Virgin Mobile sued for using teen's photo
The photo of Alison Chang (left) from Justin Ho-Wee Wong's Flickr photo-sharing web page. The photo was used by Virgin Mobile in an advertising campaign.
A Texas family has sued Australia's Virgin Mobile phone company, claiming it caused their teenage daughter grief and humiliation by plastering her photo on billboards and website advertisements without consent.
The family of Alison Chang says Virgin Mobile grabbed the picture from Flickr, Yahoo Inc's popular photo-sharing website, and failed to credit the photographer by name.
Chang's photo was part of a Virgin Mobile Australia campaign called "Are You With Us Or What?" It features pictures downloaded from Flickr superimposed with the company's ad slogans.
The picture of 16-year-old Chang flashing a peace sign was taken in April by Alison's youth counsellor, who posted it that day on his Flickr page, according to Alison's brother, Damon.
In the ad, Virgin Mobile printed one of its campaign slogans, "Dump your pen friend," over Alison's picture.
The ad also says "Free text virgin to virgin" at the bottom.
The experience damaged Alison's reputation and exposed her to ridicule from her peers and scrutiny from people who can now Google her, the family said in the lawsuit.
"It's the tag line; it's derogatory," said Damon Chang, 27. "A lot of her church friends saw it."
The lawsuit, filed in Dallas late yesterday, names Virgin Mobile USA LLC, its Australian counterpart, and Creative Commons Corp, a Massachusetts nonprofit that licenses sharing of Flickr photos, as defendants.
The family accused the companies of libel and invasion of Chang's privacy. The suit seeks unspecified damages for Chang and the photographer, Justin Ho-Wee Wong.
A spokeswoman for Virgin Mobile USA said the company had nothing to do with the ads and had asked to be removed from the lawsuit.
Virgin Mobile Australia said it was "unable to comment at this stage as we have not received or seen a copy of the lawsuit in question".
People who post photos on Flickr are asked how they want to license their attribution. The youth counsellor chose a sharing licence from Creative Commons that allows others to reuse work such as photos without violating copyright laws, if they credit the photographer and say where the photo was taken. His Flickr page appears at the bottom of the ad.
Flickr was a Canadian company that developed the photo-sharing website then sold it to Yahoo in 2005.