitting on a motorcycle with her legs splayed and her crotch in the center of the frame”? What would you do?

  14. Hugh J. Says:

    “it-girl status”

    For what, looking like she got punched in the mouth? Strange standards of “beauty,” these days…

    Have any of you seen the motorcycle picture in question? It’s just an ugly, unflattering picture. Salacious? Well, I’ll admit her crotch is technically in the middle of the picture, but it takes more than that to make a picture “salacious.” To me it looks more like a drunk who’s so hammered she sat on the bike backwards and said “OK, well the footrests feel a little high but where did the handlebars go?”

    I smell bloodsuckers out for money in this one, including you, Edward C. Greenberg.

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