March 2, 2007 2:44 PM PST

Woman accuses Yahoo of stealing her image

An Ohio woman is demanding $20 million from Yahoo for allegedly using a photo of her without her permission for a welcome e-mail sent to new users.

According to a court complaint filed Tuesday with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Shannon Stovall, a resident of Ohio's Cuyahoga County, discovered upon signing up for Yahoo's Web-based e-mail service last October that a picture taken of her appeared in a note sent to new users.

The message, according to a printout attached to the court complaint, leads off with the headline "Hooray! Your first e-mail" and a photograph containing two women, one of which is purported to be Stovall. It goes on to give Yahoo Mail users tips on how to transfer address book contacts and customize the look of their messages.

The complaint charges that the image has been sent to millions of users around the world without Stovall's authorization, violating her right to privacy and right to publicity--that is, to control the commercial use of her identity.

Mitchell Yelsky, one of three attorneys handling Stovall's case, said his client "has previously modeled and worked for modeling agencies." According to documents provided to CNET News.com, Yelsky sent two letters to Yahoo in November asking that the company cease using her image in the message.

A Yahoo representative said Friday that the company is not allowed to comment on "specifics related to legal cases."

The complaint requests a jury trial, $10 million to compensate for profits that have been allegedly generated by use of her likeness, and $10 million to cover attorneys' fees and litigation expenses.

The allegations resemble a complaint lodged by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady against Yahoo in December. The star athlete accused the portal of using a photograph of him from the September 2006 issue of Sports Illustrated without his permission to promote its fantasy football league.

Stovall's case was first reported Thursday by eWeek.

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40 comments

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Wow, Yahoo may use my image, I'd be flattered
but I guess if you're a greedy person....
Posted by CentrOS (126 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's not about being "greedy"
It's not about being greedy. Yahoo! should have taken appropriate action to acquire permission to use the image.
Whether it is a model, photographer, graphic designer, the individual should get paid for his/her work.
Yahoo! is making money with each new user that receives the email. The person in the image and photographer who took the photo should be getting paid for their WORK, too.
Posted by ml_ess (71 comments )
Link Flag
I'd never get this lucky....
Can you imagine opening that email...it would be like winning the lottery! Wait...it is like winning the lottery. Haven't they ever heard of a release form? Dummies...they deserve to be sued....
Posted by cidman2001 (223 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Creative work at risk
I'm surprised this sort of lawsuits don't happen more often. Models, photographers, designers and other creative professionals post their work on portfolio sites and email samples to (potential) clients, often without any security precautions... making their digital assets SO easy to steal.

Of course Yahoo! is responsible for making sure they're using images legally, but the owner of the images should do all he/she can to keep their work from unintended use, as well. Relevant article regarding creatives and copyright: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.essentialsecurity.com/news.htm?id=423" target="_newWindow">http://www.essentialsecurity.com/news.htm?id=423</a>
Posted by ml_ess (71 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's not about being "greedy"
It's not about being greedy. Yahoo! should have taken appropriate action to acquire permission to use the image.
Whether it is a model, photographer, graphic designer, the individual should get paid for his/her work.
Yahoo! is making money with each new user that receives the email. The person in the image and photographer who took the photo should be getting paid for their WORK, too.
Posted by ml_ess (71 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You think the "work" was worth $20M?
Really? What would it have cost to license the photo in the first place? I'm sure Yahoo licenses thousands of photos every year; this was probably a simple oversight.
Posted by larryc92039 (41 comments )
Link Flag
How is Yahoo making money from her picture?
If they're putting it in an email to welcome new users, they've already got the user - her picture isn't luring people to sign up.
Posted by minonda (50 comments )
Link Flag
How is Yahoo making money from her picture?
If they're putting it in an email to welcome new users, they've already got the user - her picture isn't luring people to sign up.
Posted by minonda (50 comments )
Link Flag
who says they didn't
I wouldn't be surprised to find that they lady signed an agreement with the modeling agency allowing them to sell her image as part of her contract. Perhaps she didn't read all of the paperwork.
Posted by ifiredmyboss.com (51 comments )
Link Flag
Has anybody ever actually read that "Welcome to Yahoo" message?
I doubt that anybody has ever seen the image in question. I've had lots of Yahoo accounts and I've never seen it.
Posted by jd1023948 (47 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I have three questions.
First, how many copies of this image were distributed? Second how did Yahoo get the image? Third Did she have her clothes on?

This may sound silly, but I would think that she would be awarded damages related to the number of times the picture was used, and the nature of the picture, as well as punitive damages.

If the picture was some way embarrassing, like a nude photo or a picture with the caption, "I use Yahoo" or "I use AOL", the damages would be greater. If negligence on her part contributed to her picture being used, the damages should be less.

Please understand I am not a lawyer. My opinion has all the validity of a Judge talking about computers or the internet.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Reply Link Flag
hey
I like your "cat sniffers" post from the other day.
Posted by lesfilip (496 comments )
Link Flag
$20 million?
Yahoo may have been stupid, if this is true. However this woman is greedy as hell.

Nothing was stolen, she lost nothing. Yahoo made no money directly off this.

