Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Price of Insensitivity: $18m

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The alleged altering and commercial exploitation of a nine-year-old photo of a then-teen with Down Syndrome that went viral on the Internet prompted the 26-year-old man and his parents last week to file an $18 million suit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, according to reports by the Associated Press and the Web site.

Holland et al. v. LaLevee et al (Case No. 3:2013-cv-00373) includes counts alleging defamation, misappropriation, false light invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of the Tennessee Personal Rights Protection Act of 1984 [Tenn. Code Secs. 47-25-1101 et seq.]. The viral photograph was taken of then-17-year-old Nashville resident Adam Holland in a Vanderbilt Kennedy Center arts class for mentally disabled persons, depicting the youth holding up his drawing that said "Go Titans!" supporting his favorite NFL team.

According to the complaint, the named defendants are Oswego, N.Y.-based Dave Brown, CEO of Gigahertz, Inc. d/b/a Sign Generator, a company that accumulates online images of individuals holding signs that it commercially makets; Russell LaLevee, who has a "Wasted in the Keys" Flickr account; and Cox Media Group, owner of Tampa Bay, Florida station WHPT-FM 102.5 "The Bone."

According to the complaint, WHPT-FM allegedly posted the photo at issue on its Web site as part of a program called "The Cowhead Show," to highlight its Weird News feature. Instead of saying "Go Titans!," however, the artwork sign Adam held purportedly read: Retarded News.  The station manager allegedly sent an Email apology to Adam and his co-plaintiff parents Bernard and Pamela Holland, saying the show's feature had nothing to do with disabled individuals, and the image has since been pulled.

The complaint alleges that LaLevee's Flickr account posted the photo of Adam with a caption that read: "just a stupid photo of the sick retarded kid that lives down my street that my dogs hate."  Defendant Brown allegedly posted the photo under a heading "Retarded Handicap Generator" in which the artwork now allegedly read: "I love making custom signs."

The complaint seeks compensatory and punitive damages against the defendants and injunctive relief to prevent the further posting of the photo of Adam Holland.
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