October 27th, 2015

Model Wins Defamation Claim over HIV Awareness Ad

© NY State Division of Human Rights

The model whose likeness appeared in the ad has won her defamation suit. © NY State Division of Human Rights

A model who was falsely identified as being infected with HIV in a 2013 public service advertisement is entitled to damages for defamation, according to a report in New York Law Journal.

State court judge Thomas Scuccimarra said in his ruling that falsely identifying the model in a stock photo as HIV positive was defamatory because “from the perspective of the average person, [it] clearly subjects her to public contempt, ridicule, aversion or disgrace.”

The model, Avril Nolan, sued for defamation after her likeness appeared without her permission in an ad by the New York State Division of Human Rights. The ad featured a photo licensed from Getty Images and headlines that said “I am positive (+)” and “I have rights.” The ad copy said, “People who are HIV positive are protected by the New York State human rights law” and provided information for contacting the state’s Division of Human Rights.

Nolan does not have HIV. But the photo, which was licensed from Getty Images, appeared with no disclaimer stating that Nolan was a non-infected model posing for a stock image.

Judge Scuccimarra said in his ruling that it was “self-evident” that the state’s use of the model’s likeness was defamatory, according to the New York Law Journal report. The standards for defamation, he explained in the ruling, are the “sensibilities of society as to what disease bears a pejorative stamp.”

The judge noted that the New York State Division of Human Rights ignored warnings provided by Getty with the image license not to use the photo in any way that might be considered pornographic, defamatory, unflattering or controversial to a reasonable viewer.

The judge rejected out of hand the state’s argument that it didn’t violate Nolan’s rights under the state’s Civil Rights laws because the ad was a public service announcement, rather than a commercial advertisement.

A trial date for damages has not been set.

Nolan also sued Getty for unauthorized use of the photo, claiming she had never authorized its use for commercial purposes. That claim was settled out of court earlier this year, according to New York Law Journal.

— David Walker

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March 12th, 2014

Model Release Lawsuit Survives Getty’s Challenge

A New York state judge has cleared the way for a lawsuit by a model who is accusing Getty Images of commercial use of her likeness without a model release.

State supreme court judge Ancil C. Singh rejected last week a request from Getty to throw out model Avril Nolan’s claim on First Amendment and other grounds.

Nolan sued Getty last September after her picture appeared in a public service ad promoting services for HIV-positive people. The ad, published in a free daily called AM NY, showed a picture of Nolan with the headline “I am positive (+) and I have rights.”

The ad was placed by the New York State Division of Human Rights, which licensed the image of Nolan from Getty. The photograph was shot by Getty contributor Jena Cumbo, according to court documents.

Nolan alleges that she didn’t sign a model release for the image, so Getty was in violation of New York’s right of publicity law not only for licensing the image for use in the HIV ad, but also for displaying the image on its web site.

New York state law prohibits use of a person’s likeness for advertising or trade purposes without written consent, i.e., a model release.

Getty countered in its motion for dismissal that displaying the images on its web site for licensing to third parties does not constitute advertising or trade use under the state’s right of publicity law. The agency also claimed a First Amendment right to display images for license to third parties. And it argued that Nolan should sue the State of New York, not Getty, since it was the state that used the image for advertising purposes, allegedly without consent.

But the judge concluded that Getty’s defenses are questions for a jury to decide.

The ruling was against Getty’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and not a ruling on the merits of Nolan’s claims.

July 16th, 2012

ASMP Offers Model Release Forms as Free App

American Society of Media Photographers, a trade association for professional photographers, has converted its standard model and property release forms into a free downloadable app for iPhones and iPads. The app is available now through the iTunes store.

As ASMP explains on its Web site, the releases use standard release language, relevant to most still and motion projects that photographers might license. With the app, models (and parents or guardians of minors who are subjects of a photo), property owners and witnesses can sign the release using a finger or stylus on the touch screen. The signed releases indicate they have given consent to be photographed and given permission to the photographer to use the image. Each release includes fields which can be customized for entering information on the model or property.

With the camera on iPhones and iPads, you can take a photo of the subject or property to attach to the release. A PDF file of the signed release can then be sent via email to a client, stock agency or your own computer.

Standard model and property release language provides a level of protection if the subject files claims for defamation or invasion of privacy. Leslie Burns, a photography consultant who recently became a lawyer, recently noted in the PDN article “5 Things You Should Not Do Yourself” that there are exceptions. Burns advised that if you shoot erotica, nudes, “or kids in any way, shape or form,” consult a lawyer about your model releases “because there’s a greater risk of getting sued,” she said.

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