April 3rd, 2014

In Fight Over Anti-Gay Ad, Misappropriation Claims Are Dismissed

©Kristina Hill

©Kristina Hill

A federal court in Colorado has ruled that the unauthorized use of a gay couple’s engagement photo in a political attack ad was protected by the First Amendment. But the judge in the case rejected a request by defendants to throw out the photographer’s copyright infringement claims on fair use grounds.

Photographer Kristina Hill and her wedding photography clients, Brian Edwards and Thomas Privitere, sued conservative advocacy group Public Advocate of the United States (PAUS) in 2012 for unauthorized use of an engagement photo of Edwards and Privitere in political attack ads.

The ads, showing an image by Hill of Edwards and Privitere kissing each other, were part of a PAUS campaign to defeat two Colorado lawmakers who supported same-sex marriage.

Hill sued for copyright infringement because PAUS used the photo without her permission. Edwards and Priviter claimed misappropriation of their likeness for commercial purposes, in violation of their privacy and Colorado’s right-of-publicity laws.

gay-attack-adBut the court has thrown out the couple’s misappropriation claims on the grounds that the political ads were “primarily non-commercial,” and that they “reasonably relate to a legitimate matter of public concern”–same-sex marriage. Therefore, free speech rights of the First Amendment barred the couple’s misappropriation claim, federal judge Wiley Y. Daniel wrote in the decision.

However, Judge Daniel rejected a motion by PAUS to dismiss Hill’s copyright infringement on fair use grounds, ruling that the ads didn’t pass the standard four-pronged test for fair use.

The first factor, relating to the character and purpose of the unauthorized use,  went against the defendants for two reasons. Language of the copyright law protecting unauthorized use for educational purposes “suggests that the educational purposes contemplated by the statute’s drafters relates to schooling, not mailers circulated during an election,” the judge wrote.

Furthermore, he explained in his decision, “while the defendants placed the lifted portion [of the image] in a different background and placed a caption on the mailer, such actions cannot be characterized as ‘highly
transformative.’”

Other prongs of the fair use test also went against the defendants. For instance, the image is a creative work, not merely informational, which mitigated against a fair use finding, Judge Daniel said. And he rejected the defendants’ argument that they used only used a small part of Hill’s image, countering that they used the qualitatively most significant part, which shows the subjects kissing.

“I find that the plaintiffs have stated a plausible copyright infringement claim under the Copyright Act,” the judge concluded.

The ruling allows Hill to proceed with her copyright infringement claims, and was not a final decision on those claims.

A trial date has been set for January 26, 2015.

Related:
Anti-Gay Group Sued for Unauthorized Use of Photo in Attack Ads

Anti-Gay Group Pleads Fair Use, Free Speech in Infringement Case

April 3rd, 2013

Gun Rights Advocate Charged in Copyright Case Over Anti-Gay Attack Ads

©Kristina Hill

©Kristina Hill

A New York wedding photographer and a New Jersey gay couple who are jointly suing an anti-gay group for unauthorized use of an engagement photo (shown at right) are now going after a Colorado gun rights advocate, too.

The Denver Post reports that attorneys for the gay couple, Brian Edwards and Thomas Privitere, have filed papers in a Colorado federal court to add Dudley Brown and two gun groups–Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the National Association for Gun Rights–to their lawsuit.

Edwards and Privitere, along with photographer Kristina Hill, sued a Virginia-based group called Public Advocate of the United States (PAUS) last year for unauthorized use of Hill’s engagement photo of the couple in political attack ads (shown below). The ads, distributed as campaign mailers in Colorado, were part of an effort to unseat candidates who had supported a push for same-sex unions in the state.

During the discovery process in the case against PAUS, the plaintiffs learned from e-mail records that Dudley Brown was behind the mailers, and that he worked with PAUS to distribute them, according to the Denver Post report. Brown is founder and executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, and executive VP of the National Association for Gun Rights. He allegedly used e-mail accounts associated with both organizations to correspond with PAUS about the campaign mailers.

gay-attack-adThe Denver Post report quotes one e-mail in which Dudley told PAUS: “What I propose is that [PAUS] pay for mailing. … My staff and I would do all the work, but we’d want [PAUS] to sign off, put its name on the dotted line, and pay for the mailings. I would counsel mailing slick and glossies, with the ‘two men kissing’ photo.”

The plaintiffs are charging infringement of Hill’s copyright and unlawful appropriation of the likenesses of Edwards and Privitere.