What a greedy who*e.

If this is true, yahoo should be fined $10000 as punitive and nothing more.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sounds Like A Misunderstanding...
This woman probably modeled for a photographer that submitted pics to a stock photo agency. Yahoo licensed reproduction rights from the stock agency and hence her photo appears on Yahoo's welcome page.

SHE DOES NOT OWN THE IMAGE - the copyright holder owns the image and in this case, it is most likely the photographer. She must have signed a model release for stock usage or the agency wouldn't have accepted the image.

She has no case whatsoever.
Posted by jimm4478 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
clue
Obviously she did not sign a release, or her lawyer would have advised her to not sue. Or the release was a restrictive release. What part of that is hard to undertand?
Posted by gggg sssss (2285 comments )
Link Flag
No Case whatsoever
I agree with jimm4478. In the 2nd paragraph of the print, Yahoo stated that she worked for several model agencies. They all make sure the models' sign release forms before any pics are taken. Of course once they do, those photos are available for licensing out. In this day and age, everyone and their brother wants to sue; and the sad story is some judge will probably not throw this out of court but let it run, using the taxpayers money.
Posted by matrixspy1 (1 comment )
Link Flag
$10 million to cover attorneys' fees..?!?!
Forced to sneeze in the wrong direction..? SUE...!! SUE...!!! SUE...!!!!
and make a poor lawyer rich doing it..
Posted by imacpwr (456 comments )
Reply Link Flag
who cares $20million is nothing
20million is nothing to yahoo just look at all the cases that don't get a news story its public record yahoo pays out stuff like this all the time 20million to them is like $200 to us its just a waste of news time &#38; as a matter of fact I just wasted 5 min. of my life on nonsense not the real story is of teri lynn from mich who's body was just found everyone should watch more of that good day &#38; everyone watch real news about stuff that effects peoples live in a harmful way
Posted by fatty420 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
lawsuit
sounds like a lawyer/client consperacy
Posted by ray571 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
lawyer/client conspiracy?
Who knows!!
Posted by ray571 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Psychic says "Woman wants money"
This lady has nothing else better to do. what a scum bag
Posted by kyle172 (65 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sooo....
...if you were in the same boat, a multi-billion dollar company was using your image for free... you'd be ok with it? Psychic says: "Bet you'd be singing a different tune then!"
Posted by PropKat (4 comments )
Link Flag
Sooo?
If you were in the same boat, a multi-billion dollar company is using your image for free... you'd be ok with it? Psychic says: "Bet you'd be singing a different tune then!"
Posted by PropKat (4 comments )
Link Flag
Sooo?
If you were in the same boat, a multi-billion dollar company is using your image for free... you'd be ok with it? Psychic says: "Bet you'd be singing a different tune then!"
Posted by PropKat (4 comments )
Link Flag
Psychic says "Woman wants money"
This lady has nothing else better to do. what a scum bag
Posted by kyle172 (65 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Anyone have the image in question?
The story feels like it is missing something without it, not that CNET wouldn't also get sued.

If they did they could use some of the kickback they get from pumping Second Life and salesforce.com to pay her off.
Posted by Dachi (797 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Is this is?
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/larryc92039/" target="_newWindow">http://www.flickr.com/photos/larryc92039/</a>
Posted by larryc92039 (41 comments )
Link Flag
It's here
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://googlewatch.eweek.com/content/yahoo/yahoo_sued_for_10m_for_illegal_image_use.html" target="_newWindow">http://googlewatch.eweek.com/content/yahoo/yahoo_sued_for_10m_for_illegal_image_use.html</a>
Posted by Psycloned (6 comments )
Link Flag
It's here
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://googlewatch.eweek.com/content/yahoo/yahoo_sued_for_10m_for_illegal_image_use.html" target="_newWindow">http://googlewatch.eweek.com/content/yahoo/yahoo_sued_for_10m_for_illegal_image_use.html</a>
Posted by Psycloned (6 comments )
Link Flag
Hey Lady, You're No Van Gogh
Does she really think she's going to get $20 million for a picture? Good luck. She probably didn't read the release form; I can't imagine Yahoo not having protected itself from such frivilous lawsuits.
Posted by indierockcafe (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Olan Mills... 2
They may own the copyright, but they don't have the right to assign it to a third party without your consent, i.e. you can't end up being "the frame guy" just because Olan Mills shot your portrait.

The purpose of the law suit is to get Yahoo to 'fess up' and point the finger at the agency that supplied the photograph, if Yahoo acted in good faith then they aren't liable, it the stock agency that are at fault.

Eventhough they may not be at fault Yahoo have distributed her image without her consent, the judge will look at how Yahoo licensed the image and then either dismiss the case against them or award damages in proportion to the harm that has been done.

Considering she was unaware that her image was being 'abused' until she recieved an email from Yahoo it will be hard for her to argue damages.

In a European court her maximum award would be related to the fees that she'd have recieved had the image been licensed correctly, and not based on the number of infringing copies in circulation, but she's in the USA, I'm surprised she's only asking $10m - she should have tired for $50 per copy - or $100m.
Posted by webbod (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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