December 15, 1998 12:30 PM PST

Dr. Laura concedes in photo lawsuit

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When radio celebrity Dr. Laura Schlessinger took her clothes off to pose for private pictures 20 years ago, she likely never imagined that the photos would end up on a global computer network--forever.

But that is precisely what will happen now that Dr. Laura, as she is known to her 18 million daily listeners, has dropped her lawsuit aimed at permanently blocking publication of the 12 photos, according to Internet Entertainment Group (IEG), the company that posted them online.

When the pictures popped up online last month, Dr. Laura, now 51, sued IEG, citing invasion of privacy and copyright violation. However, the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California ruled in favor of the adult entertainment company on grounds that Schlessinger didn't own the rights to the photos, which were taken when she was 28 by her ex-boyfriend and professional mentor, Bill Ballance.

Dr. Laura's lawyers had vowed to keep fighting, but it now appears that the talk show host has thrown in the towel.

"It's amazing that Ms. Schlessinger initiated the lawsuit in the first place," Seth Warshavsky, president of IEG, said in a statement. "We were always comfortable with our legal position and we will continue to strive to offer our members unique and controversial material."

The publication of the photos never deterred Dr. Laura from using her bully pulpit to promote virtue. Her fame was built on her moral absolutism, a code that condemns premarital sex, cohabitation before marriage, and divorce. Her top-selling books are guides to avoiding foolish decisions, with titles like How Could You Do That? and Ten Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives.

Dr. Laura's publicist was not immediately available for comment, but Dr. Laura herself last month delivered a statement to her listeners in reaction to the initial ruling handed down in the case:

"So, despite acute embarrassment, but with gratitude for my strong religious beliefs and the support of family friends and so many of you, I'm still here," she said. "And you'll find me here today, tomorrow, and the next day for as long as you want to keep tuning in." As a result of Dr. Laura's decision to back down, IEG has one less lawsuit to worry about. But such suits are commonplace for the company, and likely will continue to be.

IEG is perhaps best known for making millions of dollars from exclusive rights to distribute online a sexually explicit home video of former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson Lee and her rocker husband, Tommy Lee. The Lees initially had sued IEG to block sales of the video, but then cut a nondisclosed deal allowing the company to continue distributing it.

Still, the Lees later went back to court to debate the terms of that agreement, until federal judge Dean Pregerson, who also presided over Schlessinger's case, ruled that the Lees can no longer take up the IEG matter in his court.

In April, however, Pregerson sided with Pamela Lee's ex-boyfriend, Bret Michaels, lead singer of the band Poison, who had sued IEG to stop it from posting online a 45-minute sex video of himself and the former TV star.

The judge granted Michaels a preliminary injunction, pending a final decision. Michaels is seeking $90 million in damages.

 

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