A New Jersey gay couple whose engagement photo was used in a Colorado campaign attack mailer has filed a lawsuit against the group that used the photo without their permission.
During a 2012 primary campaign, an image of Brian Edwards and his fiance Tom Privitere, with New York City as a backdrop, was lifted without permission from Edwards' personal blog by the group Public Advocate of the United States and then altered for a campaign flier. The alteration replaced the Manhattan background with the snows of Colorado with an added caption that attacked State Senator Jean White's so-called "family values."
"It was crazy. It brought back feelings of bullying from my childhood, which was startling to us," Plaintiff Brian Edwards told the Associated Press. Their complaint, filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, describes hate mail and threats that the couple received as a result of the photo, which was supposed to have memorialized a happy moment for them.
With the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the couple is now suing the group Public Advocate of the United States for copyright and other violations. According to the Complaint, the couple's engagement photo was taken by a professional photographer and friend named Kristina Hill. The Complaint alleges that Public Advocate of the United States "used the Photograph as a generic stock photo representing marriage by same-sex couples or of two men kissing. But stock photos representing these concepts are readily available for licensing from stock photo agencies and other rights holders. The Defendant used the Photograph instead of licensing one from a stock photo house because it did not wish to pay the customary price." The Complaint also alleges that Public Advocate's "actions constitute unlawful infringement of Hill’s copyrighted photograph and unlawful appropriation of Edwards and Privitere’s personalities and likenesses."
The Complaint states that prior to bringing the lawsuit, the Plaintiffs attempted to receive assurance from Public Advocate that it would cease and desist from the unauthorized use of the Photograph and of Plaintiffs Edwards and Privitere’s likenesses, but as of the filing of the Complaint, Plaintiffs have received no reply to their letter. Among the counts listed in the Complaint:
52. Edwards and Privitere were and are distressed at the prospect that parents of gay and lesbian children in Colorado may have received one of the Mailers and, upon reading it, think less of their own children and of same-sex couples generally.
53. Edwards and Privitere were and are outraged that their likenesses have been used to promote an agenda which directly harms families like theirs.
54. Edwards and Privitere have been targets of hate messages by people who have seen their likenesses on Defendant’s Mailers. People have posted on the internet that Edwards and Privitere deserve to go to hell, that they deserve to be killed, and that any children they may have would be better off dead.
55. Edwards and Privitere have feared for their safety as a direct and proximate result of Defendant’s actions.
56. Defendant has unlawfully appropriated the likenesses and personalities of Edwards and Privitere for the purpose of promoting its own anti-gay agenda. As a direct and proximate result of Defendant’s appropriation of their likenesses and personalities, Edwards and Privitere have suffered mental distress and anguish, and proprietary, dignitary, and reputational harm.
The cease and desist letter written by the Southern Poverty Law Center, that is attached to the Complaint as an exhibit, lists some of the extreme anti-gay rhetoric made by Public Advocate. According to Public Advocate of the United State's "About Us" page on its website, it's not just the LGBT community that they oppose. Quoting their website, "Public Advocate offers strong and vocal opposition" to:
- Same sex marriage and the furtherance of so-called "Gay Rights";
- The National Endowment of the Arts or taxpayer supported art and the federal funding and endorsement of pornography and obscenity as legitimate forms of art from any agency;
- The mainstream media's promotion and glorification of drug abuse, teenage sex, gangs, atheism, homosexuality and other immoral behavior and beliefs;
- The passage of hate crimes and thought control legislation that creates inequality in our state and federal legal systems and singles out Christians or moral thinking people for persecution, fines, and harrassment [sic - harassment] by the government at any level;
- "Pro-choice" or abortion strengthening legislation that upholds or expands the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973;
- The creation of special classes of Americans at the expense of the traditional American family.
The Associated Press reports in the video embedded below that the Virginia-based "pro-family" group has not commented on the lawsuit. The candidate who was attacked, Republican Jean White, lost her primary fight. She had supported a civil unions bill that failed in the Colorado legislature.