News anchor Karen Hepp, who co-hosts the early morning show “Good Day Philadelphia,” has sued Facebook, Reddit and other companies for allegedly hosting dating ads and racy memes with her image.
“Defendants' sexualization of plaintiff's image and use for prurient and illicit purposes is abhorrent and disgusting,” she alleges in a complaint filed this week in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
Hepp alleges that a security photo of her taken at a New York City convenience store is being used in ads on Facebook for dating sites. She also says the image is being displayed in a sexualized context on Imgur, Reddit, Gliphy and other sites. On Imgur, for instance, the image allegedly appears under the heading “milf” -- a term her complaint defines as “a derogatory and degrading slang acronym that refers to a sexually attractive woman with young children.”
She alleges that the companies violated a Pennsylvania “right of publicity” law that allows people to control the commercial use of their names and likenesses.
Hepp is asking for an injunction requiring the websites to take down her photo, and for monetary damages.
Her claims against the web companies could face an uphill battle, Santa Clara University law school professor and internet law expert Eric Goldman suggests. He says Pennsylvania's law regarding misappropriation applies to commercial uses of images, but that memes or other non-commercial uses of photos may not be covered.
Goldman adds that even if Hepp proves an advertiser wrongly used her likeness in an ad, she might only be able to prevail against an online publisher like Facebook if she can show it knew the image was unauthorized.
“Without a takedown notice, or some other basis for conferring knowledge, defendants may not be liable,” he says.