Karen Hepp, a female news anchor for Fox 29 in Philadelphia, is claiming that an image of her has been sexualized and used in advertisements without her permission, and is suing websites including FaceBook and Reddit for damages in excess of $ 10 million. She also seeks a court order to force all sites listed in the lawsuit to immediately remove the photo.
The lawsuit however may not be winnable. According to Adi Robertson of The Verge, under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, websites like this aren’t generally responsible for content that’s posted by their users. The posts on Reddit are clearly user-generated. Hepp could possibly sue the person who posted the photo, but she couldn’t extend that liability to Reddit.
Hepp, who lives in Merion Station, says in the lawsuit she only learned her image was being used on these various websites after her co-workers at Fox 29 alerted her. She is suing the listed companies for breaking a Pennsylvania “right of publicity” law. This isn’t and cannot be a copyright lawsuit, as she didn’t take the photo. However the Pennsylvania law gives folks control of commercial use of their names and likenesses.
Hepp says in the suit that she’s not sure where the photo in question came from, but the suit suggests it was taken by security cameras in an unknown convenience store in New York,NY. The suit alleges that the photo was taken without her permission, but the website Legal Beagle says in New York, you may videotape a subject without consent, unless they have some reasonable expectation of privacy.
A convenience store checkout area with or without a posted sign warning of video recording, is not an area, such as a bathroom or changing room that would give users a legally defensible expectation of privacy.
Writing for Internet News Flash Mason Pelt says “I have done online reputation management for clients in the past, and in my experience this lawsuit will just cause the image to be far more widely disseminated than it ever otherwise would have been. I speak from personal experience when I say lawsuits are expensive and stressful. As stated, I’m not a lawyer, but Hepp is very unlikely to win a dime from any of the companies she is suing, based on Section 230 of the CDA and the fact that at least one of the companies named is based outside of the U.S.”
Online reputation management refers to influencing and changing a individual or group’s reputation on the internet. It’s a combination of public relations term, social media, SEO and other activities. That help improve a person’s reputation on the internet.
Sometimes this uses a process like creating new content and optimisation of that content. If someone was doing SEO for the city of Dallas they would perhaps try to hide bad content like crime rates, and talk about good things like art galleries.
For a person like Hepp online reputation management would be using the position as a news anchor to create a lot of positive content. It may not be a good strategy to get a lot of news about the photo you’re trying to hide. Because many news sites will publish the image online in a way that is clearly protected by copyright and shield laws. Meaning it will become more prominent.