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

July 12th, 2012

Civil Rights Group Demands End to Use of Same-Sex Couple Photo in Anti-Gay Ad

© Kristina Hill

When wedding photographer Kristina Hill learned that her engagement photo of a same-sex couple had been used without her permission in a political flyer attacking same-sex marriage, she told PDN she wasn’t sure she had the resources to pursue a long legal battle. Now Hill and her clients have an ally. Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the civil rights organization, yesterday sent a cease and desist order to Public Advocate of the United States, a right-wing political organization, demanding they confirm they are no longer using the image. In the order,  SPLC also says they are considering other possible legal action for infringing Hill’s copyright.

Hill’s photo shows Tom Privitere and Brian Edwards, a New Jersey couple, kissing. Public Advocate of the United States used the photo without the permission of Hill or her clients in a flyer attacking Republican Colorado State Senator Jean White, who had supported civil unions for same-sex couples. The photo, digitally altered to strip out the New York City skyline, appears under the words “State Senator Jean White’s idea of ‘family values?’”

Public Advocate had defended its unauthorized use of the image on the grounds that others “make fair use of our materials.”

SPLC has previously labeled Public Advocate “a hate group,” and noted in a statement released yesterday that it has “a history of attacking the LGBT community.” The statement quotes Christine Sun, deputy legal director at the SPLC, saying that the alteration and unauthorized use of Hill’s photo was “morally reprehensible.” Sun says, “This latest attack is the most vicious yet and should serve as a warning that your personal photos are not safe from anyone willing to stoop to the vilest level of harassment.”

In the SPLC statement, Hill says she took the engagement photo to document her clients’ love. “When I saw how my image was used, I was sad for Brian and Tom. I was angry that someone would take my work, distort it and use it to reflect the opposite of what it was meant to express.”

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