DENVER (CN) – Conservative activists used a gay couple’s engagement photo as hateful political propaganda, the horrified couple claims in federal court.
Before their marriage in 2010, Brian Edwards and Thomas Privitere had wanted, “like many couples,” to have a photographer “memorialize their happiness on the occasion of their engagement,” according to their complaint.
The New Jersey men say that they hired a friend to photograph them, and then posted their favorite image, one of them locked in an “exaggerated” kiss, on a wedding blog.
Unbeknownst to the couple and the photographer, however, Public Advocate of the United States used the image in political mailers it sent to Colorado voters this year.
Both of the group’s mailers allegedly sought to denigrate former state Sen. Jean White and state House candidate Jeffrey Hare as sympathetic to same-sex marriage in the Republican primary race.
Edwards and Privitere say they discovered Public Advocate’s manipulation of the photograph only after the New York Daily News ran a picture of the White mailer in its coverage of the race.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorodo, quotes a blog entry Edwards posted after a friend shared the article with him.
“How do I feel?” Edwards poses in the complaint. “I’m in shock and I’m angry and I’m hurt and I’m flabbergasted and I’m livid.”
Brooklyn, N.Y.-based photographer Kristina Hill says she was not asked and did not provide a license for the photo’s publication.
“Defendant’s use of the photpgraph in the White mailer and the Hare mailer was not authorized by any plaintiff, not by Edwards and Privitere, the couple whose likenesses are used, and not by Kristina Hill, the photographer who created the Photograph and who owns a registered copyright in it,” the complaint states. “The mailers also did not provide a photo credit to Hill.”
The complaint attempts to explain the rationale behind Public Advocate’s selection of this particular photograph for use in its mailings.
“The use of Edwards and Privitere’s likenesses, individually or as a couple, and the use of the copyrighted photograph, in the mailers was wholly gratuitous,” according to the complaint. “Defendant used the photograph as a generic stock photo representing marriage by same-sex couples or of two men kissing. But stock photos representing these concepts are readily available for licensing from stock photo agencies and other rights holders. The defendant used the photograph instead of licensing one from a stock photo house because it did not wish to pay the customary price.”
Publication of the mailers has allegedly caused Edwards and Privitere to fear for their lives.
“Edwards and Privitere have been targets of hate messages by people who have seen their likenesses on defendant’s mailers,” the complaint states. “People have posted on the internet that Edwards and Privitere deserve to go to hell, that they deserve to be killed, and that any children they may have would be better off dead.”
The lawsuit describes Public Advocate as a group that “encourages discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (‘LGBT’) people.”
Edwards and Privitere seek damages for appropriation of personality or likeness, while Hill seeks damages for copyright infringement.
The trio are represented by Christine Sun with the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.
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