TYLER, Texas (CN) - A war widow claims in court that Fox Entertainment and National Geographic took a family photo from her Army sergeant-husband's laptop after he was killed in Afghanistan, and broadcast it without permission in a show.
Donnice Roberts, widow of Staff Sgt. Kevin Roberts, sued The National Geographic Society, Fox Cable Networks and Fox Entertainment Group over their documentary "Inside Afghan ER." She sued on her own behalf and for her two young children.
Roberts' husband died on May 7, 2008 when the Humvee he was driving, providing security for a military convoy near Khost, Afghanistan, hit a roadside bomb.
"It was the last mission Sergeant Roberts was to perform before going home to attend his grandmother's funeral," his widow says in the complaint. "While he had the opportunity to decline the mission and leave Afghanistan, he chose to go on the mission and stay with his men."
Roberts says the blast seriously injured five people, including her husband. They were evacuated by helicopter to a field hospital, where Roberts died. (Graph 9)
Roberts says her husband was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, and that she and their children "are tremendously proud of his service to America."
She adds: "Approximately one year after his death, Mrs. Roberts received a phone call from a military service member stationed in Germany.
"The service member reported that he had just seen a documentary on the Armed Forces Network, broadcast in the German language, which depicted Sergeant Roberts' dead body, and included an image of Donnice Roberts and her two minor children.
"Until this phone call, Mrs. Roberts had no idea there was any video footage related to her husband's death, that her image or her children's image appeared in any documentary, or that any such documentary even existed.
"Mrs. Roberts was surprised at this news and investigated further. The documentary, 'Inside Afghan ER,' was produced and distributed by the National Geographic Society.
"The documentary was further promoted and distributed by Fox Cable Networks, Inc. and Fox Entertainment Group, Inc. through the cable network NatGeo and its affiliated websites.
"The documentary included images of Mrs. Roberts and her two minor children. The image came from a family trip to Disney World.
"Based upon information and belief, it appears the subject photograph was taken from Sergeant Roberts' personal laptop after his death and without any permission from the Roberts family.
"Mrs. Roberts was very disturbed that her image, and more importantly, her children's image would be broadcast around the world without their knowledge or permission.
"This is particularly true given the fanaticism associated with jihadist determined to kill Americans, including American women and children."
Roberts says the video was distributed throughout the world, and won a contest for best documentary in Asia. (Graph 14)
"Mrs. Roberts contacted the National Geographic Society to obtain a copy of the documentary and to retrieve the family photo," the complaint states. "She was told that she would be required to sign a release before the Society would provide her a copy. Mrs. Roberts refused to sign a release."
She seeks appropriation of name or likeness.
She also wants a permanent injunction to stop National Geographic and Fox "from further airing, web-casting, or otherwise marketing the documentary 'Inside Afghan ER' so long as it includes plaintiffs' unauthorized likeness or image," and to stop them from using military family members' photos without their permission.
She is represented by Jeffrey Embry with Hossley & Embry, in Tyler.
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