Related:
Anti-Gay Group Sued for Unauthorized Use of Photo in Attack Ads

Anti-Gay Group Pleads Fair Use, Free Speech in Infringement Case

November 12th, 2012

Anti-Gay Group Pleads Fair Use, Free Speech in Infringement Case

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.

Related:
Anti-GAy Group Sued for Unauthorized Use of Photo in Attack Ads

September 26th, 2012

Anti-Gay Group Sued for Unauthorized Use of Photo in Attack Ads

©Kristina Hill

The Southern Poverty Law Center has sued an anti-gay group for unauthorized use of a photograph of a gay couple in political attack ads in Colorado earlier this year.

SPLC sued the Virginia-based Public Advocate for the United States (PAUS) for violating the copyrights of photographer Kristina Hill of Brooklyn, New York. The suit also alleges that PAUS unlawfully appropriated the likenesses of the couple in the photograph–Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere.

Public Advocate of the United States, which SPLC classifies as a hate group because of its anti-gay propaganda, used Hill’s photo 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.

Hill’s image of Edwards and Privitere, shot during an engagement session, shows them kissing with a New York skyline in the background. Edwards ended up posting the image on his blog, with Hill’s permission.

PAUS downloaded the image, stripped out the background, and replaced it with backgrounds of two different Colorado landscapes for the unauthorized campaign mailers. PAUS superimposed text that read “State Senator Jean White’s idea of ‘family values?’” in one mailer and “Jeffrey Hare’s Vision for Weld County?” in the other ad.

White was defeated in her re-election race.

“I cringe every time I look at what once was one of our favorite photos,” Edwards said in a press release issued by SPLC when it filed the lawsuit today. “All I see now is the defiled image used to attack our family and our community. All we want is justice for the pain that Public Advocate has caused us. ”

An SPLC attorney said in the press release: “This was just a cheap way for Public Advocate to avoid having to pay for a stock photo to use in their hateful anti-gay attack ad. It was nothing short of theft.”

Hill, Edwards and Privitere are seeking an unspecified amount of damages.

Related stories:
Civil Rights Group Demands End to Use of Same-Sex Couple Photo in Anti-Gay Ad
Wedding Photographer Might Sue for Infringement Over Anti-Gay Attack Ad

June 29th, 2012

Wedding Photog Might Sue for Copyright Infringement Over Anti-Gay Attack Ad

Wedding photographer Kristina Hill says she’s contemplating legal action for copyright infringement against a Virginia-based group that has ripped off one of her images of a same-sex couple, and used it to create a political attack ad.

The group, called Public Advocate of the United States, used an engagement photo of Hill’s showing her clients kissing. The group used the image in a political ad attacking Colorado State Senator Jean White, who has voted in favor of allowing civil unions in Colorado.

Public Advocate, which is designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  cropped Hill’s image, stripped away the background of the New York skyline, and replaced it with a background of a Colorado landscape in winter. The group also superimposed text that read: “State Senator Jean White’s idea of ‘family values?’”

©Kristina Hill

The ad was created for a conservative anti-gay opponent vying for White’s senate seat. White was defeated in that race.

One of the men in Hill’s photograph, Brian Edwards, was notified by a friend about the ad. Edwards minced no words about it on his blog called The Gay Wedding Experience: “How do I feel? I’m in shock and I’m angry and I’m hurt and I’m flabbergasted and I’m livid.”

According to The Denver Post, Edwards and his partner have hired a lawyer.

Hill also wrote about the theft on her blog. “To see an image, taken with that intent being used in the way it was used is heart-breaking for me,” she said. (Hill was a PDN Top Knots contest winner in 2010.)

In The Denver Post story about the ad, Public Advocate defended its unauthorized use of the image on the grounds that others “make fair use of our materials.” (Public Advocate’s web site says it is “fighting Liberals Tyrants Elitists Homosexuals Barack Obama pornography gay marriage same-sex marriage high taxes over-regulation.”)

In an interview with PDN, Hill said of Public Advocate’s use of her image, “It’s obviously copyright infringement, and I plan to pursue it.”

She’s just not certain she has the resources–or the stomach–for a protracted court fight. “There’s not going to be monetary gain in my lawsuit. I don’t care. I would be looking for justice. But it could drag on for years, and rack up a lot legal fees for me, and I don’t have a ton of money.”

She adds, “They’re a powerful organization that did this. I’m one tiny photographer. It’s scary. It could be a lot of tearing me apart. It could get ugly.”