MANHATTAN (CN) – A little girl’s mother sued an anti-abortion group, claiming it used her daughter’s picture in “a racist, controversial advertising campaign” that is “defamatory, unauthorized, and offensive,” posting the 4-year-old girl’s photo on a giant billboard by the Holland Tunnel, with the message: “the most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”
Tricia Fraser sued Life Always and Majella Cares dba Heroic Media, in New York County Court.
Fraser says neither she nor her daughter, Anissa, “had any forewarning of these controversial advertisements – nor of the websites on which defendants posted Anissa’s image as part of their propaganda campaign. While Life Always and Heroic Media certainly have the right to engage in such offensive speech, they do not have the right to exploit the likeness of an innocent child to do so. Defendants’ conduct is illegal; it violates the express terms of a contract and New York statute.”
Fraser says the defendants used her daughter’s picture in “massive billboards on a busy street in Manhattan outside the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, and in Jacksonville, Florida”. The photo was taken when Anissa was 4 years old.
The defendants operate out of Texas, and work “to discourage women from exercising their constitutional rights to reproductive freedom via messages in billboard advertising” and on the Internet, Fraser says.
She says she responded to an ad on the NYCastings.com website, “seeking models for ‘family photos,'” and that neither she nor her daughters were paid a dime for it – though they did get copies of the photos.
“Ms. Fraser was led to believe that the photos would be used by the photographer to publicize his own work. At no point was she told that they might be used to illustrate a controversial message or as political propaganda,” she says.
She says the defendants bought a license to use the photo of Anissa from Getty Images, “as part of a campaign designed to shame African-American women from exercising their constitutional rights to reproductive freedom.”
The defendants erected the New York billboard in February. Its message directed viewers to Thatsabortion.com, which is registered to Majella Cares.
Fraser said a Life Always representative, Stephen Broder, told her “that Anissa was used as a ‘prop’ and selected for the advertising campaign ‘because of her innocence.'”
She adds: “the New York billboard was defamatory of Anissa and/or her mother in that it gave the false suggestion, impression, and implication that they approved of the racist and offensive message contained therein.”
She says the billboard “caused substantial controversy, reported throughout international media and on the Internet and addressed by numerous public officials and figures. Through this media coverage, which defendants anticipated, intended, and sought, Anissa’s image was widely disseminated throughout the world in connection with an offensive, defamatory, and racist statement.”
She claims the release she signed in the photo studio specifically excluded defamatory uses of the photos. She says both she and her daughter, now 6, have suffered emotional distress from seeing Anissa’s photo used that way. And she says the ads will hurt her daughter’s career.
Fraser demands punitive damages for violation of New York civil rights law and breach of contract, disgorgement of any money the defendants raised from Anissa’s image, and an injunction prohibiting them from using her image “in any way.”
The Frasers are represented by Andrew Celli Jr., with Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady.