Illegal Obama Billboard Creates Free Publicity

- - Just Plain Dumb

New York garment company Weatherproof rips a page out of Dov Charney’s advertising playbook by using an unlicensed image of Obama on a billboard in Times Square (NYTimes story). In this case the image was licensed from the AP but they never acquired a release from Obama to use his likeness for advertising. I’m not sure what’s more distressing, the amount of free publicity it generated, thereby guaranteeing more of these stunts in the future or the number of stories I read where the writers where unsure if it was actually illegal to do this.

There Are 21 Comments On This Article.

  1. the saddest part of this story to me, is that the photographer probably made a crumb from AP and AP probably made a nice chunk of change by licensing the image for advertising.

    • @Tim,

      At least the photographer made some money at all. Woody Allen may have successfully sued, but Obama won’t get paid a single cent.

  2. Rob –

    I’m not sure how you square the following sentences:

    “by using an unlicensed image of Obama on a billboard” and “In this case the image was licensed from the AP”.

    The image was licensed, according to the AP and a billboard usage paid (see here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/07/business/media/07garment.html) as noted here:

    “Paul Colford, a spokesman for The A.P., said that Weatherproof had paid it the appropriate license fee for the billboard image, “but the agreement is that it requires the licensing party, in this case the Weatherproof Garment Company, to obtain the necessary clearances — that is their obligation.””

    Further, the photographer was an AP staffer, so received no additional income from the stock sale/licensing of the image, unless that was an OTK image that the staffer filed, but that’s not likely.

    Regards,
    John

    • @John Harrington, the issue is that Obama didn’t sign a model release, not that the image wasn’t properly licensed from the photographer. It’s pretty clear from the NYT article (see the relevant quotes and a discussion here: http://tinyurl.com/yzf7scl )
      that the company is well aware that this is a commercial use that requires a model release, but they’re just courting free publicity, as Rob points out.

      • @Michelle,

        If it were any other person, they would be rightfully sued to high heaven.

        I don’t think we’ll see many more of these… with Michelle Obama appearing in a PETA ad and now this, I would say the patience of White House counsel must be running thin. It is clearly illegal to use the likeness of anyone – public figure or not – for commercial profit without their permission.

    • @John Harrington,

      That IS the inherent contradiction in this episode (not any failure of APE to reconcile anything). Why would the AP accept payment for this use if by all common sense this was never going to be kosher? Did they just decide to take an idiot’s money and enable a stunt?

      I think it makes the AP look bad as well since they profit directly.

      The whole thing is very tacky.

  3. does the fact that it was taken in China make a difference? Public Domian, foreign territory etc etc. would a subject still have the rights of US law in this case?

  4. C’mon folks. It doesn’t matter where the shot was taken. Obama signed no release for his image to be used in an ad campaign or any commercial usage.
    It’s a knowing and flagrant misuse by anyone’s standards.

    I think it’s pretty outrageous.

  5. A few issues ago, New York Magazine used an Obama look-a-like to illustrate a story on the President sneaking out of the white house for a smoke.

    Suppose a similar look-a-like had been used for the ad? Would that be some type of infringement? I guess the issue to consider would be whether or not Obama had his ‘likeness’ registered or trademarked?

    I don’t know.

  6. Hey if the image hasn’t been authorized to be used commercially then it gets pulled. All of this is based on arm chair quaterbacking techniques. Knowing all of the details is important so what needs to take place.

    Then I think okay, not my photo, ugh, not my add, not my problem. They will work it out and I will go on working on my projects. Peace out!

  7. I actually walked up on this on the street corner just today and did a mental “WTF!”. Personally I think it makes him look bad. Some people already have the perception that he’s more of a celebrity than an effective politician, and seeing that copy written on him made me do a double take mentally. To me the usage issues are absolutely apparent, but the damage possibly goes further than just the usage alone.

  8. I wish someone with the White House Legal Council would file a lawsuit against Weatherproof and donate the awards from litigation to a photography related non-profit.

    Or use the money awarded in litigation to purchase a ton of coats from Weatherproof’s rival outerwear companies like North Face & Columbia and donate the coats to a few NYC homeless shelters and organizations like Goodwill and the Salvation Army.

  9. scott Rex Ely

    Illegal Obama Billboard Creates Free Publicity

    From Obama Photo Used Illegally on Billboard on 08 Jan 2010 at 5:34 pm ¶

    Which one is clearer?

    Shouldn’t the words Illegal and Obama be a little further apart? Especially if either one of them are the first word in the headline and have no connecting relevance? Try googling them.

    How about: “Infringed billboard image of Obama generates free publicity.”

    Just a suggestion.

  10. Wouldn’t it be nice if the IRS decided Weatherproof’s books were worth auditing? I’m not suggesting any sort of direct correlation between the ad any any initiative taken by members of the government (ahem), but I”m just sayin’…

    I’m sure they could turn up something here or there to disallow which could generate some revenue to help pay for something worthwhile like health care, or maybe shoring up our financial system through jobs programs akin to the New Deal ones (which, incidentally, employed photographers who generated an enormously important historical record).

  11. matthew pace

    I would ask an attorney on this…but I believe it’s not legal or at the least, prohibited to use a President’s image for commercial purpose, especially one in office.

    I don’t ever recall seeing any ad with any seated president endorsing a product or service unless it was some humanitarian effort…