As reported in an earlier blog post, a model, whose stock photo was used in an New York State ad campaign advocating for the rights of HIV+ people, and portraying her as HIV+, successfully sued the state for for defamation and a violation of her publicity rights. The model had posed for an article about New Yorkers' music interests, but the photographer sold the image to Getty, which licensed it to the NYS Division of Human Rights for the campaign. The model had not signed a release.
Now, the Court of Claims has determined that $125,000 is "reasonable compensation" for the claimant. In making this determination, the Court noted the "culture of competition" at her job at a PR agency, and in the public relations field generally, which "left her particularly vulnerable as a young woman to the extreme anxiety and distress she suffered upon publication of the defamatory material." The Court also found that the publication of the defamatory piece "credibly triggered a setback for her in her confidence and outward demeanor." (However, the Court noted, the claimant "did not lose friends or beaux, and ultimately moved on from her job and succeeded in a new venture.")
Accordingly, based on "the humiliation, mental suffering, anxiety and loss of confidence suffered by this young woman at the beginning of her career, and at the beginning of her growing independence, the vast extent to which the defamatory material was circulated - albeit for the laudatory purpose of getting public service information out to as many people as possible," the Court found the $125,000 award to be reasonable.
As noted previously, this case underscores the fact that, even if a stock photo is appropriately obtained, the underlying rights of those shown in the photo must also be obtained. This is true even if the ad is a public service announcement and not an ad selling a product. It's also good to remember that emotional harm to a would-be plaintiff comes with a real price tag.