Social media has made it easier than ever to share personal moments and victories with family and friends. Unfortunately, it has also made it easier for unethical people to steal content and use it for shady purposes. For instance, one woman found photos of her had been used by a company to promote weight-loss products. You don't have to suffer this type of humiliation in silence, though. There are a couple of ways you can sue for compensation for damages related to the unauthorized use of your personal images.
Violation of Personality Rights
Personality rights (also known as the right of publicity) govern individuals' right to dictate how their images are used. Celebrities commonly use these laws to go after people and companies who use their likenesses without permission to intimate they endorse products, services, or ideas when they don't.
You don't have to be a celebrity or even a well-known person to sue using these laws. Although the exact wording of the statutes varies between states, the laws typically provide four causes of action that can be used to wring justice out of the offending party. These include the following:
- intrusion of physical solitude/invasion of privacy
- disclosing private facts to the public
- showing the plaintiff in a false light
- appropriating the plaintiff's name and likeness
The type of cause of action you would use depends on the circumstances of your case. If a company swiped your images from your Facebook profile, you might not be able to use invasion of privacy if your Facebook page is set so that it can be accessed by the general public. However, you could sue for the appropriation of your name and likeness if the defendant used the images in marketing materials. You could also sue the company for showing you in a false light if the defendant makes it seem like you endorse the company or product.
Defamation of Character
Another legal avenue available to you is to sue for defamation of character. This option addresses how the company's unauthorized use of your personal images damaged your reputation. Defamation comes in two flavors: libel (false statements that are written) and slander (spoken statements that are false), and there are 5 elements that must be true for you to prevail in court against the defendant:
- Someone said or wrote something about you.
- Another person heard or saw the statement.
- What the person said or wrote was false.
- The statement was not privileged or protected in some way (e.g., protected by the First Amendment).
- You suffered some type of injury as a result.
The most challenging part of suing for defamation is proving you suffered some type of injury as a result of a company damaging your reputation. It's easier if you can show you were hurt financially because of the company's actions. For instance, say you lose weight through diet and exercise. As a result, a publishing company approaches you to write a book about your journey. However, the offer is rescinded when pictures of you show up on another company's website indicating you had bariatric surgery. You could sue the offending company for the value of that lost opportunity.
You can also collect damages if you can show you suffered mental or physical anguish because of the company's misuse of your image. If you developed depression as a result of the stress of dealing with the situation, you could sue for the cost of your care and any associated losses you suffer because of the mental or physical illness (e.g., lost wages). This can be more challenging to prove because it may be difficult to connect the mental or physical illness to that specific incident, but it is possible, provided you have the right evidence, such as reports from mental health professionals.
Social media is a great tool that is unfortunately abused by people who seek to profit from the efforts and resources of others in an unethical manner. You can obtain justice for the damage done to you in this situation. Contact a personal injury attorney for more information through a firm like Whiting, Hagg, Hagg, Dorsey & Hagg.