NEW YORK, April 27 (Reuters Legal) - Outraged that her daughter’s picture was plastered on anti-abortion billboards without her consent, a New Jersey woman is suing the group that organized the campaign.
The billboards featured a larger-than-life picture of Anissa Fraser, an African-American child who was then 4, and the words: “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”
They also featured the Web address Thatsabortion.com.
The images were posted at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel in lower Manhattan and on Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Fla., in February 2011 and October 2010, respectively, the suit says.
In the complaint, filed Tuesday in New York Supreme Court, Anissa’s mother Tricia Fraser said she was never warned about the controversial ads or the websites where her daughter’s picture also appeared.
The child’s visage became part of a “racist, controversial advertising campaign” organized by defendant Life Always and its affiliate Majella Cares, doing business as Heroic Media, the suit says.
Life Always is a nonprofit group that aims in this campaign to prevent the spread of abortion among African Americans, said founder Stephen Broden, the senior pastor of Fair Park Bible Fellowship in Texas. He would not comment on the suit.
“The billboards were designed to bring attention to the level of abortion that is being practiced in the African-American community,” said Broden, who is African-American.
At the time the billboard was put up, statistics showed that New York City had a 41-percent abortion rate, and in the city’s African-American community 60 percent of all conceptions ended in abortion, he said.
Life Always board members include Abby Johnson, the former director of Planned Parenthood.
The pictures were taken in May 2009. Fraser had responded to an advertisement seeking models for family photos, and she took all four of her daughters, the suit says. Since then, Anissa has begun to develop a professional modeling career, but the billboards have hurt those efforts, said Adam Pulver, an attorney for the plaintiff.
“She’s already seen a drop in the calls that she’s received and bookings,” Pulver said. “People are wanting to stay away from her because of the controversy.”
During the initial shoot, Fraser signed a contract with the photographer that expressly excluded from its coverage defamatory uses of any photos taken at the shoot.
ImageSource, a London-based company, made some of the photos available for purchase on its website or the website of its parent company, Getty Images, and at some point the defendants purchased a license for Heroic Media to use an image of Anissa in an advertising campaign.
When the defendants signed a contract with Getty, they agreed to specific terms and conditions, the lawsuit says.
“Licensees may not use the licensed images ‘in connection with a subject that would be unflattering or unduly controversial to a reasonable person.’ Additionally, the Getty agreement ‘strictly prohibits’ licensees from defamatory or otherwise unlawful uses — whether directly or in context or juxtaposition with other material or subject matter,’” the suit says.
They used Anissa’s image in the Florida and New York billboards in a defamatory manner and did so without the requisite disclaimer indicating that Anissa was a model and that her picture was being used for illustrative purposes only, Pulver said. Getty has revoked the license to use this particular picture, he added.
The New York billboard drew international media attention, and Fraser learned about the image when friends and reporters contacted her. Fraser contacted New York Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who put her in contact with attorneys from Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, Pulver said.
In addition to breach of contract, Fraser is suing the defendants for violating the New York Civil Rights Law, which prohibits the unauthorized use of an individual’s image for commercial purposes, Pulver said.
The mother is seeking unspecified damages and an order enjoining the defendants from using Anissa’s image in any way and ordering the defendants to hand over any funds raised using the child’s image.
Pastor Broden said his group would go on taking its message across the country, and billboards were just a part of that. They have a contract for any pictures they use, Broden said.
“If in fact we are using images of children, or actors or models, there are releases and permission that is given to us by those organizations or agencies or agents that represent them. Because they have given us permission through contract, we are able to use them. We will continue to use that method. It is, I think, legal and consistent with common practice.”
Editing by Howard Goller and Greg McCune