An anti-gay group sued for using a photograph of a gay couple without permission in political attack ads has asked the court to dismiss the case on fair use and free speech grounds, according to a report by The Washington Post.
Public Advocate of the United States (PAUS) was sued in federal court in September by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere, as well as photographer Kristina Hill. The lawsuit charged PAUS of misappropriation of the likenesses of Edwards and Privitere, a gay couple, in two attack ads distributed in Colorado. The lawsuit also charged infringement of Hill’s copyrights.
Motions to dismiss civil claims are a common legal defense strategy of first resort, and are usually unsuccessful unless the facts of a case are undisputed.
Hill, a Brooklyn-based wedding photographer, had shot engagement photos of the couple. Edwards ended up posting one of the images on his blog, with Hill’s permission. PAUS downloaded the photo, and used it last spring in campaign ads against Colorado state senator Jean White (who had voted in favor of allowing same-sex unions in Colorado) and against Jeffrey Hare, a candidate for the Colorado house of representatives. The ads were distributed as mailers.
According to the Washington Post report, PAUS said that its use of the photograph is protected speech, because the organization was expressing its political views about gay marriage. PAUS also said that the gay couple depicted in the photograph had no reasonable expectation of privacy, because they had posted the image online where anyone could see it.
In its defense against the copyright infringement claim, PAUS argued that its use of the photo was protected by fair use because it “thoroughly transformed” Hill’s photograph by changing the background before publishing it in the political mailers. Hill had photographed the couple against a New York skyline. The PAUS ads replaced that skyline with two different Colorado landscapes.
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